Former Saluki to compete for final spot in London Olympics

By Gus Bode

Former Saluki track and field athlete, Bianca Stuart, won seven out of eight possible conference titles during her SIU career. On July 17, Bahama native Stuart competed in the Central American and Caribbean Athletic Confederation in Puerto Rico where her record-breaking long jump won her an opportunity to compete for a spot in the Olympic finals in London. – Provided Photo

Bianca Stuart, a 2009 SIUC alumna, will be given the opportunity to represent the Bahamas, her native country, in London for the 2012 Olympic games.

Stuart, who will compete for a spot on the Olympic finals roster for the long jump, will be the first Saluki to qualify for an Olympic event since current track and field head coach Connie Price-Smith, a four-time Olympian, performed both shot put and discus.

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“She’ll be the first one who has gone to an Olympic games, since I’ve been here so it’s nice to kind of have that tradition revamped,” Price-Smith said.

A record setting jump at the Central American and Caribbean Athletics Seniors Championship in Puerto Rico July 17 by Stuart qualified her for both the Olympics and the IAAF World Championship in South Korea.

“It’s everybody’s dream to make it to the Olympics,” Stuart said in a Saluki athletics release. “I knew I had the confidence to do it. I have worked very hard and it paid off.”

Stuart accompanied two other Salukis at the IAAF World Championships; Price-Smith, who was chosen as the U.S. women’s head coach, and senior thrower Jeneva McCall, who competed for the U.S. in the hammer throw.

To qualify for finals in the Olympics, Price-Smith said each athlete has three opportunities to make an impression, depending on the event. She said the athlete must be able to handle the pressure not only from others, but the self-inflicted load.

“It’s just a matter of getting to London and to get in a good jump,” Price –Smith said. “It’ll be a great experience for her. She’s still very young and she’s got a long way to go.”

Andre Scott, the jumps coach for the both the men’s and women’s track and field squad was a key part in recruiting Stuart and would be her event coach for her tenure at SIU. He said Stuart made an immediate impact while sporting maroon and white.

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“She was conference champion at her first indoor championship,” Scott said. “She got seven (titles) and she missed one because she was hurt.”

Despite her recent success, Scott said Stuart had technique issues early in her collegiate career before she found the form that worked for her.

“She fouled a lot of jumps and that was the first thing I noticed before I brought her to SIU,” Scott said. “Then she started getting more consistent at getting those jumps in and those jumps got further and further.”

With a few SEC teams also interested in Stuart, Scott said the fact that her brother was already a member of the SIU track and field team was a major aspect in the recruiting of the eventual two time All-American.

“It was a big help having him here because the dad felt really at ease knowing that another family member was here in town,” Scott said. “I gave her dad a call and started talking to him and made arrangements to get her up here, offered her a scholarship, (and ) got her here.”

Price-Smith recollected on her experiences during the qualification stages of the Olympic process. She said the competition is very tight regardless of the event but she has no doubt that Stuart has the talent and work ethic to do well.

“That’s really stressful because it’s a lot of times you don’t go through that during your collegiate system,” Price-Smith said. “It is very intense and very nerve-racking but it’s a great feeling once you get out of qualifying.”

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