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Prandini Golden, Nelson Silver In 4x100

Jul 23, 2022

EUGENE, Ore. — When she was just a kid, Jenna Prandini dreamt of being a world champion. When she got to Oregon to run with the Ducks, that dream started to feel tangible.

Saturday night at Hayward Field, that dream was realized. Prandini, who was a three-time NCAA champion with the UO track and field program, won a gold medal in the World Athletics Championships by running the third leg of Team USA's victorious 4x100-meter relay.

Prandini and her three teammates ran a world-leading time of 41.14 seconds, edging out runner-up Jamaica — whose lead leg was the recent NCAA Outdoor runner-up at 100 meters for the Ducks, Kemba Nelson. Jamaica finished in 41.18 seconds.

As she did in Friday's preliminary, Prandini ran the north curve of Hayward Field's track on the relay. The United States had the lead at that point over Nelson and Jamaica, and Prandini ran stride-for-stride with the legendary Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce before handing off to Twanisha Terry, who brought Team USA home in first.

"It's really special," Prandini said. "Not only is it U.S. soil, it's Hayward Field — and Hayward Field is home for me. I love coming back for any race, but to be able to have the World Championships, the biggest race of the whole year, it's definitely really special.

"The 'Hayward Magic' was real tonight."

Prandini won her third major championships medal with the U.S. 4x100 team, and her first gold. Previously she won silver at the 2015 World Championships and the 2021 Summer Olympics.

Nelson won her first major championships medal. Both athletes bounced back from not reaching their individual finals — Nelson in the 100, Prandini in the 200 — to bring home medals for their countries Saturday.

"I'm really grateful and really blessed," Nelson said. "The 100 didn't go as planned, but I didn't let that stop me from going out there and doing what I do best."

Also Saturday, the two UO athletes with collegiate eligibility remaining were in action. Emmanuel Ihemeje finished fifth in the triple jump, improving on his 11th-place finish in Tokyo last summer, and Shana Grebo helped France advance to Sunday's final of the 4x400 relay.

Sunday's final session of this championships also will feature UO alum Raevyn Rogers in the 800 meters. Alaysha Johnson slipped out of the blocks in her 100 hurdles preliminary Saturday and did not advance to Sunday's action.

Prandini's potential to be a world champion was evident at an early age; she won five high school state titles in California, and the USATF U20 crown in the long jump in 2011. But she harnessed that talent, she said Saturday, in Eugene.

"It wasn't until I got to Oregon where I really started to get developed as an athlete," said Prandini, twice an NCAA champion in the long jump and the 2015 NCAA Outdoor champion at 100 meters. "The coaches took me in, developed me and showed me that I can compete with the best in the world — turned my dreams into reality."

Nelson got to live out a dream as well on Saturday. As a child growing up, she idolized Fraser-Pryce, whose gold in the 100 meters at this meet was her 13th in Olympics and World Championships competition.

"When she won her first Olympics, I was only 8," Nelson said. "My dream was to run a relay with her. And I got that today. I'm really, really happy with that."

Ihemeje, a three-time NCAA champion for the Ducks in the triple jump, popped an effort of 17.03 meters — or 55 feet, 10.5 inches — on his second attempt to put himself in sixth place among the 12 finalists. Being in the top eight earned him a second set of three jumps, and on his final attempt he soared 17.17 — or 56-4 — to move up a spot to fifth.

Though the wind was slightly over the legal limit, it was still an all-conditions outdoor PR for Ihemeje, farther than his 17.14 to win the 2021 NCAA Outdoor title.

"We call that 'LOBO' here at Oregon — last one, best one," Ihemeje said. "So, a lot of positivity compared from last year in Tokyo."

Ihemeje said he was hoping to put himself in position for a medal on that last attempt. He settled for the all-conditions PR, and a six-spot improvement on his placing in Tokyo.

"That's progress," he said. "I'm 23 years old, so the world will definitely know me, for sure."

Grebo, who set the UO 400 hurdles record as a freshman in the spring, ran the second leg of the 4x400 for France on Saturday. That meant she took the baton about the same time as Team USA's Allyson Felix, who came out of retirement to run Saturday.

"It was such a great opportunity to say, OK, I run with this amazing athlete for her last one, so it was super inspiring," Grebo said. "I'm so thankful for that."

Grebo was so nervous to take the baton Saturday, she initially lined up at the end of the exchange zone rather than the beginning. After moving up into the proper position, she unleashed a split of 51.69 seconds, second-fastest on the French team. Having achieved the goal of making Sunday's final, France now will look to record a top-five finish — if not higher.

"It was amazing to come back here and compete for my country in front of all the Ducks, my coaches, my friends from the U of O," Grebo said. "So I'm super happy to be back finally here."