Track & Field

Freddie Crittenden has one last shot at repeating redemption

Ally Moreo | Photo Editor

Freddie Crittenden has already collected both ACC hurdling championships, indoor and outdoor, but his eyes are set higher in last season at Syracuse.

As Freddie Crittenden sprinted toward the finish line of the Division I East Regional Finals, he realized victory was slipping away. South Carolina’s Dondre Echols began to pull ahead. Crittenden knew he had one last chance. He lunged, throwing his hands behind him and his head forward.

Crittenden stumbled and planted his left foot, trying to regain his balance. But it didn’t help. Crittenden finished .08 seconds behind Echols’ 13.35. Thirty minutes passed before the adrenaline wore off and Crittenden felt the pain.

In his desperation, he had hyperextended his left knee and torn a ligament. The Utica, Michigan, native had less than two weeks to recover before competing in the NCAA DI Track and Field Championships.

“I was really stressed,” Crittenden said. “… I lay in bed at night thinking about what will happen with my knee.”

In his three years at Syracuse, Crittenden had already collected both the indoor and outdoor Atlantic Coast Conference hurdling championships. The U.S. Track and Field and Cross Country Coaches Association ranked him No. 2 in the 60-meter indoor hurdles, and he’s a large factor in why Syracuse now ranks fifth in the NCAA indoor rankings. Still, Crittenden wanted to win the one collegiate race he hasn’t: the NCAA final hurdles. He believes he would have done so last season, if not for the injury.

“By the time he got the nationals, he was running pretty good,” Dave Hegland, Syracuse’s track and field assistant coach, said. “By that time, everybody’s got something.”

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Ally Moreo | Photo Editor

That torn ligament made Crittenden feel robbed of his once-decent shot at nationals. He couldn’t train at first, and even when he could, he was limited to light workouts. He finished fourth, his best performance yet, but he believed he could’ve done better.

“Everything good that happens to me is a blessing,” Crittenden said. “Everything bad is a blessing as well.”

Crittenden finished first in the 300-meter hurdles in the track and field state championship his junior year of high school, but was then disqualified because he nicked the last hurdle. That he had come close to winning at all was a product of his reshaped approach.

Hurdling became his focus after transferring as a junior to Utica (Michigan) High School. Crittenden threw himself into his training rather than concentrate on the loss of the community he grew up around.

There, he met a track and field coach named Roger White, who had never coached hurdlers. White called other area coaches to see if anyone could train Crittenden, but there were no takers. He stepped in to learn alongside the newest member of his team.

White didn’t know that if Crittenden were to seriously pursue track and field, the hurdler would have to focus on one event. He had done the 110- and 300-meter hurdles as a sophomore and junior. Crittenden’s previous coach had decided that he should run the 300 because, White said, other teammates were faster. But Crittenden and White talked, and the rising-senior hurdler felt his future was in the 110.

But before he left the blocks, Crittenden had to choose his lead leg. The lead leg is important in 110 meters because the best runners use the same leg to clear each hurdle, whereas in the 300 meters both legs are used.

Still, Crittenden struggled to decide.  Not that the coach knew any better. White told him to pick whichever leg felt best and go for it. After he picked the left, Crittenden emphasized, everything changed.

With a defined technique and distance, he developed into a state championship-caliber hurdler. When the Michigan snow impeded him from leaving home, White assigned drills to do in the garage. He ran in place for 40 seconds, worked his abs for 20 and rotated.

In one meet, hurdlers self-reported their times to judges. Crittenden fibbed, White said, telling judges a faster time than what he had so he was placed in the most competitive heat. Crittenden faced hurdlers a full second faster than him. Crittenden was placed in the outside lane, a position that White said is commonly viewed as a disadvantage.

To White’s disbelief, Crittenden actually won.

“Coach,” Crittenden said to White after the meet. “I just felt like I needed to go out and run with those guys.”

As a senior, Crittenden went on to win the state championship that had slipped away just a year prior. This redemption arc remains on Crittenden’s mind entering his last season at Syracuse.

“The major challenge,” Hegland said, “is keeping someone like that healthy enough for long enough to see how good they can get.”

At Utica, White had introduced Crittenden to massage therapy. One of the main reasons Crittenden said he chose Syracuse was because of Hegland’s experience with recovery. The Syracuse coach taught Crittenden the importance of sleep and cited the 10-plus hours of sleep preferred by athletes such as LeBron James and Usain Bolt.

“If you’re going to win the race, you aren’t going to win it in the last meter and a half,” Crittenden said. “You’re going to win it from the start (in preparation).”

Hegland cited the little things, the professional approach, when mentioning the hurdler’s progress. It’s a mentality honed through a career that stemmed from his love for the videogame “Sonic the Hedgehog.”

As a Syracuse senior, Crittenden faces the familiar pressure of one last shot. Because at both Utica and Syracuse, by injury or disqualification, Crittenden fell short as a junior. At Utica, he successfully erased past disappointments. Now, he attempts to do the same.

“It’s bittersweet knowing this is my last collegiate season with the ‘S’ on my chest,” Crittenden said. “I want to go out with a bang.”

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