For North Carolina A&T State University sophomore Randolph Ross, competing for a spot to make the U.S. Olympic team is a whole different ballgame than running for the top spot at the 2021 NCAA Division I Outdoor Track & Field Championship. The biggest difference: speed.
“This is most definitely different. In college, you see people with different running styles, but on the professional level, it’s completely different,” Ross said on the third day of the U.S. Olympic Track and Field Trials. “I wasn’t used to getting caught by the 100-meter mark, so that was something I had to get used to. As I get older and progress throughout my professional career, I’ll get used to it and handle it differently, but it was definitely a big change.”
Well, Ross adapted pretty well in his big league debut. Fresh off of winning two titles at the NCAA championships, including running the fastest time in the nation in the 400 (43.85), Ross punched his ticket to the Tokyo Olympics with a second-place finish at the U.S. Olympic team trials at Hayward Field in Eugene, Oregon.
Ross clocked in at 44.79, getting edged out of the No. 1 spot by eventual winner and former USC standout Michael Norman (44.07).
“I’ve been up here for almost a month exactly,” Ross said. “Coming back off of a 43 that I ran last week, it was kind of hard to get my body back to where it needs to be. The hard part was bouncing back and running these times that I needed to qualify. Prelims were rough. Semis, I was working my way back into it and the finals were just: give what I have left in the tank.”
What Ross gave was something he has managed to do all year. He finished second at the NCAA Division 1 Indoor Track & Field Championship in the 400 (44.99) and was a force on the Aggies’ 4×400 relay team all season long. The Olympic Trials push came in a blur for Ross.
First up on his slate was winning the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference (MEAC) title, which he did in a time of 44.6.
Ross kept up that momentum by placing second at the NCAA Division I East Preliminary Round before hitting his stride at the NCAA Division I Outdoor Track & Field Championship. Ross then positioned himself to make the U.S. Olympic squad by another solid outing. However, Ross believes his time in the 400 final at the trials was not the best race he’s run.
“My race didn’t really go as planned,” Ross said. “I can’t really complain, being able to make the team and go to the Olympics. So it’s just fine-tuning everything now before the Olympics.”
Before he heads over to Tokyo, Ross and North Carolina A&T State University teammate Trevor Stewart can bask in the fact that they will both will have an opportunity to represent their country. Stewart finished fourth in the 400 (44.9) and will be part of a pool of runners to be considered to be part of the 4×400 relay team.
That pool consists of six runners. Ross talked about what it means to have his teammate join him on the U.S. Olympic team.
“Coming in, we knew what we could do and we knew if we ran the right way, we could make it to the Olympics,” Ross said. “To have someone I’ve known since high school, who has shared the same dream as me and we both make it is crazy.”
Even more unthinkable is the growth and dominance of the North Carolina A&T State University track and field program. Under the guidance of his father, Duane Ross, who serves as the director of Track and Field Programs at North Carolina A&T State University, there has been a slew of Aggies sprinkled throughout the U.S. Olympic Track and Field Trials.
Besides Ross and Stewart competing in the 400, sprinters Cambrea Sturgis and former North Carlina A&T State University star Kayla White were making waves. With the team’s performance at the NCAA championships and now the individual showcase of the U.S. Olympic Track and Field Trials, Ross believes more people will pay attention to what the Aggies are doing.
“I believe so,” Ross said. “Over the years, we were a growing program. We’ve been prospering throughout the years. And we’re only going to get better. Hopefully, this shows that our school should be ranked higher than we are. To have two people make the Olympics…people are going to talk what they want to, but the proof is there.”
By making the U.S. Olympic team, both Ross and Stewart bring a renewed spotlight on historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs).
“It’s amazing,” Ross said. “Coming in, this is not something you see every day. HBCU’s were always seen as schools without money. But having two people possibly making it to Tokyo is amazing. Everybody from the HBCU community is cheering me on and so it’s just amazing to represent HBCU’s.”
Not only is Ross representing HBCUs, he’s also running in the shadow of his dad. The elder Ross was a seven-time All-American at Clemson, was a four-time member of the U.S. World Championship team, and collected a silver medal in the 110 high hurdles at the 2004 Olympics.
The younger Ross gave his father a wonderful Father’s Day gift, though celebrating with his pops wasn’t quite on his mind immediately following his race.
“I hadn’t thought about that yet,” Ross said. “It’s great. Having somebody who has been there and who has coached me since I was able to start track. Having already been through everything and also to be able to make the team on Father’s Day. It was a great experience and probably something we’ll cherish the rest of our lives.”
Featured Image Caption: June 20, 2021-Making Team USA in the men’s 400 are Michael Cherry (left), Michael Norman and Randolph Ross. Photo credit: Adam Eberhardt for TrackTown USA