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KU's Yoveinny Mota off to nationals as record holder & future Olympian

Senior hurdler recently broke KU's school record, Venezuela's national record & earned a spot in this summer's Olympics

7 min read
KU senior Yoveinny Mota celebrates at the recent NCAA West Preliminary meet in Fayetteville, Arkansas, where she set a KU record & ran a qualifying time for the 2024 Olympics in the 100-meter hurdles. [Kansas Athletics photos]

There were times when she thought she was done with track for good.

Heck, at one point during her last season at Arkansas in 2023, she told her coach in a text message that she was quitting.

But that was not the end of the story for Kansas hurdler Yoveinny Mota, a proud Venezuelan, who, in just a few months as a Jayhawk, has made a lasting impression on the school that changed everything for her.

Next week, she’ll compete for Kansas in her final collegiate meet — NCAA Outdoor nationals in Eugene, Oregon. And she’ll do so with a couple of new titles behind her name.

KU school record holder and 2024 Olympian.

Mota, 23, became both of those things while taking third place in the 100-meter hurdles at last week’s NCAA West Preliminary meet in, of all places, Fayetteville, Arkansas.

“Going for the school record in Arkansas, that was something personal to me,” Mota told R1S1 Sports during a sit-down interview on Wednesday morning at Rock Chalk Park. “I was like I’m here, I’m ready to run. Mentally, I was running by myself. I didn’t care about no one. And when I saw the time, I was like ‘Come on; let’s go!’”

That time — 12.66 seconds — made her KU’s new school record holder, an accomplishment she watched teammate and close friend Gabbie Gibson achieve just inches in front of her on three separate occasions earlier this year.

After each instance in which Gibson won and Mota finished second, with times that also would have been school records, Mota simply smiled for her friend and told herself the same thing.

“My time is gonna be there,” she remembered thinking. “One day, it’s gonna happen.”

That day is here. And it has positioned Mota for one heck of a final chapter to her college career.

It all began when Mota was 17-years-old and decided to leave home for a chance to come to the United States.

At an Under-20 meet in the U.S., she met a coach from Kansas State, who talked to her about running track in America.

The entirety of their conversation was conducted over Mota’s translator app on her phone — she did not speak any English at all — and it led to her landing at Barton Community College in Great Bend, Kansas.

“He talked to me in July and I made my decision in December,” she recalled. “I was like, ‘Mom, I’m leaving.’ And she supported me so much.”

From that point on, everything she did during her first several months in Great Bend took place over that translator app. Practice. Classes. Interactions with teammates and new friends. Everything.

Slowly but surely, her English started to improve. And by the time she was done at Barton, she was not only a better communicator but also a better hurdler.

Roughly 20 schools offered her a chance to continue her college career at the Division I level. She narrowed that list to 10 and then again to 5 before choosing Arkansas.

Kansas coach Stanley Redwine checked in on her, but Mota, at that time, was not interested in Kansas.

“When I checked about them online, I didn’t see any hurdlers,” she said. “And I need someone better than me so I can beat them.”

She spent the next two seasons running at Arkansas, a tradition-rich program known for its sprinters and hurdlers. While the chance to grow as an athlete was there, something was missing.

Before the end of her final season, Mota was done. She no longer enjoyed competing and struggled to find her purpose to run.

“If I’m not mentally ready, I’m not going to run fast,” she said.

There was more to her rut than just track and school, and those questions and concerns took a toll on her mentally, as well.

“What are you gonna do next,” she remembered thinking. “After I finish school and track, what is next? And I was worried because I didn’t have those answers.”

For most of her time at Arkansas, her boyfriend (and now-husband), Abdel Rivera, was working in Lenexa, Kansas. The native Puerto Rican often drove down to Fayetteville to spend time with her on the weekends and support her at meets as often as possible.

As soon as she finished school and ran her last meet as a Razorback, the two got engaged in May of 2023. The day after their engagement, they moved to Kansas.

“When I moved here, I didn’t have any interest in running,” she said. “I didn’t want to run track anymore. I needed a break for mental health.”

Old habits die hard, though. After all, this was an athlete who had been running since she was 12-years-old. To this day, she vividly remembers watching Venezuelan star Yulimar Rojas win Olympic gold and world championships.

“When I was like 12 years old I saw her on TV and I was like, ‘I want to be like her so bad,’” Mota recalled of the woman they call the Queen of the Triple Jump. “And I’ve been working so hard.”

With the move to Kansas in the works, a quick visit to the KU track facilities led to a second chance. She was touring Rock Chalk Park that day because her goal was to turn pro and she wanted to see if she could work out there.

When she met the coaching staff and revealed that she had one more year of eligibility, the simple question, after a 10-minute conversation, was, “Why not come here?”

“I took a month-and-a-half to make my decision,” Mota recalled. “And it was the best decision I’ve ever made. The people here care about me as an athlete and also as a person. I never had that feeling before. After what happened at Arkansas, Kansas was a new start to my life. I just went out and did my best. And, right now, I’m just doing track because I love it and I’m just happy to be here.”

Mota will take the nation’s fourth best 100-meter hurdle time into next week’s national meet. And her goal is to win it.

She said one of the big keys toward making that happen is finding a way to get off to better starts. If she can do that, from the starting line and through the first four hurdles in the 10-hurdle race, she likes her chances.

“I just feel like the last six hurdles, that’s my time,” she said. “I know that’s my best part.”

While her sights are set fully on next week’s national meet in Eugene, Oregon, it doesn’t take long to see how much qualifying for her country’s Olympic team means to Mota.

Her qualifying time for the Paris Games later this summer (12.66) actually marked the second time in her career that she had done enough to qualify for Venezuela’s Olympic team. It’s also a national record in Venezuela.

Back in 2021, while at Arkansas, she ran a qualifying time, as well. But the wind factor registered at a -2.2 that day and that was enough to bump her time just outside of the qualifying mark.

“After that moment, I was like, ‘2024 is my year,’” Mota said.

Now that she’s made good on that prediction, she already has started to feel the joy associated with representing her country at the biggest sporting event in the world.

If the qualifying time wasn’t enough to convince her that she actually did it, going through a week filled with six interview requests from Venezuelan media outlets certainly was.

Beyond that, earlier this week Mota called her coach from when she was 12 years old, just to say thank you, and she routinely helps provide track athletes back home with shoes, clothes, gear and even motivational speaking.

“I think I’m just so proud to be on the Venezuelan team right now,” she said. “I’ve been competing for them before, but that moment I just can’t describe. That moment is just like, ‘Oh my goodness.’ The support I feel from my country is amazing. You have to be in my shoes to feel it.”

Appropriately, those shoes, whether when she runs as a Jayhawk or for her country, have red and blue as their central color scheme.

And Mota said even though she only spent a few months competing as a Jayhawk — although she was at KU, she ran unattached during the winter indoor season — her time at KU will forever be an important part of her story.

“Kansas is gonna be part of my progress from here on out,” she said. “Also, I made the Olympic team when I was here. And I want to practice here if I go pro and stay here. I just love everyone here at this point. This is home for me.”

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R1S1 features on 5 of the Jayhawks at Outdoor Nationals:

• 'I've had the record in my sights'

• KU's Yoveinny Mota off to nationals as record holder & future Olympian

• Devin Loudermilk's jam-packed path from hooper to high jumper

• 'It's kind of what you dream of'

• Clayton Simms' memorable streak

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