TERRE HAUTE — No one saw it coming. How could they?
One day, Adarius Washington is a slower-than-mediocre high school half-miler. Two years later, he is an all-state hurdler. Five years after that, he is one of the fastest hurdlers in the world.
“I couldn’t have guessed he would end up being as good as he is. I wish I had that ability,” Indiana State track coach John McNichols said.
Washington didn’t realize his own ability. Now he could become the third Sycamores hurdler to become a national champion.
The 23-year-old senior will run in the semifinals of the 110-meter high hurdles Wednesday night in the NCAA Track and Field Championships at Eugene, Ore. The final is Friday.
Oregon’s Devon Allen is the top collegian at 13.32 seconds, followed by Washington at 13.40.
There are multiple reasons for Washington’s rise – talent, technique, training, tradition – but also credit Indianapolis winters. He had been running the 800 meters since middle school, and a Warren Central coach asked him to go outdoors for a run.
“And there was still snow on the ground,” Washington said. “So I was like, ‘I’m not going outside. I’m going to be a sprinter this year.’ Probably the best decision I ever made.”
That was his sophomore season. Warren Central had featured hurdlers coached by Bruce Hickman, and Washington wanted to try. He began as the team’s sixth-best hurdler. He qualified for the state meet as a junior, but it was such a surprise that his family had already booked a cruise to Jamaica for that weekend. So he didn’t run at state until he was a senior, finishing fourth.
Still, his time of 14.19 was not exceptional. He and teammate Arqeil Shaw ended up at Indiana State, representing another transition. Washington is not tall for a hurdler – 6-feet – and college barriers are 42 inches, compared with 39 inches in high school.
Hurdles come at you fast – there are 8.5 meters between each one – but the development process is slow. Washington redshirted his first year, 2012. One of his teammates was Greggmar Swift, a Barbados hurdler who became the Sycamores’ first track Olympian. Whatever Swift did, Washington did.
Washington had learned the fundamentals in high school, McNichols said, and merely needed refinement. Times have dropped from 14.19 in 2013, to 13.74 in 2014, to 13.58 in 2015, to this year’s 13.40 – which ranks eighth among Americans and 23rd worldwide.
“You have to be pretty disciplined in the technique, study and (do) the drills that you have to do,” McNichols said. “He has been able to go through those over the years and fine-tune and get just a little better and a little better.”
The hurdling culture at Indiana State is so strong that McNichols will show up at practice to see upperclassmen setting up drills and explaining to newbies what they will do. Washington said he “trusts everything” taught by his coach.
If Southern Cal was once Tailback U. and Penn State Linebacker U., then Indiana State is Hurdler U.
Chris Lancaster was an NCAA champion for the Sycamores in 1990. Aubrey Herring won indoors in 2001 and was a three-time NCAA runner-up. Then came Swift, then Washington.
Herring is now a coach himself, guiding David Oliver, a 2008 Olympic bronze medalist and 2013 world champion. Swift is a pro whose agent, Renaldo Nehemiah, was the first man to run the hurdles in less than 13 seconds.
Swift and Washington have given Indiana State a streak of five successive hurdles champions in the Missouri Valley Conference, something that had not been done since Oklahoma A&M in the 1930s and ’40s.
The tradition doesn’t stop with Washington, either. He is a step ahead of junior Marcus Neely, a Ben Davis High School graduate who was second in the MVC hurdles. In Indiana State history, Neely’s time of 13.70 has been bettered only by Swift (13.35), Herring (13.36), Washington and Lancaster (13.45).
“We sacrifice a lot to get to where we are,” Neely said. “Then again, this is what we’re here for. We’re here for our education. But at the same time, this is something that we love to do.”
Practices can be as intense as meets. The collegians try to be … well, swift. The pro doesn’t want to be shown up by college hurdlers. They “inspire each other,” Swift said.
Washington will become a pro after the NCAAs, and after that a police officer. He has served an internship for the Indiana State Police. His hurdling internship is nearly over.
Top three make the U.S. team from the Olympic Trials, also held at Eugene. If Washington can run as fast as 13.20, “there’s a spot there to Rio,” Swift said.
No one could have seen it coming.
Call IndyStar reporter David Woods at (317) 444-6195. Follow him on Twitter: @DavidWoods007.
NCAA track and field
Wednesday – 7:30-11 p.m., ESPN2 and ESPN3
Thursday – 7:30-8 p.m., ESPNU; 8-10:30, ESPN and ESPN3
Friday – 8:30-11 p.m., ESPN and ESPN3
Saturday – 6:30-9 p.m., ESPN
ATHLETES TO WATCH
Daniel Kuhn (Shelbyville), Indiana, 800 meters, 1:46.69
Austin Mudd (Center Grove), Wisconsin, 800 meters, 1:47.52
Matt Dorsey (Lawrence Central), Air Force, 1,500 meters, 3:41.65
Troy Reeder (Hamilton Southeastern), Furman, steeplechase, 8:41.94
Futsum Zienasellassie (North Central), Northern Arizona, 10,000 meters, 27:52.70
Erik Peterson, Butler, 10,000 meters, 28:41.18
Adarius Washington (Warren Central), Indiana State, 110 hurdles, 13.40
Deakin Volz (Bloomington South), Virginia Tech, pole vault, 17-9
Chukwuebuka Enekwechi, Purdue, shot put, 66-10, and hammer, 229-9
Willie Morrison, Indiana, shot put, 63-2 3/4
Carmeisha Cox, Purdue, 200 meters, 22.75
Margaret Bambgose, Notre Dame, 400 meters, 51.11
Olivia Pratt, Butler, 10,000 meters, 33:08.31
Kaila Barber, Notre Dame, 100 hurdles, 12.92, and 400 hurdles, 55.53
Symone Black, Purdue, 400 hurdles, 56.03
Montayla Holder (Lawrence Central), Iowa, 400 hurdles, 56.70
Sydney Clute (Center Grove), Indiana, pole vault, 14-6
Micaela Hazlewood, Purdue, discus, 182-11