Michael Stigler’s legs have carried him a long way — to a NCAA championship in the 400-meter hurdles, four Big 12 titles and a spot in two Olympic trials, including the trials this summer.
But it’s his arm he looks to for inspiration. In black ink, extending around his right bicep, is a quote he thought up at 8 years old. “When I train hard, I will become stronger,” it reads. “And it will be difficult to beat me.”
Stigler carries that attitude as his training for the Olympic trials kicks up this month. In his first two races of the year at Rock Chalk Park, Stigler won the Kansas Relays’ collegiate open in the 400-meter hurdles. Fighting a strong wind on Saturday, Stigler blazed to the finish in 50.12 seconds. That was only slightly slower than his 49.84-second performance in Friday’s preliminary round.
“Not much I can do with that wind, but to get the win and get 50 (seconds), I’m pretty satisfied with that,” he said.
A 2-second cushion separated Stigler from second-place finisher LaRon Bennett on Saturday. Although it was a strong win, Stigler is no stranger to falling short. He’s had enough “almosts” for a lifetime, and they help drive him.
He was staggeringly close to being a three-time national champion. His sophomore and junior seasons at Kansas both ended in runner-up finishes at the NCAA national meet (before attaining the elusive national title last year).
At the USA Championships last summer (the precursor to Worlds), the top three hurdlers moved to the international competition. Stigler placed fourth.
“Even on the professional level at USA Championships, not making the world team by one spot, it seemed like it’s a new cycle just starting over,” he said. “I get to a different stage and get edged out.”
But with those Olympic trials coming up in July, Stigler hopes to be the one edging others out of a spot on the United States Olympic team.
After his freshman year at Kansas, he placed seventh in the 2012 Olympic trials. In April 2015, Stigler held the world’s fastest time of the year for his event. His potential for international acclaim hovers, and he can feel it. For now, he’s staying in Lawrence to chase it down.
He lives within about a minute’s drive of KU’s training facilities, and usually will work out there six days a week. Stigler stuck with his college hurdles coach, Elisha Brewer. The first two years as a pro are the hardest, he says, and he felt comfortable Brewer was the right person to lead him through the process.
He’ll compete in the Drake Relays next week and the Jamaica International Invitational in May as tune-ups for the trials. A spot on the Olympic team is within arm’s reach, he thinks. And every time he looks in the mirror at his own arm, Stigler is reminded of the journey he’s taken, and how far he still could go.
“It’s just a daily reminder … if I work hard it’ll be difficult for anybody to beat me,” he said. “At the end of the day and my season, I know I’ll be one of the top hurdlers in the world if I stay dedicated to it.”
▪ Nebraska swept the Kansas Relays’ quadrangular, which also featured Kansas, Colorado State and Rice, with twenty events each for the men and women. Kansas’ women took second place with 191 points, to Nebraska’s 206. On the men’s side, Kansas also finished second seven points behind the Cornhuskers.
▪ Kansas junior Mitchell Cooper broke a 46-year-old school record with his discus throw of 205 feet, 3 inches on Saturday. The throw came on his last attempt of the day.
▪ Kelli McKenna put together a monstrous last 10 meters of her 1,500-meter race. The senior Jayhawk turned on the engines during her final stretch, and took first place by eight-hundredths of a second with a time of 4:33.24.
▪ The men’s 5,000-meter race was a one-man show. With a time of 14:21.57, Kansas’ Evan Landes took first place by more than 25 seconds.