The Fast Design Of The Mississippi Meet Of Champions

* Kennedi Sanders is Mississippi's top female sprinter and could challenge for one of Bianca Knight's (right) all-time records on Saturday at the Mississippi Meet of Champions

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"I want to give an opportunity for kids to take track seriously." -- Bianca Knight

A few years ago, Bianca Knight came back to her home state of Mississippi with aims on raising the profile of young athletes.

She didn't have to go far in Pearl or Ridgeland without someone recognizing her. 

The 2012 U.S. Olympian and gold medalist for the world-record setting 4x100 relay in London -- she was the third leg -- had grown up in Pearl and had dominated track and field for Ridgeland High School as a prep before leaving for the University of Texas and turning professional. 

But nearly a decade and a half later, the 32-year-old -- who currently lives in Charlotte, North Carolina -- started to turn inward and established the Bianca Knight Foundation. 

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Olivia Ekpone interviews Bianca Knight ahead of the Mississippi Meet of Champions

Soon enough, she began to hold her own youth and high school meets. 

When COVID-19 forced the cancellation of the Bianca Knight Invitational in 2020, Knight could have just re-started her namesake meet again. 

But instead, she opted to bring back an event that hadn't been in Mississippi for what she believes is over 30 years. 

"It has to be since the 90s," she said. 

In late March, Knight started to game plan for a Mississippi Meet of Champions return. She believed an event featuring all of the state's champions would shine an even greater spotlight on them and enable larger opportunities, maybe even a few scholarships. 

"I'm familiar with the kids in Mississippi in terms of things they go through and what they're up against," Knight said recently by phone. "We're a basketball and football state, and track and field is probably the last sport on anyone's minds.

* Tylertown's Jordan Anthony set a new MHSAA Class 5A record on Thursday in the 100m in 10.30

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"I want to give an opportunity for kids to take track seriously. I'm trying to change that," she added. 

On Saturday, Knight will see her vision pay off as the Mississippi Meet of Champions will mark its return on the calendar. 

Knight is hopeful for the day. 

"I just want it to feel different from the typical track meet," she said. "I want them to feel like they're at an event.

"I want it to feel different. I want them to feel experiences that I had, in terms of high quality, elite-feeling and special races."

After conversations with a few other schools and a nearby college, Knight partnered with Pearl High School.

But what might be surprising is the fact that planning for the meet took roughly a month or two. 

"Two weeks ago, we locked it down and we started having conversations with the Mississippi High School Association to get it sanctioned," she said. 

"It was fairly quick, but I'm excited to bring back the meet." 

Some features that will make the meet a little more spectator-friendly, Knight said, will be the fact that there will be no preliminary rounds. 

Every race will be a final, which should make for a fast meet. Knight, who will take a behind-the-scenes approach on Saturday and will help answer questions and solve issues, will also play music throughout the event, helping boost the atmosphere and give it more energy, she said. 

But outside of those minor decisions to make a more streamlined event, the biggest draw will be the athletes. 

Ridgeland Academy's Kennedi Sanders, who is nationally ranked in the 100m, 200m and 400m, is arguably the best female athlete in the state since Knight and will have a chance to potentially take down her 200m (23.06) and 400m (53.35) records. 

Richland's Makial Musgrove, who owns personal best times of 10.84 and 21.82 in the 100m and 200m, respectively, is entered, as is East Central distance standout Christian Balcer, who won three state titles at the MHSAA Class 5A Championships on Thursday. 

A recent addition will be newly-minted state record-holder Jordan Anthony of Tylertown, who ran 10.30 seconds on Thursday at the Class 5A Championships, erasing Trell Kimmons' old record of 10.39.

But Knight says that quick turnaround could actually be advantageous for athletes looking to double up to end the week. 

"To be very honest, a day rest versus a week is actually better," she said. "Your legs are turned over and ready to go." 

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