The Post-Journal

Bakewell Aiming For Top Five At NCAAs

O.K. sports fans, picture this.

You’re a record-setting 400-meter runner, but the coach figures your true potential lies in a longer race, the 800 meters. So you decide to give it a try and after only five races, you’re the fifth-best collegian in the country.

Sounds almost too good to be true, doesn’t it?

But that is the scenario of Karen Bakewell, the Jamestown woman, who was one of the key ingredients in leading the Miami (Ohio) University women’s track team to a first-place finish in the Mid-American Conference this spring.

Check out these impressive credentials: women’s MAC track Athlete of the Year, a second-place finish in the 800 meters in the Jesse Owens Track & Field Classic in the third fastest time in the United States and an amazing individual performance in the MAC championships, which lifted Miami to it first conference title.

She is now preparing for the NCAA Division I Track & Field Championships next week in Indianapolis and, according to her coach, Rich Ceronie, she could be a top-five finisher if all goes well.

“If she goes in Wednesday (the day of the qualifier) feeling healthy, she could finish in the top five,” Ceronie said earlier this week.

The finals are scheduled for Friday.

Currently, Bakewell – who was the MAC champion in the 400 meters as a freshman – is ranked fifth among collegians in the 800 meters, according to Track & Field News, and eighth nationally.

“Everybody always said the 800 meters would be a good race for me,” Bakewell said. “As for being in the top five, it’s sort of a surprise. It’s just from working hard.”

Ceronie noted that by moving Bakewell to the 800 meters she could be national caliber “and now that I’ve seen what she’s done, she could be world-class (after a couple years of development).”

Chautauqua Striders Executive Director Ron Graham, who has worked with Bakewell since she was in the eighth grade, believes that she always had the qualities of an 800 meter runner.

“She had a sprinter’s background and her 200 meter time indicated she’d be a good 800 meter runner.”

“I didn’t think she’d do it so soon, but I’m not surprised.”

Ironically, Bakewell has made the adjustment to the longer race despite not competing at the collegiate level last year because of illness.

Her father, Gene Bakewell, said that she worked out “very seriously” while at home and was much stronger and “much more determined” when she returned to school.

“Karen was the first person we started on a Nautilus program,” Graham said. “Once she realized the advantages of strength training, she was very motivated.”

“I did feel physical stronger and mentally (stronger) too,” Bakewell said. “I guess (during) the year off I did a lot of thinking and preparing for what was coming up.”

Two accomplishments this spring that stick out in Ceronie’s mind were Bakewell’s performance in the Jesse Owens Classic and the conference meet.

In the Jesse Owens meet, in which only the top eight 800-meter runners were invited, Bakewell finished second in a school-record time of 2:04.18, breaking her old mark of 2:05:66.

In the conference meet, Bakewell won the 400 meters and the 800 meters, was second in the 200 meters and anchored the 1600-meter relay, which finished second in a school-record time.

Bakewell was the difference in the relay as she moved her team from fifth to second in the final lap, which included a burst in the final turn that sealed the overall victory for the Redskins.

Said Ceronie of Bakewell’s performance, “It’s never been done before in conference. It was an amazing day.”

Ceronie, who was named the MAC Coach of the Year, sees something special in Bakewell.

“Most coaches at the collegiate level have very talented athletes, but there’s very few that combine natural talent with the ability to work hard,” he said.

And Ceronie sees that hard work paying off down the road.

“Karen is still very young for a runner, but her senior year will be the year of the Olympic Trials,” he said. “She’ll definitely qualify for the Olympic Trials and I believe she’ll have a shot at the Olympic team.”

What does Bakewell think about that?

“I’ve thought about it a lot,” she said. “I think the more years you have behind you, the better prepared you are. I think by the time the Olympic Trials come around, I’ll be ready. I’m really excited about it.”

And so, too, are a group of youngsters in the Jamestown area.

“She’s an inspiration to our kids,” Graham said. “They all look to Karen as an example. She’s just the beginning.”

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