Keyunta Hayes stays on the go these days.
The world-ranked hurdler hopped on a plane Wednesday from San Antonio, arrived in Eugene, Ore., and continued his normal routine. Hayes hopes the next few days prove just as fast, with a chance to reach the Olympics within grasp.
The Robert E. Lee graduate, who just wrapped up his sophomore year at UT San Antonio, competes today in the 400-meter hurdles at the U.S. Olympic Trials. The event consists of a first round, semifinal round and final round, with the top three advancing to the London Olympics next month.
The first round features four heats with eight hurdlers each. Hayes, who enters with the ninth-fastest time, runs in the second heat along with Bershawn Jackson, the 2008 Olympic bronze-medalist. Puerto Rico’s Javier Culson sports the world’s fastest time of 47.92 seconds, with Jackson second at 48.20.
Earlier in the month, Hayes crossed the line fourth in the 400 hurdles at the NCAA outdoor track and field championships at 49.3. Only 27 men own faster times in 2012.
“I never saw it coming so fast,” said the 20-year-old Hayes. “I know I may as well put it all on the line.”
Hayes jumped out to a headstart at UTSA, winning Southland Conference Freshman of the Year honors after claiming the 400 hurdles, placing third in the 110 hurdles and running anchor leg on the mile relay team.
For his sophomore season, Hayes paced himself for the long haul with it being an Olympic ear.
“I had a good season my freshman year, but mentally I wasn’t in it and my body was drained,” said Hayes, who is the only two-time Most Valuable Performer selection on the Tyler Morning Telegraph All-East Texas team.
“This year I got a new coach, Adam Hudson. He’s great. I told him this would be a long year and to make sure I’m still fresh. I didn’t want to be tired near the end of year because I knew I still may be competing.”
Hayes, who tips the scales at 6’0, 160, credits being in better mental and physical shape for taking it to another level the past year when he dipped his time below 50 seconds.
“This year I’ve been light and focused,” said Hayes, who has met the U.S. Track and Field “A” qualifying standard. “Once I hit 50, I knew I could go faster. Competing against (great) athletes is going to push me.”
In his first two seasons at UTSA, Hayes set school records in the 110 hurdles (13.67) and 400 hurdles (49.38), won four individual conference titles, helped the Roadrunners capture three team conference titles (two indoor, one outdoor) and became the school’s ninth All-American, and first hurdler.
Hayes mentioned different ways he tries to alleviate the pressure, at times as big a nemesis for him as other hurdlers.
“Coming into nationals my coach wrote me notes about how I’m prepared and how I can do this,” said Hayes, who scored a team-leading 22 points at the Southland outdoor meet. “I didn’t let the atmosphere and pressure bother me too much.”
For the first week of the U.S. Olympic Trials, Hayes occasionally glanced at the U.S. Olympic Trials. Now his focus goes to blocks — getting out fast in his race and avoiding distractions — and seconds: lowering his time and moving to the next round.
“I know it will be a lot of people and cameras,” said Hayes, who thanked his former high school mentors and coaches with the Tyler/Metro Track Club.
“I’m trying to think of it as another track meet, and not so much the Olympic Trials, but how we’ve all run the same race a million times. I won’t let whoever is behind or ahead bother me too much. I believe I can run as fast as them. It’s going to be a matter of who runs a fast (enough) time to reach the next round.”
NOTES: The qualifying heats and semifinals (Friday) can be seen on NBC Sports Network. Sunday’s final will be broadcast by NBC.