Oct. 11, 2011
By Rachel Blaj
SEATTLE - The energy in Dempsey Stadium was high last week, as it marked the first of many official team trainings for the UW track team after a summer off. Many athletes went through the usual season warm-up routine this past week on their climb towards top fitness for the upcoming 2012 year, but one athlete in particular seemed content on relaxing for the day, and not many people had an unenthusiastic word to say about it.
James Alaka, sprinting specialist and 2011 Pac-10 champion at both the 100-meter and 200-meter distances, did anything but take the summer off. Alaka's successes through the spring of this year were exceptional, yet this summer held accomplishments that Alaka himself admits "blew [his] mind."
Listen to Alaka's interview after he became the first Husky since Ja'Warren Hooker to sweep the Pac-10 sprint titles, and you can hear the rasp in his voice. Winning the conference titles meant a huge deal, and he went to the well to win despite the illness. Unfortunately, the repercussions were felt in the coming weeks, as NCAA Prelims rolled around. It was admittedly enough to "stop my progress, so to speak."
Alaka's NCAA season, therefore, did not end in the perfect fashion, although he made the 200-meter semifinals and earned All-America Second Team honors with the 4x100-meter relay.
But for James, a born and bred runner, regaining self confidence on the track was not as hard as one might suppose it to be after nationals. Alaka goes into each race with a simple mentality: "Win." He held strong to his belief that, "Whether I perform well or perform badly, it's history. History is there for us to learn from, not dwell on."
Winning didn't seem to be too difficult for James as he made history himself this summer. James began in London at the British Under-23 Championships, the trials for the European U23 Championships. "It was one of those mornings where you wake up and feel like whoever is racing me this morning has no chance." He won the British U23 100-meter title in a new wind-legal PR of 10.23 seconds, which simultaneously moved him to second place on UW's Top-10 list. That convinced Alaka that he was going to have an unforgettable summer off the starting line.
James then made his trip to the Czech Republic for the European Under-23 Championships in the middle of July where the winning trend continued. Alaka won his first international championship at 100-meters, clocking 10.45 seconds into a headwind in the final. He also took the silver in the 200-meter final running 20.60 seconds into a headwind after a PR of 20.59 in the semi-finals. Alaka explains, "I knew it was going to be tough, and that a lot of fast people were going to be there, but I was just excited to be running fast again."
He then ended his summer at the World University Games in Shenzhen, China in August, where he placed fourth in the 200 meter final with a time of 20.67 seconds, and fifth in the 100-meters with a time of 10.29 seconds.
Considering the overwhelming volume of accomplishments James has to show for himself from his worldwide performances this summer, it comes to no surprise to learn that James now has his eyes on bigger goals. As a London native, Alaka plans to compete in the 2012 Summer Olympics next year; "After this summer I am trying to go for the individual 200-meter race," says James who was originally toying with the idea of making the relay sprint team at the Olympic games.
This year James hopes to stay strong and maintain his level of fitness. He knows he must focus on tweaking little things here and there in order to enhance his race as much as possible, but feels completely confident that he will be able to attack the goals he has set out for himself for this year's season and beyond.
"It's doable and the prospect is so exciting to me... I can't wait to start training for the Olympics."
Other than his personal ambition, James stresses the importance of his teammates, family, and coaches that have surrounded him in the most positive light that has helped him to chase down his goals.
Alaka brings to mind the motto "don't limit your challenges; challenge your limits," with his continued success. Teammates and supporters look ahead with great anticipation to the accomplishments that he will have under his belt after the 2012 track season, and if all goes as planned this next summer will prove to be an even greater success than his last.