The University of Southern California (USC) is hosting “Cardinal and Gold Conversations with USC Olympians,” a four-part virtual panel series. Last week, they honored their illustrious Track and Field legacy by featuring Allyson Felix, Canadian Sprinter Andre De Grasse, World Record-holding hurdler Dalilah Muhammad and heptathlete and hurdler Nia Ali.
NCAA champion coach Caryl Smith Gilbert also was one of the panelists and assistant coach Quincy Watts was the moderator.
The athletes talked about their achievements, goals, and endeavors outside of track. Along with being the most decorated track and field athlete, Felix is an advocate of women and maternal rights. Being a mother and persevering through adversity keeps her a competitive sprinter.
“I think for me, what’s really helped me doing all the sprints … it’s always given me a different challenge and I love to challenge myself,” Felix said. “I think about my daughter and showing her what hard work looks like.”
Ali was the 2011 NCAA Outdoor champion in the 100m hurdles and won a silver medal in the 2016 Summer Olympics. In 2019, she won a gold medal in the 100m hurdles in the IAAF World Championships after running her personal best: a 12.24s time.
In the moments leading up to a race, Ali is usually calm, and she keeps her mind off the race.
“I have done so much mental preparation up to that point, I don’t want to distract myself with last minute thinking,” Ali said. “I pray before I go out there and then everything is handled in my opinion.”
Andre De Grasse was a formidable opponent who competed against the iconic Jamaican sprinter Usain Bolt during the 2016 Rio Olympics. In 2015, he won two bronze medals at the IAAF Worlds and two gold medals during the Pan Am Games. During that time, De Grasse was working towards graduating.
“When you go to USC you really have to buckle down,” he said. “I had to literally go to class, then after class, go to practice and then [after] practice, go to tutoring. And then before you know it the day is over.”
Muhammad became the world record holder for the 400m hurdles after running a 52.16s time during the 2019 IAAF Worlds. She also won gold for the same event during the Rio Olympics. Her original goal in college was to be a standout among the other notable USC athletes. Now, the goal is to run the 400m hurdles in 51 seconds or less.
“The competition on the 400m hurdles is just gonna be a tough race and a tough journey,” Muhammad said. “But I’m looking forward to it, I’m excited.”
Smith Gilbert became the USTFCCCA Indoor and Outdoor Women’s Coach of the Year. She led the USC women’s track and field team to winning the past two Pac-12 championships. She has also worked with Team USA Track and Field, being an assistant coach for two IAAF World Championships.
She enjoys cultivating young talent and preparing them for Olympic competition.
“That’s probably one of the more exciting parts of my position,” Smith Gilbert said. “We get to develop them from teenagers coming from their homes where we go get them through the college years and then as young adults.”