Allegan County News & Union Enterprise Sports

Antkoviak reflects on Olympic Trial experience: Allegan grad competed in 400-meter hurdles

By Jason Wesseldyk
Sports Editor

EUGENE, Oreg.—Be bold. Be strong. For the Lord your God is with you.
Those lyrics are from the the worship song “Be Bold, Be Strong.” And those are the words that were playing in Hannah Antkoviak’s mind as she headed onto the track at the University of Oregon for the opening round of the 400-meter hurdles at the U.S. Olympic Trials on Thursday, June 27.
“Before the first round, I was pretty nervous,” said Antkoviak, one of 34 competitors participating in the 400 hurdles. “But I was okay as soon as I stepped onto the track. I had those lyrics stuck in my head and that was literally the only thing I could think while walking out and setting my blocks.”
Antkoviak, a 2021 Allegan High School graduate, showed no sign of nerves during the race, posting a time of 56.39 to finish third in her heat and 12th overall to advance to the semifinals.
Antkoviak’s time at the Olympic Trials ended in the semifinal round, as she finished fifth in her heat and 18th overall at 56.45. (Only the top two finishers from each of the three semifinal heats and the next three fastest finishers overall advanced to the finals).
But that did nothing to tarnish Antkoviak’s view of the experience.
“This is something I’ll never forget,” she said. “The atmosphere was crazy. The stadium in Eugene was huge and it was filled with running fanatics and track & field nerds. It was just a really cool place to be.
“Plus, everyone was super excited to be there and was cheering so loud, which made it super energetic and fun. It was unbelievable.”
“Unbelievable” is a good word to describe the other runners Antkoviak competed with in the semifinals.
Current world-record holder and 2021 Olympic champion Sydney McLaughlin-Levrone won the heat at 52.48, while 2016 Olympic gold medalist Dalilah Muhammad placed second in the heat at 54.16.
“The semifinals were crazy,” Antkoviak said. “I was in lane 7, so behind me I had the previous Olympic champion and like 6-time world record holder; behind her was the previous two-time Olympic gold medalist and record holder; and in front on me was a world bronze medalist.”
That would be enough to make anyone a little nervous, Antkoviak included.
“I have to admit, I was actually shaking getting down in my blocks,” she said. “I was so nervous, and I had some hiccups in my steps the second round.
“But it was such a blessing to get to go run in that heat and I am so thankful for the opportunity to run against multiple women I have looked up to and admired growing up. Racing against Sydney and Dalilah is definitely something I’ll never forget it.”
Antkoviak also won’t forget her opening-round race, which saw only Anna Cockrell (54.71) and Akala Garrett (55.67) finish ahead of her.
“I was in lane 9, so I couldn’t see anyone in front of me,” Antkoviak said of the race. “I was hoping to make the semifinals, but I wasn’t really sure what to expect. So, I just ran for my life when the gun went off and was actually pleasantly surprised by how smooth and easy the round felt.
“I had Anna Cockrell and Akala Garrett finish in front of me, which I expected, but I was really just trying to stay close to them and not get smoked.”
At the trials and in the leadup to them, Antkoviak said she was overwhelmed by the outpouring of support she received from those in Allegan, her college community at Olivet Nazarene University and beyond.
“I am still amazed by the support I received from my community at home and all over the country,” she said. “I’m so blessed to have people who care about me on and off the track and I received so many encouraging texts and messages right when I needed them most.
“I’ll always remember the people who came to help me practice in that long month before the trials. I’ll remember the woman who prayed for me before my race and the song that kept me sane in the middle of crushing nerves. And I’ll remember how my coaches and family and fiancé were there for me when I finished.
“It was a process, and it was hard. But it was a good one, and I am so thankful for it.”
Antkoviak is also thankful for the opportunity she had to use her talents and abilities to bring a little joy to others.
“I loved getting to see how me using the gifts God has given me seemed to unite people and give them something to hope for,” she said. “I’m beyond honored and thankful for the experience.”
Antkoviak will enter her senior year at Olivet Nazarene as the two-time defending national champion in the 400 hurdles.
And she thinks her experience at the Olympic Trials will only push her even more.
“This experience showed me an elevated side of track & field that I’d only read about or seen in pictures,” she said. “It makes me want to be better. And I don’t think any other races will seem quite as scary now. That may be the fastest heat I will ever race in.”

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