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Danniel Thomas entered the 2017 NCAA National Track & Field Championships with modest expectations, hoping to simply throw a personal best in the shot put and discus then see what happens.
"I just want two (personal bests)," said Thomas in an interview last week. "If I get both of those, it doesn't matter what my position is. I'll honestly be happy with it."
Thomas did more than just that in Thursday night's shot put finals. The redshirt senior from Jamaica shattered her personal best, set a new NCAA National Championships record, and became the Golden Flashes' first female national champion with a heave of 62 feet, 10 inches that eclipsed her high mark entering the meet by over two feet.
"Coming into the competition, I was working on a lot of things, but as I came in I just told myself to take everything out of my mind and be relaxed and let the technique work, and it paid off," said Thomas.
Thomas, now a nine-time All-American, bettered her previous career-best mark of 60-8 three times on her way to earning a national championship Thursday in Eugene, Ore. She threw 62-2.25 on her third attempt, followed by 61-9.5 on her fifth attempt, then sealed the title on her final attempt with a mark of 62-10. All six of her throws in the competition would have won her the national championship.
The final toss of 62-10 is the second-best collegiate mark ever, an NCAA Outdoor National Championships record, a Jamaican national record and a Kent State record. It's also the fourth-longest throw in the world this year.
"Words cannot explain it," said Thomas, when asked how she felt after her record-setting throw. "You know that moment when the hard work finally pays off, there's nothing that can describe that feeling."
Thomas is just the fifth individual in Kent State track and field history to earn a national title, joining hammer throwers Jacques Accambray (1971, 1973), Al Schoterman (1972) and Matthias Tayala (2014). The story on Thomas that appeared in Friday's Record-Courier contained incorrect information on KSU's number of individual national champions that was obtained from the university just before deadline.
Thomas, who entered the meet with the second-best throw in the nation, finished over four feet ahead of second-place Louisville senior Emmonnie Henderson. Brittany Mann of Oregon took third (57-4.75), followed by event favorite Raven Saunders (57-3.75).
"We're extremely proud of Danniel. She was in complete control of the competition, and she just unleashed an unbelievable throw," said KSU Director of Track & Field/Cross Country Bill Lawson. "It was one of the most impressive athletic performances I've seen in a really long time. (Flashes associate head coach/throws coach Nathan) Fanger and Danniel have put tremendous effort in to get to this point, and they've made this a really proud day for Kent State."
Thomas, who represented Jamaica at the 2016 Rio Olympics, will now compete for a national championship in the discus tonight at6:05 p.m. She enters the event seeded fourth, and was the runner-up in the discus at the 2014 NCAA National Championships.