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Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Next stop for Stigler: USA Championships

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With the vivid memory of crossing the finish line first at the recent NCAA Championships in Eugene, Oregon, fresh in his mind, Kansas University’s 400-meter hurdler Michael Stigler is setting his sights even higher.

Competing in the same city and on the same track today through Sunday, Stigler will take his shot at running down some of the best hurdlers in the world at the USA Championships.

While the idea of an NCAA champion going toe-to-toe with a handful of world-class veterans might qualify as a reach in many sports, it’s not so crazy in track and field. And Stigler knows it, which is why he plans to enter this week with the same goal he has taken into every meet this season — to win.

“I know that I’m ready to run with these guys,” Stigler said. “And I’m sure they know it, as well. I know they’re waiting for me.”

By saying “these guys,” Stigler’s talking about some big names. Bershawn “Batman” Jackson has long been one of the sport’s biggest attractions and two other hurdlers — Johnny Dutch and Michael Tinsley — qualified with times faster than Stigler’s 48.44-second mark. Those four, however, are the only men in the field to crack the 49-second mark.

Because of that, Stigler believes he has as good of a shot as anybody to win. But it’s his past connection to Jackson that has him feeling comfortable about his first professional appearance.

Stigler, a native of Canyon, Texas, first met Jackson back in high school, when he was competing at junior nationals and Jackson was competing at the event they both will run in this weekend.

“I met him while he was doing his victory lap,” Stigler recalled. “And got his autograph and then I got a chance to sit down and talk to him for about an hour.”

Since then, Jackson has maintained a role as a mentor for Stigler, giving him tips and pointers along the way and congratulating him after several of his biggest achievements. After winning the NCAA title a couple of weeks ago, Stigler received a congratulatory text from Jackson and a reminder that he better be ready for the next meet.

“He’s been a mentor for me, a guy I looked up to who’s gonna help me transition and adjust to the professional life,” Stigler said. “He’s helped me out a lot.”

So, given all of that respect and admiration for his mentor, will trying to knock Jackson off the top spot on the medal stand be tough for Stigler to commit to? Don’t bet on it.

“You always have to feel like you’re the best because it just depends on how you run that day,” he said. “I work just as hard as them, so why not say I’m the better athlete? I’m gonna give it my all and they’re gonna give it their all and I’m just excited for them to push me.”

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