After Years Of Challenges, Kaylin Whitney Finds Redemption

The United States Olympic Track and Fields Trials are an avenue for the best American athletes to make Olympic teams.

But they're also a place for hope, too. 

You could say it's a place for dreamers, believers and even for redeemers. 

Which brings us to someone like Kaylin Whitney, a 2016 graduate of East Ridge High School. On Sunday, after a few years of disappointments, the 23-year-old made her first Olympic relay team in the 4x400, finishing fifth-place overall in the women's final in a new career best of 50.29 seconds. 

This story is less about where she is now, though, than it is about her persistence and belief through years of challenges. 

It wasn't so long ago that Whitney was considered the next-best-thing in American sprinting. In 2015, she set a precedent by becoming one of the first female teenagers ever in the sprints to turn pro and work with an American training group.

Whitney decided to make the next step on her 17th birthday, inking a contract with Nike

To that point, her resume included World Youth records in the 100m and 200m and a World U20 Championship gold in the 200m and 4x100 and a silver medal in the 100m. She held PRs of 11.10 and 22.49, respectively, in both the 100m and 200m.

Her promise seemed undeniable. 

But after missing the finals in both events at the 2016 U.S. Olympic Trials, Whitney found success was harder to find in the years that followed. 

While she would run at events in countries all over the world -- in places like Hungary, Germany, France and Switzerland -- she struggled to make an impact, winning just one race in 2017. 

She struggled in 2018, too, never running faster than 11.45 in the 100m or 22.93 in the 200m. 

But then a switch happened. Her coaches moved her over to the 400m in 2019 -- perhaps this also mattered: with a few years of tough racing under her belt, Whitney had matured and also turned 21. 

At first, the switch didn't flip immediately. In fact, Whitney didn't break 52 seconds a single time in 2019. Her debut was a time of 54.64 at a meet in Tampa at the University of South Florida. 

But by USAs in July, Whitney had yet again shown that there was smoke. She finished off the year with a time of 52.02. 

Perhaps the Covid-year that defined 2020 was, in some ways, even better for someone like Whitney, who changed focuses and knew that in order to make an Olympic team she would have to do it in an event she had never imagined. A year after that 52.02 performance, she ran 51.99. 

Then the following April, she slipped under 51.5, posting a performance of 51.34. Then came the 51.04 a week later. 

With a few months left until her second appearance at the Trials, Whitney was among the best women in the United States at the distance. 

This time, she never kept her foot off the gas pedal.

She ran 50.94 in the prelims, then dropped that career best down to 50.35 in the semifinals. 

In the finals -- in a race where the major storyline was about Allyson Felix making her fifth team -- Whitney was all the way over in Lane 9. 

Didn't matter. Whitney's race plan put her in a position to succeed. A strong start led to good position through 100 meters before she leaned into her stride and then turned it full-steam-ahead with 150m to go. 

Whitney was in sixth place all the way up to the final meters before an incredible lean at the line gave her fifth, and her first Olympic spot. 

She finished in 50.29. It's currently the eighth-fastest time for an American in an Olympic year and currently the No. 12 time in the world.

Six years after turning pro, Whitney had finally seen the payoff. 

Perhaps it would have been easier sooner, but maybe all good things come to those who are patient. 

Tokyo awaits. 

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