Chasing a Dream



June 21, 2012

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By John Denton, Knights Insider

ORLANDO, Fla. ( - Whereas Octavious Freeman's 11.1-second time in the 100-meter dash in April was wildly celebrated as the fastest in the world at the time by a female, the UCF freshman sprinter took a much different approach to all of the hype and hoopla.

Freeman saw her time not so much as a destination, but as a starting point to what very well could be a golden career at UCF. Whereas some sprinters work their whole lives to attain the time that Freeman ran, UCF's fantastic freshman simply looked at the number as a benchmark for her to better as time passes.

Ultimately, Freeman sees herself someday not only winning an NCAA title at UCF, but also standing on an Olympic podium with a gold medal draped around her neck and the National Anthem playing in the background.

It might seem like a lofty goal, but Freeman - arguably the most physically gifted athlete ever to attend UCF in any sport - can back it up with her off-the-charts ability. That's why she is driven by but one goal - gold.

Sluggers don't aim for the warning track, dunkers don't lay the ball up and tailbacks don't take a knee at the 1-yard line. Sprinters, especially ones as talented and singularly focused as Freeman, look at finishing first and really nothing else.

``Nobody runs for second or third; If I'm in the Olympics, I'm running for first,'' Freeman said in all seriousness. ``I'm not saying second or third isn't good, but I'm always going to try to get first place. I hate losing that much.''

Freeman, 20, will get her first shot at attaining international success and fame this week when she competes in the U.S. Olympic Trials in Eugene, Ore. Freeman turned heads nationally earlier this year when she posted that 11.1-second time and was honored on ESPN's SportsCenter's top plays. She followed that performance up by being the only freshman in the country to reach the NCAA Championship finals of the 100-meter dash and she finished fourth in the 200 meters.

Following a 19th-place team finish at the NCAA Championships - the second consecutive top 20 finish - UCF will be well represented at the U.S. Olympic Trials. Hurdler Jackie Coward and sprinter Aurieyall Scott, long jumper Sonnisha Williams and Freeman will attempt to earn spots on the Team USA squad that will compete in the Summer Olympics in London in July and August.

Even though she will be one of the youngest performers at this week's events, Freeman vows she will not be awed by the magnitude of the moment. After all, fast is fast and it really doesn't matter how old you are when you are between the lines on a track.

``I've never been intimidated by people. I feel like they are fast, I'm fast too and we're just going to run it out and see what happens,'' Freeman said. ``I've never been the type to back down from any type of competition. I feel like if you are faster than me then you are going to have to run for it.''

Running fast is nothing new to Freeman, a native of Lake Wales, near Lakeland. She started sprinting at a young age with her father, Stanley Smith, and mother, Erika Smith, both former high school runners. Freeman was so quick off the line, so picture perfect with her running form that she would regularly beat even some of the fastest boys in sprints and things got to the point where few would even race her. The shared love for running brought her closer to her father.

``With my dad, we were real close, but he was tough. There was none of that, `just get out there and run, sweetie.' He expected more from me because he felt like he knew what I should be working on,'' Freeman remembered. ``He knew what I could do. He told me if I was going to do it, I was going to be great at it. They told me whatever sport I picked I had to stick with it and there was no quitting.''

Not that there wasn't a love/hate relationship with track at times for Freeman. On days when she wanted to rest or just be a regular kid, her father would push her to practice her starts or log some miles doing distance work. She even had to give up her first love, basketball, in order to become the best she could be in track.

Having enormous success and breaking records left and right didn't hurt either. As a freshman in high school she swept both the 100- and 200-meter events at the state championship titles. She would go on to do that all four years of high school, giving her 10 state championships in all.

To understand just how big of a recruit she was for UCF and coach Caryl Smith Gilbert to land, you must look at the raw numbers. By Freeman's senior year of high school her 100- and 200-meter times were the best of any prep runner in the nation and USA Today named her to its first-team All-America squad.

Smith Gilbert was blunt and honest with Freeman, vowing to push her beyond her limits in order to maximize her talents. That bluntness and drive reminded Freeman of her father, and that's why she ultimately chose UCF. She also liked the fact that Smith Gilbert showed her no preferential treatment, pushing her as hard as she pushed others. For years, Freeman has been treated like a mini-celebrity at events as fans and even other participants have asked for her autograph and to pose with pictures with her. Smith Gilbert has allowed her to blend, while also being pushed.

``With Coach Caryl, she reminds me of my dad. We had that bond right away,'' Freeman said. ``When she came on that visit to our house she was very up front and I liked that about her. Some coaches will say anything to get you to their school, but Coach Caryl told me, `It's about education and then track.'"

Smith Gilbert played a big role in Freeman's 11.1-second dash in the Pepsi Relays back in April. Even though she was the only amateur running in the 100-meter field, she blew away the competition with a time that was the fastest in the country for a female at that moment.

``I realized I had the race when I got out like I did,'' Freeman said. ``I think from 30 to 60 (meters) is my best part of the race, but my start always got me in trouble. But we've been working on that start for a long time. When I got out before everyone I knew I had it, but I had to keep running. I ran well because this year I'm stronger and my times have dropped."

At UCF, she ran during the indoor season for the first time in her life and helped UCF to an eighth-place national finish, the best in school history. And running outdoor, she has very much lived up to her enormous promise. She nabbed first-team All-America honors in two events, won Conference USA titles in the 100-meter dash and 4 X 100-meter relay and ultimately was named C-USA's Outdoor Track Athlete of the Year.

Now she has her sights set on doing something only a rare few can ever dream of doing - qualifying for the Olympics. It's a goal she's looked to since she first started sprinting with her father back in Lake Wales. And it's a goal that's very much within reach after improving her times this season at UCF.

``It's always been a dream to run in the Olympics. If you run track that's always somebody's dream, but I don't want to just go there to say I went,'' Freeman said. ``I want to go and run a time that will win it because I'm not looking for second or third to be honest. I want to run the right times and if I'm prepared this year, it's very possible that I could do this.''



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