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PRAIRIE VIEW – At the conclusion of what will be its first season in existence, Prairie View A&M’s new track and field stadium will serve as the host venue for the 2016-17 Southwestern Athletic Conference championship meets.rio2016

Hosting its conference championships would be enough of a prize for most schools. However, Prairie View A&M University hosted something even bigger before the academic year began.

Some of the biggest names in the world of athletics, and in the world in general, gathered in Prairie View recently as the University hosted the USA Track and Field team for its final week of training before traveling to Rio de Janeiro to compete at the 2016 Olympic Games.

Members of the United States Olympic track and field team began training on the Prairie View A&M campus on July 25, with the last athlete leaving Friday, PVAMU head women’s track and field coach Angela Williams said.

Williams is no stranger to Olympic-level track and field, having represented Trinidad and Tobago while competing in the 100- and 200-meter dashes in the 1984 and 1988 Olympic Games. She was instrumental in bringing the American team to the Prairie View A&M campus.

“Hosting the USA Olympic team meant so much to me as a coach and a former competitor,” Williams said. “Knowing many of the coaches, team captains and people associated with USA Track and Field, and having them see the environment in which I work and love, it was one of the best feelings I’ve experienced as a coach.”

Medal hopefuls Justin Gatlin (men’s 100 meters) and Allyson Felix (women’s 400 meters) were among the high-profile American athletes who completed their final round of Olympic training before traveling to Brazil. Gatlin aims to become one of the oldest medalists in Olympic track and field at the age of 34.

“It was exciting to meet Gatlin, Felix, and all of the Olympians who came to our campus,” men’s track and field coach Chris Clay said. “It was almost like a clinic for me, in that I saw how they trained, how they coach and how they are coached, and listening to how they would train if they were athletes here.”

The track and field stadium that served as the training grounds for the Olympians is part of Prairie View A&M’s project to build or improve many of its athletic facilities. The adjacent football stadium has commanded much attention from the PVAMU alumni and fan base, as well as the Houston area, and a new soccer stadium will host the 2016 SWAC Tournament.

Prairie View A&M’s track and field stadium is already paying off for the Panthers and Lady Panthers teams barely two months after its completion, according to both head coaches.

“I immediately started to see a change in recruiting once people realized that the Olympic team was training at PVAMU’s new track stadium,” Williams said. “I started receiving phone calls from coaches about athletes I’ve been struggling to get since I started here. This facility has already given me much higher recruiting possibilities I couldn’t imagine previously,”

Clay echoed Williams’ assessment of the boon the facility has been for recruiting.

“It gives our program exposure and an opportunity to bring in top notch athletes with this great facility,” he said. “In the past, we would be recruiting athletes whose high school stadiums were better than ours. This stadium gives a great presentation and says they can have something of their own. They can say ‘this is mine.’”

Prairie View A&M staff – Williams and Clay included – got a little time to enjoy being fans as the American Olympians began their final preparations for Brazil. Williams was also thrilled to encounter Natasha Hasting (women’s 400 meters). Hasting’s mother and Williams knew each other growing up in New York.

The Olympians meanwhile, were just as excited about the quality of the facility.

“Felix liked the facilities and loved the track,” Williams said. “Gatlin and Wallace Spearmon, were excited about the track. When [Spearmon] did his first run, he quipped to me ‘Oh my god this track is fast. When is your next meet?’”

The facility also shined a spotlight on the university as a whole.

“One of the main things our guests kept saying about Prairie View A&M was that they didn’t realize how beautiful the campus is. They were overwhelmed,” Clay said.

“It has changed the dynamics of Prairie View A&M’s track and field program, and the university as a whole,” Williams added.

Clay, a former PVAMU athlete and alumnus, reflected on what the facility and its recent high-profile tenants, have done for the university.

“It’s a sign of growth,” he said. “I’m proud to see the new facility, and to see the Olympic team train and really break in the new track. We waited a long time for this stadium, and the wait is over.”

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