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'I knew I was fast, but I wanted to do something different'

Why KU's Angelina Arinze fell in love with life as a hurdler

4 min read
Kansas 400-meter hurdler Angelina Arinze talks about her event and her goals in the upcoming Kansas Relays, slated for Thursday through Saturday this week at Rock Chalk Park. [R1S1 Sports photo]

Somewhat overshadowed by her stellar teammate Gabbie Gibson’s record-setting season to date, KU senior Angelina Arinze will have a little more of the hurdling spotlight shining on her this week at the Kansas Relays.

Competing in her final Kansas Relays, the St. Louis native who runs the 400-meter hurdles — as opposed to Gibson’s scorching times in the 100 hurdles — is full of excitement and eager to give it all she’s got on her home track at the 101st running of the iconic meet.

Arinze, who also has run on KU’s 4x400 relay team and in the 200 and 400-meter races, missed last year’s Kansas Relays because of a hip injury.

The meet record in the 400 hurdles is 55.67 seconds, set all the way back in 1984 by Iowa State’s Nawal El Moutawakei.

Given that this is just the second time she’ll run her signature event this outdoor season, Arinze, who ran a 1:03.20 at the Black and Gold Invite at UCF earlier this season, will be gunning more for a personal best and not the meet or school records like Gibson might have.

To date, Arinze’s best 400 hurdles time came in 2022, at the Big 12 Outdoor Championships, where she placed 14th with a time of 1:01.58. That same season, she also won the 400 hurdles at the Ward Haylett Invitational in 1:01.87.

Gibson, who already has set the school record three times this season in the 100-meter hurdles is not expected to compete at the Kansas Relays.

While this year’s KU roster features several 400-meter runners who were recently converted to the 400 hurdles, Arinze’s time as a hurdler dates back years.

She credits a middle school custodian with inspiring her to join the track team in the first place and said it did not take her long to fall in love with the feeling of flying over those strange looking obstacles that sat on the track.

“This was before I even started running track,” she told R1S1 Sports. “There was a janitor or somebody who worked at my middle school who would always ask me, ‘Do you run track?’ At the time, I only played basketball, but I think that kind of planted the seed.”

KU's Angelina Arinze clears a hurdle during a past outdoor meet. [Kansas Athletics photo]

So, why pick the hurdles?


“I knew I was fast, but I think I wanted to do something different, something that was a bit more of a challenge,” she said. “I think the hurdles make the race a lot more interesting. I’d rather run the 400 hurdles than a plain 400 because it’s like me against every hurdle.”

In high school, at Webster Groves High, she won the Missouri Class 4 state championship as a senior in the 300-meter hurdles with a school-record time of 43.6 seconds.

Success as a hurdler is entirely tied to mindset, Arinze said.

“Your mind is kind of your biggest enemy,” she said.

Rather than running a race with a single distance and time in mind, she likes clearing hurdles because each leap represents a new start.

“It’s like, OK, I’m gonna sprint to every hurdle and I have a goal to reach each time,” she said. “When I get off one hurdle, I’ve gotta run to the next one, rather than just straight track, me against the clock. The process is pretty similar for each one. Snap down, get your feet on the ground and sprint.”

At the college level, it’s that last 100 meters that is the hardest, Arinze said, noting that her thought process once she passes the first 300 meters is simply, “OK, you’ve just gotta finish.”

As for the biggest faux-pas as a hurdler, that, too, is simple.

“You don’t want to ever stop,” she said. “So, like, if you hit a hurdle, you just have to get over it. You can always keep going, but if you stop then the race is over.”

So she has trained herself to keep going. Even when she does hit a hurdle. Or even if she hits all of them.

“It is not a good feeling,” she said of one’s foot clipping the top of the hurdle. “But sometimes when I hit a hurdle that’s kind of like my motivator – go, I have to make up for that. So, it can be a blessing. Ideally, you don’t want to hit the hurdles, but it’s not the worst thing either.”

Arinze praised Gibson and fellow-100-meter hurdler, Yoveinny Mota, who has been step for step with the KU record-holder throughout the season, for their leadership and efforts in pushing all of KU’s hurdlers.

With one of them out this week, Arinze wants to show well for her team and her teammates as much as herself.

“I just really want to showcase who I am as an individual,” she said. “This is my last season to compete as a Jayhawk, so I’m gonna go out there and go crazy.”

The prelims for the 400-meter hurdles are set for 1:25 p.m. on Friday, with the finals slated for 1:06 p.m. on Saturday.

The Kansas Relays as a whole will begin late Thursday morning and run through Saturday afternoon.

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