The United States Olympic Trials have come and gone for the UCF Knights, and although the Knights went without a member qualifying for the U.S. Olympic Team, the university will still be represented in London.
Sophomore sprinter Afia Charles received an unexpected invite about a week and a half ago to join the Antigua National Team for the games in London and attempt to qualify for a chance to medal in the 400-meter dash.
“As of right now, it hasn’t hit me yet. Everything was kind of last minute,” Charles said. “In June, I thought my season was over, so I went home for three weeks and stopped training. When I came back at the beginning of July, they told me a spot was open.
“I said, ‘A spot for what?’ and they told me, ‘the Olympics!’”
Charles is from Maryland but her mother, Ruperta, is originally from Antigua. She was a sprinter for Antigua 28 years ago during the 1984 Olympic Games held in Los Angeles.
Caught off guard by the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, Charles was assured by UCF track & field coach Caryl Smith Gilbert that despite the layoff from training, she could still be brought up to speed and prepared for the Olympic Games.
“You know, I hadn’t been training for three weeks; I didn’t know if I was going to be ready,” Charles said. “I talked to my coach [Smith Gilbert], and she said she would get me there. She said it doesn’t matter if I don’t make it to the finals, that it’s about going out there and doing your best.
“[It’s about] representing for your country.”
Since receiving her invite, Charles has been training every day. To help prepare, she has been working alongside Dee Dee Trotter, a 2004 Olympic gold medalist in the 4x400 relay who recently qualified to be a part of Team USA for London’s upcoming games.
Smith Gilbert is a longtime mentor and friend of the Olympian’s, as the two met in 2003 at the University of Tennessee, where Trotter was a sophomore on the track team while Smith Gilbert was an assistant coach. It is a relationship that has transcended coach-athlete, and now Charles will be able to reap the rewards of that bond.
“For the past two weeks, I’ve been training hard. I’ve been working with Dee Dee,” Charles said. “I’m a little sore, but I have to keep working.”
Qualifying for the 400-meter begins on Friday, Aug. 3 while the event will wrap up on that Sunday.
In her second year at UCF, Charles is ready for the chance to grow as an athlete and person. Her expectations are to make it to the final round, but if she isn’t able to in her first try, she would at least like to set a personal record.
Other than that, Charles hopes to enjoy the ride.
“It’s not going to hit me until the opening ceremony. I’m going to be at the Olympics,” Charles said. “I’ll look around and see all of the people I look up to, and I’m going to be right there, running with them.”