It would have been rather easy for LSU All-American Kimberlyn Duncan to take the money and run last summer.
After all, running — and running really fast — is what Duncan does.
Even though she didn’t earn a coveted spot on the U.S. Olympic Team that competed in London last summer, Duncan received significant offers to turn pro and give up her final year of college eligibility.
Her world-class sprinter’s speed, however, was no match for representatives of the shoe and apparel companies that wanted to sign her after chasing her all across the country as her junior year came to a close.
Wise beyond her 20 years at the time, Duncan, who six months later won The Bowerman as the nation’s top college track and field athlete, rebuffed them all to return for her senior season and make collegiate history.
And more importantly, she quickly points out, to help the Lady Tigers claim the NCAA title they won a year ago only to have it vacated when a former teammate tested positive for a banned stimulant.
“A lot of it depended on making the Olympic team,” said Duncan, who will line up for LSU for the final time in the NCAA Championships that start Wednesday in Eugene, Ore. “But I still felt I wasn’t ready to go.
“I just wanted to come back for another year, and I feel real comfortable with my decision,” she added. “I don’t spend time any thinking about what might have happened, or this or that. I made sure, and I made the decision.”
She was as comfortable with it as when she settles into the starting blocks for the 100- and 200-meter dashes — especially the 200, where Duncan has dominated the competition since her sophomore year.
In March, the Katy, Texas, native became the first woman to win three consecutive NCAA indoor titles at 200 meters. On Saturday, she’ll try to become the first woman to win three in a row outdoors in what could be the final race of her LSU career.
LSU coach Dennis Shaver certainly isn’t surprised that Duncan will have that opportunity even though he knew last summer there was a 50-50 chance she wouldn’t be back.
“The unique thing about Kim is she had that opportunity (to sign),” he said of Duncan, who missed out on the Olympics by one spot with a fourth-place effort in the 200 at the U.S. Trials. “She really put a lot of thought into it and decided to run an additional year. That made a huge statement for what this means to her.”
“Kim has certainly made a huge impact on our program,” he said. “She’s not only been a top-notch performer, she’s been a leader of our group. She’ll be missed because she’s another one of those athletes we’ve had that you can’t replace.”
Duncan is already in the company of the greatest short sprinters in the Lady Tigers’ rich history — right up there with Dawn Sowell, Esther Jones, D’Andre Hill, Peta-Gaye Dowdie and Muna Lee.
Of that group, only Lee has more NCAA titles than Duncan with seven. Sowell, who competed only one year, Hill and Duncan have six each, counting relays.
Duncan could wind up her career with nine titles, but she would have to win the 100 and 200 and run on the winning 4x100 relay team — which isn’t out of the question.
She’s finished second in the 100 the past two years, getting edged by an eyelash each time at one-hundredth and six-hundredths of a second, respectively.
Even if she doesn’t win the 100 or 4x100, it will still have been worth it for the personable Duncan.
“The decision I had to make last year forced me to grow up in a hurry,” she said. “This year was the best because I felt more comfortable and I matured a lot since last year. I just felt a lot more sure of myself.
“When you’re running as a pro, you have to go out of the country and travel by yourself, and you have to be ready to compete every time you line up because you’re going against some of the best athletes in the world.”
No matter what happens at the NCAA championships, Duncan will leave LSU as one of the most decorated athletes in school history.
“She ranks right up there with the best LSU has ever had,” Shaver said. “Kim is in that category. … She’s one of the greatest LSU athletes ever in any sport, and not only for what she’s done on the track. She’s represented this school with integrity and is very proud of LSU. That’s important to her.”
Much to Shaver’s chagrin, she’ll soon be competing as a pro. Duncan will likely sign before the USA championships this month, where a top-three finish would put her on the team for the world championships in August.
But the last thing she wants to do is get ahead of herself.
“This last meet is kind of scary, but at the same time I’m confident I can do what I have to do,” Duncan said. “I’m sure of myself that I got the work done, and I’m sure that I made the right decision.
“I have no regrets at all. … I enjoyed the college experience, and I’m going to enjoy it until it doesn’t last any more,” she said. ”To be able to come to a place like LSU and run and do what I love to do, I’m happy and blessed. I’m glad to have had the opportunity to make people here proud.”
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