Lynna Irby has been overtaken in global 400-meter races in each of the past two Julys. Yet it has been more of a case of winning silver than losing gold.
Jamaica’s Tiffany James came from behind to beat the Pike High School sprinter Thursday night in the under-20 World Junior Championships at Bydgoszcz, Poland.
James, 19, out-leaned Irby, 17, in a photo finish. The Jamaican clocked 51.32 seconds to 51.39 by Irby, who broke her own all-time Indiana high school record.
“I didn’t know where anyone else was in that race until maybe the last 80 meters,” Irby said in a video supplied by USA Track & Field. “I just peeked over to the side. You know, ‘Anybody there?’ Yeah, sure enough. Here she was. I knew it was going to be a battle.”
Irby’s previous state record was 51.79 in winning silver in last year’s under-18 World Youth Championships at Cali, Colombia. In that race, Bahrain’s Salwa Eid Naser came from behind to win gold in 51.50.
Irby’s time ranks No. 7 on the United States’ all-time high school list and is the fastest by an American girl since 2002. Of the six faster, five own Olympic medals.
Coincidentally, the record at junior worlds is 50.50 by Ashley Spencer, also of Indianapolis, in 2012. Spencer, a Lawrence North graduate, was then coming off her freshman college season at Illinois.
Michael Vinson, the Indiana Storm club coach, said Irby expected to win. He did not find fault with her tactics.
“They both pulled away from the field, so it’s not like she was struggling at the end,” Vinson said. “Unbelievable race.”
Vinson and Pike coach DeDee Nathan both saw this coming. In recent workouts, Vinson said, Irby has looked “as good as I’ve ever seen her.” Irby said she peaked at the right time.
It was a long way from the aftermath of an April 9 race at Arcadia, Calif. There she sat alone, attempting to process how she could have finished fifth in 54.49.
“She understood and was able to put that behind her, using that as motivation, and moved on,” Vinson said.
Irby swept the 100, 200 and 400 for a third time in the June 3 state meet, then capped it off by carrying Pike to second place on the anchor leg of the 1,600 relay.
“Even at the high school meet, for an athlete to be able to run six rounds in a few hours and turn in those quality times, she’s just strong,” Nathan said.
Irby is not through at Bydgoszcz. She is eligible to run a heat of the 400 relay Friday and is expected to anchor Team USA’s 1,600 relay Sunday.
Elsewhere Thursday, the United States used 1-2 finishes in both the women’s 800 meters and men’s 110 hurdles to take the lead in the medals table with nine. Ethiopia is next with four. Deakin Volz (Bloomington South) qualified for the final of the men’s pole vault.
Candace Hill, who went pro while still in high school in Georgia, set a junior worlds record of 11.07 in the women’s 100 meters.
Call IndyStar reporter David Woods at (317) 444-6195. Follow him on Twitter: @DavidWoods007.
United States’ all-time high school list
Girls 400 meters
• 50.69 Sanya Richards (Florida), 2002.
• 50.74 Monique Henderson (California), 2000.
• 50.87 Denean Howard (California), 1982.
• 50.90 Sheila Ingram (District of Columbia), 1976.
• 51.04 x-Kalecia Baird (New York), 2012.
• 51.09 Sherri Howard (California), 1979.
• 51.39 Lynna Irby (Indiana), 2016.
• 51.45 Ericka Harris (Washington), 1981.
• 51.55 Sharon Dabney (Pennsylvania), 1977.
• 51.63 Jessica Beard (Ohio), 2007.
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