While world class athletes will be seeking glory next month at the Rio de Janeiro Olympic Games, two local teens have opportunities to win medals of their own at a pair of top track meets for their age groups.
Chinne Okoronkwo, 18, and Maria Panell, who turns 14 on Thursday, have qualified for track competitions that will take them far from home later this month. Okoronkwo will be heading to the 2016 IAAF World U20 Championships July 19-24 in Bydgoszcz, Poland; Panell will be traveling south for the USATF National Junior Olympic Championships set for July 25-31 in Sacramento, California.
Okoronkwo qualified for the under-20-year-old world championship USA team by finishing second in the triple jump at the USATF Junior Track & Field Championships held in late June in California.
While her effort at the national meet of 42 feet – 2.25 inches was a personal best, Okoronkwo has her sights set even higher for the world championships in Poland. “I definitely want to jump 44 (feet) – anything in the 44’s and I will be happy with that,” she told MileSplit.com. “I know I can do it. I just need to put all the things together and do what I know how to do.”
The 2016 IAAF World U20 Championships will feature 1,518 athletes from 160 different countries.
Okoronkwo is a 2016 graduate of Mountlake Terrace High School and will be attending the University of Wisconsin beginning this fall.
Meanwhile, Panell will be competing in the javelin at the USATF National Junior Olympic Championships in Sacramento later this month. The soon-to-be eighth grader at St. Pius X Catholic School in Mountlake Terrace qualified for the national meet by earning the girls 13-14 age division title at the Region 13 (Pacific Northwest) Championships held earlier this month. Panell’s winning toss of 93 feet 6 inches was more than five feet further than her closest competitor and topped a field of young athletes from Washington, Oregon, Idaho and Alaska.
Panell’s success in track and field has come quickly as the young teen started throwing the javelin just four months ago. Panell favorite sport is volleyball; she plays for the Washington Volleyball Academy in Lynnwood.
The USATF Junior Olympic program attracts nearly 70,000 youth athletes ages seven through 16 nationwide. This year marks the 50th annual national meet for the organization.
–By Doug Petrowski