Jenna Prandini spun a potentially difficult situation into one with ease while winning her 200-meter heat Monday morning and roaring into Tuesday night’s semifinals in the Rio Olympics.
Running in lane 1, considered a tough draw because of the tight turn it dictates – but one that also allowed a view of the rest of the eight-runner field in front of her – the former Clovis High and University of Oregon star made up the stagger by the top of the stretch, established a commanding lead and coasted over the final 20 meters to win in 22.62 seconds.
“Wow, that was impressive,” said NBCSN commentator Sanya Richards-Ross. “Prandini really had to work hard coming out of lane 1 and she did.
“I was surprised to see her in lane 1, but she handled it really well, really poised. It’s tough for a first-timer (in the Olympics); you wake up, see the start list and you think, ‘Darn it, in lane 1 for the first heat.’ But she handled it like a pro, like a poised veteran.”
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Prandini in fact is a pro, having signed a five-year contract with Puma a year ago.
Her heat was the second of nine, starting at 9:40 a.m. Rio time, in ideal 77-degree conditions and witnessed by her parents, Carlo and Theresa Prandini, sister Chrissy and brother Mark. They wore “GO JENNA GO” T-shirts.
“Jenna ran a workman-like race,” Dad said. “The highlight of the day was to spend a few minutes with her after she warmed down and before she headed back to the Olympic Village. There were hugs all around and small talk about life in the village. She was upbeat and joked around with her brother and sister with their usual sibling banter.”
The top two finishers in each heat, plus the next-best six times, qualified for Tuesday’s semis, which will begin at 6 p.m. PDT.
Lisa Mayer of Germany finished second behind Prandini at 22.86.
Prandini, who ran a personal-best 22.20 while winning the 2015 USA Outdoor Nationals title, advanced with the eighth-best time. The top three were Ivory Coast’s Marie-Josee Ta Lou (22.31) and USA’s Deajah Stevens (22.45) and Tori Bowie (22.47).
Ta Lou, running in lane 3, and Prandini, in lane 6, will be among those running in Tuesday’s second of three sections. The top two finishers in each section, plus the next-best two times, will advance to the finals.
Stevens, also from the University of Oregon and a former College of the Sequoias state community college champion, won her heat, the sixth.
Pre-meet favorite Dafne Schippers of the Netherlands won the opening heat in 22.51. She, like Prandini, opened a big lead and eased to the line. She owns a world-leading time of 21.93 for the season.
Prandini was a five-time state high school meet gold medalist, 14-time NCAA All-American 2015 Bowerman Award winner as the NCAA Athlete of the Year for women’s track and field.
“Jenna Prandini’s a really young, raw talent,” NBCSN’s Tim Hutchings said. “I still feel there’s a lot more to come from her.”