For someone who has competed in her event for only 3 1/2 years, Janae Strickland has sure made her mark. Strickland set the Missouri record in the women’s shot put at 55 feet, 6 1/4 inches on May 1 at the Big 12 Conference Championships in Norman, Okla. The second-place finish is her personal best.
Strickland, a senior who earned All-American honors with eighth at the NCAA Championships in June, is one of 24 athletes entered in the preliminaries of the Olympic Trials on July 15 in Sacramento, Calif. The 12 best throws will earn spots in the finals on July 16. Three will qualify for the 2004 Olympics next month in Athens, Greece.
North Carolina’s Laura Gerraughty is the top seed at the trials, with a throw of 62-9 3/4. Strickland will also compete against Nebraska’s Rebecca Breisch, who beat her at the Big 12 Championships at 56-9 1/2.
“This is my fourth year in it and I’m still so excited,” Strickland said. “It’s still new to me and I’m having fun and I can’t wait. Just going to trials is big. My coach said that there are no big track meets and I know, you know every track meet’s the same but this is the Olympic Trials, and this is fun.”
Strickland, who grew up in Houston, said when it was time for her to pick a college, her mom, Lorinda Cockrell, would let her go out of state only if she went to Missouri.
“Janae has asthma,” Cockrell said. “She has always wanted to go away and I have family in Columbia. She has a support there, so if I couldn’t get to her immediately then she has grandparents and my aunts and uncles there.”
Strickland said she used to tell people to look for her in the 2004 Olympics, but in the 100 meters. She switched to shot put her freshman year at Missouri.
“I like sprinting and sprinting is fun, but I knew I needed to do something different,” Strickland said. “It was time for a change.”
Coach Brett Halter said that Strickland is still early in her training but is getting better. He said Strickland got a huge confidence boost when she set a personal best in the weight room by lifting 245 pounds on the bench press.
Strickland is not the first in her family to do extraordinary things. She comes from a family of talented individuals. Lorinda Cockrell was a long jumper for Missouri and went to the Olympic Trials in 1988, but was injured at the meet. Cockrell said jumping for the Tigers was a wonderful experience.
“I grew as a person,” Cockrell said. “I used to be introverted and this caused me to become extroverted. It also allowed me to travel because at the time we had no outdoor track so during the outdoor season we were all over the country.”
Strickland’s grandfather, Arrvah Strickland, also has ties to Missouri. He was the first African-American professor the university hired, and began teaching in 1969. He taught the university’s first classes on African American history.
“The campus, Columbia, and nation I came to had a different atmosphere in 1969 than it does in 2004,” Arrvah Strickland said. “The students were very visionary and they had the idea that the world could be changed and that they would do it. It was an exciting time to work with young people.”
Janae Strickland works out with Christian Cantwell, a former Missouri athlete who has thrown the farthest in the world this year in the men’s shot put. Halter said the relationship that Strickland and Cantwell have is like brother and sister.
“They feed off of one another,” Halter said. “If one has a success the other is better for it, that happens with any athlete.”