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RHs Shaquille Walker headed to Olympic trials
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Richmond Hill's Shaquille Walker at the NCAA West Prelims in Lawrence, Kan., last month, where he qualified for the NCAA track and field outdoor championships. - photo by Photo courtesy of BYU athletics

Despite finishing third in the 800 meters at the NCAA outdoor track and field championships last Friday, Richmond Hill grad Shaquille Walker is ready to keep running.

The Brigham Young University junior will get his chance come July 1 at the U.S. Olympic trials.

Walker ran a 1:45.17 in the finals and said he felt good going into the race, but Donovan Brazier of Texas A&M won with a time of 1:43.55, breaking an NCAA record that had stood for 50 years.

“I knew it was going to be a battle, but no one was expecting anyone to pop one off like he did,” Walker said of the freshman. “It was the fastest finish for first, second and third places ever.”

The Olympic trials will be held at Hayward Field on the campus of the University of Oregon, the same location as the NCAA finals. The first round of the 800 is July 1, with the semi-finals on July 2 and the finals on July 4. The Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro are scheduled for Aug. 5 through Aug. 21.

“I’ve always run well on that track, even though it’s pretty windy,” Walker said. “I can’t wait.”

Walker, who broke his own school record for the 800 in April with a time of 1:44.99, finished fifth at last year’s outdoor championships and won a gold medal at the World University Games last summer.

The pre-dental major said after last year’s NCAA finals he was exhausted, but now feels as though he’s peaking.

“Trying to win a championship was important, but everything has been leading up to preparing for the Olympic trials,” Walker said. “Even this past weekend was something we worked into my training schedule.”

After a successful high school career, in which he was All-State four times and a two-time state champion in the 800, Walker chose BYU over the University of Georgia and Stanford, among others.

The 2011 Richmond Hill alum was dating a Mormon girl at the time and decided to visit BYU. He eventually converted to Mormonism and in 2013 and 2014 served a two-year mission trip to England after his freshman year. Some thought it would hamper his track career, but Walker felt strongly about it.

“I knew it was a risk, but it was something I personally wanted to do,” he said. “I realized I might never be fast again.”

BYU athletes who go on mission trips are not allowed to train for their sport.

“I put on 20 pounds, but I grew up a lot mentally,” Walker said. “And I realized how much I loved running.”

Just eight months after returning, he broke the school record in the 800 at the Sun Angel Classic in Tempe, Arizona, with a time of 1:45.78. Walker must like that track because this year he lowered that record at the same meet with his 1:44.99. At the time it was the fastest collegiate time in the nation.

“I love that track,” he laughed. “It’s warm and no wind.”

Despite the recent flurry of concern over the mosquito-borne Zika virus, Walker said he’s confident the issue will be under control by the time to Olympics are held. The World Health Organization, which has said pregnant women should avoid traveling to the games because the virus can cause birth defects, said Tuesday there is no reason to move the games from Brazil or cancel them because mosquito activity there is relatively low in August.

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