Kansas City area natives Zaya Akins and Johnny Brackins Jr. are bringing medals home after their performances for Team USA at the World Athletics Under-20 Championships in Cali, Colombia. Also earning a medal was incoming Mizzou transfer Valentina Burrios, who earned a medal on her home soil.
The six-day event which is scheduled for every two years, is for athletes under the age of 20, 16-19 specifically, not turning 20-years of age until January 1, 2023, or later. Countries are allowed up to two entries per individual event and one relay but must meet qualifying standards to be accepted into the meet.
Zaya Akins, the record-breaking Raytown South High School junior sprinter who won two national titles this year in the 400-meter dash, ran in the 400 and 4x400 for Team USA in Colombia, after taking 2nd place at the USA U20 meet.
Akins ran in the 400-meters first round on Tuesday morning, day 2. Akins ran to a 5th place finish in heat #4 of 5, in 55.23-seconds. The time earned her the third of four spots in the semifinals handed out to the four fastest finishers that didn't earn an automatic berth in the semis from a top-4 heat finish. She finished 23rd out of 34 competitors.
In the 400-meter semis on Wednesday evening, Akins placed 5th in her heat of three in 53.62-seconds. That placed her 13th overall in the field of 24. Both U.S. women missed the final, Akins by just over a second.
After a day off on Thursday, Akins and Team USA took to the track for the 4x400 prelims. Akins got the baton in first place for her third leg carry. She blazed around the first turn and took a 10-meter lead and extended it to more than 20-meters. She split 52.13-seconds, helping the U.S. win their heat and taking first overall in 3:32.94.
Akins, who won't turn 17 until the end of the month, ran the 2nd fastest spilt of the heats, behind only India's . Rupal, who took 3rd in the individual event.
In the final on Saturday, Team USA subbed in three athletes for Akins and two others who had run the prelims. 100-meter bronze medalist and 4x100 silver medal anchor Shawnti Jackson (daughter of 400-hurdles great Bershawn "Batman" Jackson and subject of MileSplit Film "Shawnti Jackson: Legacy") joined the squad. So did 400-hurdles champ Akala Garrett, who took 2nd in the 400 at the NSAF Nike Indoor Nationals behind Akins in New York City in March.
The final athlete swapped in for the 4x400 final was Wisconsin high schooler Roisin Willis. Willis won the 800 on Wednesday in a championship meet record of 1:59.13. The time wasn't just a meet record, it broke Mary's Cain Under-18 American Record. And if that wasn't impressive enough, it was the world record in the 17-year-old age division. That was three days before Willis turned 18 on Saturday, when any world record chase would change to the age-18 mark, dropping by more than 3.5-seconds, Caster Semenya's 1:55.45 mark. One that some now dispute.
Having run the preliminary heat, any medal earned by the U.S. finals squad, would be earned and awarded to Akins and her teammates that didn't race in the final. Team USA didn't just win a medal, they dominated. They won the final and Akins earned a gold and is a world champion. The ladies cruised to an easy victory in 3:28.06 for an almost a 3.5-second win.
Akins prelim split of 52.13 was faster than 18 of the 21 recorded 2nd, 3rd, or 4th-leg splits in the finals, with one of Jamaica's and one of Canada's athletes splits not published in the detailed results.
Akins returns home to celebrate her historic season, gold medal, and her 17th birthday at the end of the month. She's also got college recruitment. Home visits from college coaches and trips to college campuses. And, a senior year at Raytown South. One of the most anticipated in Missouri high school history.
Read more on Johnny Brackins, Elizabeth Bailey, Ames Burton, and Valentina Barrios on the following pages