Akela Jones did not view her heptathlon title at the NCAA Track and Field Championships as a life-changing victory until she returned to Kansas State this week and tried to settle in to her daily routine.
Everyone on campus seemed to look at her differently.
“They have been whispering, ‘Is that Akela Jones?’ behind me,” said Jones, a junior from Barbados. “I am doing my normal stuff across campus and they are like, ‘Is that that girl? She has done something amazing.’ I am just trying to represent Kansas State to the best of my abilities.”
Jones might want to get used to the new-found attention. It’s unlikely to go away anytime soon.
She doesn’t want it to, so long as the notoriety means she continues winning.
That, more than anything, is where her focus currently points. Yes, it was a thrill to break school and meet records on her way to K-State’s first female track-and-field national championship since 2011. And, yes, the words of support from family in her home country, friends in Manhattan and strangers on the street have been fun. But she is already thinking about what’s next.
Believe it or not, Jones has only competed in two heptathlons. The first qualified her for the NCAA meet. She won a national title in the second, claiming first in the high jump, shot put, and long jump and second in the 100-meter hurdles and 200-meter dash. She came to K-State expecting to compete in the heptathlon, but she was still a relative novice in some of the events.
“I am surprised that I improved so fast,” Jones said. “That is what I was surprised with, but I was not surprised that I could do it so well … Everybody who works with me and trains with me knows what I was capable of. The world just needed to know.”
Just think what she can do once she masters the javelin and the 800-meter run.
“It puts a lot of pressure on me for next season,” Jones said. “People are going to be paying a lot of attention for me to double up and the media is going to be more at me, targeting me. It creates a lot more pressure, but it also raises the standard that I have to perform at a higher level, always. So that is probably a good thing going into an Olympic year. I have to focus and perform really well.”
Jones hopes to continue improving and to compete for Barbados next summer in Brazil. She will get an up-close look at the best athletes her country has to offer this weekend when she returns home to compete in the country’s national meet.
From there it is off to the Pan American Games in July and then the world championships in August. Then it’s back to K-State for her senior season.
It will be hard to top her junior campaign. On Wednesday, the U.S. track and field coaches chose her as women’s field athlete of the year. But she is up for the challenge.
“Just field athlete of the year, above all other female athletes, and these great athletes all over America,” Jones said, “it just proves to say I’m building my legacy to become one of the greatest. Great people get these awards, and I think of myself as one of these great people.”