Tamara Clark seizes her moment, sets NCAA top-five time


Photo courtesy of Alabama Athletics

Carey Reeder | @realCareyReeder, Staff Writer

Before every race she competes in, Alabama junior sprinter Tamara Clark takes a minute to gather her emotions and ease her frantic nerves.

As she prepared to compete in Friday’s UAB Blazer Invitational at the Birmingham Crossplex Arena, she stepped off to the side, away from her teammates and coaches, and entered a nearby bathroom to meditate.

“I start shaking because I will start to overthink things,” Clark said. “After that, I’m ready to go. Without doing that, I feel like I would be overwhelmed.”

In the Crimson Tide’s first indoor meet of the season, Clark began her morning by posting two sub-7.30 times in the two women’s 60-meter dash races, including a personal best-tying 7.23 in the finals. After that, Alabama assistant sprint coach Blaine Wiley approached the North Carolina native with a proposition that only comes around once a year.

The 300-meter indoor race in not an officially sanctioned NCAA track and field event. It is, however, offered at the Blazer Invitational. For Clark, the 2019 SEC champion in the 200-meter, it was a perfect chance to test herself with a possible move up to the 400-meter in the future.

“It’s a type of benchmark we use to gauge where we are,” Wiley said. “After she met her personal best (in the 60-meter), I knew she was ready to do something special.”

Clark did just that, winning the 300-meter with a time of 36.56 – the fifth-fastest time in NCAA indoor history – and improving her personal best in the event by more than half a second. Her run, which she described as a blur from the first gun to the finish line, sits less than 1 second behind the all-time record of 35.69, set by Merlene Ottey of Nebraska in 1982.

Despite four event wins, the SEC Championship, All-American honors in the 200-meter and an NCAA Championship bid in the same event, Clark still sees the indoor season as a challenge for her as a runner.

“It’s a love-and-hate relationship with indoor because it’s so hard,” Clark said with a sigh. “I’m not the strongest runner, strength-wise, and the banked curves are really difficult.”

Wiley has challenged Clark in the indoor portion of the season since her arrival in Tuscaloosa and said she has responded. It takes a confident athlete to lead both vocally and by example, which Clark embodies with her role on the track and field team.

“That type of leadership makes others want to raise their output,” Wiley said. “If I tell her to run, she runs. She doesn’t do half-speed and brings so much energy.”

With the Olympics – the highest level of competition in the sport – looming this summer, Clark has her sights set on a trip to Tokyo. Based on the 2016 requirements for the U.S. Olympic Trials, she is in position to receive an invitation to this year’s trials from June 19-28 for both the 100- and 200-meter.

For Clark, the goal right now is to simply make the trials and improve on her weaknesses – most notably, her starts in the blocks.

“I just need to stay confident and take it step-by-step,” Clark said. “Everyone is like ‘I want to win,’ but I want the experience. I’m still so young.”

Clark is not shy about thanking the people who have helped her get better every day during her time at Alabama, including her coaches and teammates.

“If I don’t run fast, I feel like I let [Wiley] down, I want to make him and my family proud,” Clark said. “My biggest influence are the people that love me. I owe a lot of people greatness.”St