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Two Hillsdale College alumni are training to qualify for the 2016 Olympics this August in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.
Amanda Eccleston (for­merly Putt) ’12 and Maurice Jones ’15 both ran track and field while at Hillsdale and hold standing school records for many events. They will try out for the 1500-meter run and the 400-meter hurdles, respec­tively.
Eccleston, a dis­tance runner, holds Hillsdale records in the mile, 800 meter, 3K, and 5K races. She will attempt to qualify for the 1500-meter run at the U.S. Olympic Trials, held July 1 – 10 in Eugene, Oregon.
After grad­u­ating from Hillsdale with a biology major, Eccleston went on to compete at the Uni­versity of Michigan for one year, and has been running con­sis­tently since then. She now is a pro­fes­sional runner for Brooks Running.
“It is not nec­es­sarily any­thing that dif­ferent this year,” Eccleston said of her training. “It has been a gradual pro­gression over the last several years, being able to train a little bit more and a little bit harder every year.”
She said that she is able to ded­icate four-to-five hours per day to training.
Jones, who holds school records in the 400-meter dash as well as the 400-meter hurdles, is a dual citizen of America and England. He said that he will try out for the 400-meter hurdles with the British team.
“The 400 hurdles have exploded in the last few years,” he said. “It was a fairly unpopular race for a long time. A lot of open runners who couldn’t make the team moved to 400 hurdles and found success there. It has become sat­u­rated in the U.S. with a lot of good runners. As this is my first year, I thought my best chances would be for the British team.”
“It’s a little bit easier to advance through their system,” Hillsdale track and field head coach Andrew Towne said. “It’ll be easier for him to get into the semi­finals and finals, but the top three is still very hard.”
After grad­u­ation in May, Jones moved to Phoenix to train full time with a company called Altis. If he qual­ifies, he will go to the Olympic Trials in Birm­ingham, England, on June 24 – 26.
Both ath­letes have been waiting for the outdoor track season to begin in order to hit “Olympic time,” which is the time that is needed for each event to qualify for the trials. This is what Jones called the “try-out for the trials.”
Eccleston said that she needs to hit 4:07, and she has run 4:09 so far.
“I have six or seven races between now and then, so I’ll have a chance to go after that,” she said. “It should be very doable based on how I’ve done so far this indoor season.”
If she qual­ifies, she will have to run three races in four days, and place in the top three of the final race.
Jones said he would like to hit the US Olympic time for the 400 hurdles, which is 49.4 seconds, but under 50 seconds would be pos­itive.
Both ath­letes said that injuries have been the largest chal­lenge of their careers.
“I have a fairly unique body type that over the years has caused me to have poor form,” Jones said. “Trying to fix it now has gen­erated a lot of problems.”
Nev­er­theless, he said that his training has helped him return to the basics, build endurance, and advance to spe­cialized tech­niques for his event.
Eccleston said that certain injuries, like stress frac­tures, lead to six-to-eight weeks without running, but she is opti­mistic for the summer.
Both also rec­ognize the com­pe­tition. Eccleston said there are two women in the U.S. who are at high levels and should make it through trials.
“There is one more spot that is pretty much wide open,” she said. “I would say there are about ten people who have a pretty good shot, and I con­sider myself one of those ten.”
Jones said that he is aware of one British runner whom he believes will qualify.
“If I run what I think I can run, I should either be second or third on the British side,” Jones said.
Towne also said that the number of Hillsdale athlete-alumni attempting Olympic Trials is unusual and impressive, espe­cially for the size of the college.
“It is a tes­tament to the kind of kids that we have, the culture that they’ve been in, and the way that they have developed,” he said. “Even in a big school it would be unlikely to have this many kids con­tinuing to be at that level.”
Jones, whose family lives in England, said that he has not seen his family in five years, and he looks forward to seeing them and trav­eling.
“There is nothing more I want to do than see the world,” he said. “One thing about track is that it is a great oppor­tunity to meet new people and to travel dif­ferent places.”
Eccleston said that after her improvement in the last few months, she is hopeful for the outdoor season and the new step in her career.
“The running world is some­times hard for people to under­stand,” she said, “but everyone under­stands the Olympics and the Olympic Trials.”