2 South Carolina track stars sprint to pros

COLUMBIA S.C.

Shalonda Solomon and Natasha Hastings joined South Carolina together and helped each other rise to national champions. So it seemed fitting, three years later, that the two would start their pro careers in tandem.

Both Solomon and Hastings said Wednesday they would forfeit their senior seasons with the Gamecocks for professional opportunities.

Each were three-time NCAA champions at South Carolina, with Hastings setting the college record at 400 meters with her 49.84 second performance as she took second at last week’s USA Championships.

“I had three great years with Tasha and all my teammates here,” Solomon said.

Solomon signed with agent Mark Wetmore, who also represents track stars like Tyson Gay and Tonique Williams-Darling. Hastings was in the final stages of firming up her representation.

Judging from their college performances, the future looks fast and successful for both.

Solomon, from Inglewood, Calif., won the indoor and outdoor NCAA 200-meter crowns in 2006, and shared a title with the 1,600-meter relay indoor team her freshman year in 2005.

Hastings’ breakout came this season. The New York City native hadn’t lost at 400 meters until last weekend’s meet, a streak that included sweeping the NCAA indoor and outdoor titles. Hastings was part of South Carolina’s NCAA 1,600-meter relay indoor title team this winter.

While Solomon will take the rest of the year off to heal a quadriceps injury, Hastings will continue her remarkable year in Europe and at the World Championships in Osaka, Japan, later this summer.

“It’s going to take 15 athletes to replace these two,” South Carolina coach Curtis Frye said.

The pair become the fourth and fifth track stars to leave the Gamecocks early since 2000 and the three previous ones have all made a mark on U.S. track.

Hurdler Terrence Trammell, who left in 2000, last week won the 110 meter hurdles at the USA meet, and has twice won silver at the Olympics.

Lashina Demus, who turned pro in 2004, has since qualified for the Athens Games and won U.S. titles in the 400 hurdles in 2005 and 2006.

Tiffany Williams left South Carolina early in 2005. She followed the path of her ex-teammate Demus, taking the 400 hurdles at last week’s USA championships with a personal best of 53.28 seconds.

Frye says his mission is to educate young people, not groom them for athletic success. People like Solomon and Hastings prove you can excel on and off the track. “We have done more of that than any other university in this country at this point,” Frye said.

Frye said he counted 23 athletes he coached that were competing at the USA championships. Frye said he was even prouder because all but three of them either had their degrees or were on track to complete them.

“That’s more pleasurable to me” than personal best performances like Hastings, Frye said.

Both women pledged to finish school Solomon has about three semesters left in nursing, while Hastings needs about that long to finish her bachelors in exercise science while they furthered their pro careers.

“Unfortunately, track is a sport where you’re window of success is very short,” said Hastings, who’ll turn 21 next month. “When a once in a lifetime opportunity is presented, you have to take advantage of it when you can.”

Hastings is arranging meets in Europe while she keeps up her training for the Worlds. Solomon will wait to get herself going next season “to join Tasha on the Olympic podium.”

The two teared up as they left the gathering. They hugged each other and Frye as they took the next step in their careers.

“My whole support system is still in place,” Hastings said. “The only thing that’s different is the uniform.”

– Associated Press



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