Top track athletes compete for spots on national teams

With the collegiate track and field season over, ten current and former Illini are competing on the international circuit.

Illinois track and field is represented in the USA Championships in Eugene, Ore., Canadian Championships in Toronto and Jamaica National Senior Championships in Kingston.

The top finishers in each meet will earn a spot on their county’s national team.

The biggest track and field meet this year will be the World Championships in Berlin, Germany from Aug. 15-23.

For Andrew Riley, the Jamaican Championships provide both high-level competition and a rare opportunity to go home.

The two-time All-American had not been home since coming to the University for the first time in January.

“I’m pretty excited to go back home to see family and friends, and also to compete on my home soil. I’m just so happy,” Riley said.

Riley will run the 110-meter hurdles on Sunday.

If Riley advances from the semifinal round, he would run in the finals, also on Sunday.

According to Riley, his experiences as an Illini will help him to compete at higher levels.

“Performing on a college circuit … helps you tremendously when you’re competing,” he said,

Riley added that he’s “not going to change anything” as far as preparation is concerned.

If Riley doesn’t make it to the World Championships, he also has a chance to compete in Cuba for the CAC Senior Championships or in Trinidad for the Caribbean Games.

While the Illinois 2008-09 Newcomer of the Year believed that his Illinois experiences will help him on Sunday, he acknowledged that international competition is in a league of its own.

“It’ll be great for me to go back and compete against the big guys,” Riley said.

Though Riley is the lone representative of the Illinois men’s track and field team this weekend, nine members of Illinois women’s past and present teams will compete.

Competition for both the USA and Canadian Championships started on Thursday.

On Friday, 2009 graduate Deserea Brown will compete in the 400-meter hurdles semifinal.

Senior Aja Evans will compete in the shot put and senior Angela Bizzarri will run the 5,000 meters.

Bizzarri will run the 5k for the first time since winning the event at the 2009 NCAA Outdoor Championships.

“It’s really just to get an opportunity to race some really fast girls,” Bizzarri said of the USA Championships, after her win at nationals.

The competition will be a stronger test of fitness than Bizzarri usually encountered on the college circuit, according to Illinois distance coach Jeremy Rasmussen.

“She’s really only had to run one race really hard in the 5k,” Rasmussen said after nationals. “The rest were more tactical races, I think she’s definitely got room for improvement.”

The pace at the USA Championships will be much faster, according to Rasmussen, who said that Bizzarri should be up to the challenge.

“I think having more people around her to be able to push her will help. I think she can go out there and really kind of mix it up. Not necessarily up at the very front, but I think she can be in the top-ten for sure,” he said.