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Barbara Nwaba Wins Olympic Trials Heptathlon, Books Trip to Rio

Barbara Nwaba does a victory lap around Oregon’s Hayward Field after winning the USA Track & Field Olympic Trials heptathlon. Click to view larger
Barbara Nwaba does a victory lap around Oregon’s Hayward Field after winning the USA Track & Field Olympic Trials heptathlon. (David Monico photo)

Santa Barbara’s Barbara Nwaba is going to the Olympic Games.

The UCSB graduate and ABEO/Santa Barbara Track Club member earned a spot on the U.S. team after winning the heptathlon on Sunday at the USA Track & Field Olympic Trials in Eugene, Ore. She scored 6,494 points to beat out Heather Miller-Koch with 6,423 points and Kendall Williams with 6,402.

“It set in when I took my victory lap and I ran to my mom, who I didn’t know was here, and that’s when all the waterworks came down," Nwaba said in a press conference of the moment she realized that she qualified to represent her country in the Olympic Games. "I felt so blessed for her to be out here because she didn’t want me to be distracted or worry about where she was, so when I saw her I couldn’t believe it. I was just so happy to share that moment with her.”

She is the first American-born UCSB track and field to qualify for the Olympics in track and field.

In first place after four events on Saturday, Nwaba fell to fourth after the opening event on Sunday, the long jump. She jumped 19-2.75 and placed 14th.  Williams, the NCAA champion from Georgia, moved into the overall lead after a jump 20-3.25.

Nwaba poses with her coach Josh Priester of the ABEO/Santa Barbara Track Club. Click to view larger
Nwaba poses with her coach Josh Priester of the ABEO/Santa Barbara Track Club. (David Monico photo)

“After day one, seeing how high everyone’s marks were, I thought: ‘Oh this isn’t going to be as easy as I thought.’ To make top three I thought it was going to take 6300 and it took 6400, so it took me having to focus and execute everything the best I can.”

Nwaba, the defending national champion, returned to the top spot on the leaderboard after posting the second-best throw in the javelin. She went 161-4 and pulled 40 points ahead of Williams, who finished eighth.

In the final event, the 800 meters, Nwaba came in third place in 2:11.71 and scored 940 points to claim her second straight American title and a spot on her first U.S. Olympic Team. She'll be joined by Miller-Koch and Williams.

“It’s definitely going to be an amazing competition at the games," she said. "But these are girls that I’ve competed with so I’ve gotten to know these girls and know what their talents are. For me, it’s going to be about just being able to just focus on myself because I’ve definitely focused on myself throughout this whole competition and everything worked out. So if I continue to that and not get distracted by how well other people are doing or how far ahead they are in points, I should be okay. Just keep focusing on myself and my abilities and just compete my hardest and I think everything will turn out fine.”

The results from the other ABEO/SBTC members: Lindsay Schwartz came in 9th with a personal-best score of 6,036 points (her first time over 6,000 points); Lindsay Letow was 10th with 5,960 points and Chari Hawkins finished 15th with 5,720 points.

Nwaba is the sixth athlete from the Santa Barbara area to qualify for next month’s Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro, joining Team USA women’s water polo players Kami Craig (Santa Barbara High), Kiley Neushul (Dos Pueblos) and Sami Hill (Dos Pueblos) and swimmer Josh Prenot (Santa Maria native). Craig won Olympic gold in London in 2012. Also competing in Rio will be shot putter Nicholas Scarvelis (Dos Pueblos alum) for the Greece Olympic Team.

Other Olympians with local ties include the men's beach volleyball team of Phil Dalhausser (2008 gold medalist with Todd Rogers) and Nick Lucena, men's water polo player Ben Hallock and Vashti Cunningham, the daughter of former NFL star and Santa Barbara High football and track & field standout Randall Cunningham. Vashti Cunningham placed second in the women’s high jump at the U.S. Trials with a leap of 6-5 1/2.

Karch Kiraly (Santa Barbara High alum), a three-time Olympic gold medalist, is going to Rio as the head coach of the U.S. Women’s Volleyball team.

Noozhawk sports editor Barry Punzal can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). Follow Noozhawk Sports on Twitter: @NoozhawkSports. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.

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