Steady Consistency Vaults YSU’s Harden to Olympic Trials

YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio – Youngstown State University senior athlete Collin Harden finished the 400-meter hurdles with a time of 51.06 – sixth in the final of three heats at the NCAA Outdoor Track and Field Championships earlier this month. It wasn’t good enough to advance to the finals.

He had made the NCAAs for the second time in three years, a feat the 2016 Girard High School graduate was happy to see end his illustrious collegiate career.

Last Wednesday, however, he received a reprieve. Harden got a call notifying him that he had qualified for the 2021 U.S. Olympic Trials, He’ll now compete against some of the best in the nation on June 24 in Eugene, Ore., on Hayward Field – site of the NCAAs. Qualifying is at 10:32 p.m., Eastern time.

Harden is the third Penguin athlete in the last two Olympic cycles to qualify for the U.S. Trials. Former YSU throwers Bobby Grace (shot put) and Conner Neu (hammer throw) competed for spots on the 2016 team.

“I’m glad I’m at YSU and can bring the tradition to life,” Harden said.

This YSU athlete bloomed from a skinny, 140-pound hurdler who won the Ohio Division II 300-meter hurdles as a Girard High School senior to one of the best collegiate hurdlers to compete for the Penguins.

From a high school state champion to having a shot at the Olympics, his career has been about making it to the next step. Thursday is Harden’s next task.

Before YSU, the former Girard standout didn’t think twice about running track in college. He was told by the Penguin coaching staff that YSU would be a place where he could excel.

“That stuck to me,” he said. “Ever since then, I just stuck with track and it has worked out.”

Brian Gorby, YSU track and field coach, is happy to see Harden reach this point in his track and field career through hard work and determination throughout his time at YSU.

That return trip to Hayward Field for the Trials is more than a gold star for this Penguin program.

“It makes you so proud in that moment that, ‘Hey, dreams can be a reality here at YSU,’ ” Gorby said.

Harden ran a 50.21 seconds to qualify for the NCAAs, his personal best time. He did that by increasing his speed in the final 200 meters of that race.

“I like being a second-half runner because a lot of people get tired,” he said. “Really in the hurdles, it is whoever can get tired last.

“I’m just happy I’m at practice getting better conditioned and keeping the speed up as well.”

YSU assistant track and field coach David Townsend said that the last half of the 400-meter hurdles is Harden’s forte in the 10-hurdle marathon.

“As a coach, you want him to go out faster, but that’s his makeup,” Townsend said. “Strong finishes are his trademark and that’s what we look for.”

Can Harden get below 50 seconds in this event? Townsend said the YSU senior was projected to go 49.6 in the NCAAs, but weather was a little bit of a factor.

“We are in shape right now,” Townsend said. “We haven’t lost any conditioning. That’s what we’re pushing for.”

Former YSU hurdler and John F. Kennedy High School graduate Chad Zallow is hoping for a spot in the trials. He has run 13.74 in the 110 hurdles this year and was not accepted, battling hamstring issues. Gorby said.

If three people withdraw from the event between now and next Friday at 5:33 p.m., Eastern time, he will run.

“We have superior athletic talent in this area,” Townsend said. “My thing has always been to harvest that. You notice with kids from Trumbull County we’ve been blessed. They came to Youngstown and they’ve done great.

“Is it something this program expects? No, but we hope.”

Harden doesn’t expect to be starstruck once he is at Hayward Field, a world-class track and field facility that has hosted a litany of great athletes. He was in awe prior to the NCAAs, but that changed very quickly.

“As soon as I started warming up, I stayed in my own mind and didn’t get goosebumps,” Harden said. “Just stay in my own lane and focus.”

Pictured: Youngstown State University senior track and field athlete Collin Harden is competing in next week’s United States Olympic Trials in the 400-meter hurdles in Oregon.

Copyright 2022 The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.