Track and Field: Anavia Battle and Eric Harrison overcome obstacles on their runs to the Tokyo Olympics

Ohio State seniors Anavia Battle and Eric Harrison Jr. will compete at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics in track and field. Credit: Mackenzie Shanklin | Photo Editor

When she was younger, Anavia Battle lined up in the street to race her brother’s friends in Inkster, Michigan.

Her competitors were older and bigger than she was, and Battle noticed the size disadvantage that would carry with her throughout high school and into collegiate running.

But no matter what, she still defeated the boys.

“I would beat the boys and I was just out there having fun,” Battle said. “Then I started running in seventh grade just to be a part of something. Then I was like, ‘Oh, I’m kind of fast.’”

Battle credited her brother for getting her into track and field, eventually winning both the 200- and 100-meter dashes in the Junior Olympics and the latter again in the 2017 high school state championships.

The senior qualified for the Tokyo Olympics in late June by finishing third in the 200-meter dash trials in Eugene, Oregon, and sprinting to a 21.95 time, a new personal best and Ohio State record. Battle said breaking 22 seconds shocked her more than making the United States Olympic Team.

“It feels good, actually. It’s like my dreams are coming true,” Battle said. “Being on the biggest stage means I have to put everything on the line, so I just went out there and did that. I went from being looked at as so small and not doing enough, but I finally shocked myself and shocked other people.”

She won’t be alone in representing Ohio State in Tokyo. A record 26 Buckeyes will compete in the 2020 Olympics, breaking the previous record of 19 set during the 2008 Beijing games.

Five members — three current, two past — of the Buckeyes’ track and field program earned their way into the Tokyo Olympics. While Battle said she’s proud of the Buckeye representation, she hopes the games this year will illuminate the unsung heroes within Ohio State track and field.

“I think it matters to me just because people don’t really look into our track program. Seeing that we have five athletes going, I think that’s pretty amazing,” Battle said. “We have a lot of talent on the team that goes unnoticed and I think that this will actually shed some light to them, too, and have people look more into the program and see the talent that we do have.”

Graduate sprinter Eric Harrison is among the Buckeyes’ Olympian quintet, earning a place on the 4×100 relay team.

However, unlike Battle, Harrison will represent Trinidad and Tobago during the games. He said he holds dual citizenship and grew up in a Trinidadian household because it’s where his mother is from, and representing Trinidad is something he’s always wanted to do.

“It’s surreal for her and my family,” Harrison said. “I’m getting messages every day, them telling me how proud they are of me. I did exactly what I said I was going to do starting back, you know, high school and stuff, letting them know I think that’s what I want to do, is run for Trinidad. It’s really cool for them to see it actually happening.”

The journey from Ohio State to Tokyo has been difficult, Harrison said.

It was a “rough patch” for him right before the onset of the pandemic during indoor track season in 2020, he said. Once the remainder of the season was canceled in March of that year, the newfound time and rest were things Harrison said he had never really experienced before, since he had run track for over a decade.

“Honestly, it’s been a long year,” Harrison said. “It definitely means a lot to get through all the adversity, you know, having to experience through COVID and training situations. Indoor season was really rough for me, so [to] turn around [and] be able to make an Olympic team is an honor and definitely a blessing.”

Harrison earned Second Team All-America honors as part of Ohio State’s 4×100 relay team last season. He was named to the First Team All-Big Ten also, claiming the conference’s individual 200-meter dash outdoor championship with a time of 20.30.

Since his first year as a Buckeye in 2018 — when he earned a silver medal with the Ohio State record-setting 4×100 relay team with a time of 38.91 at the NCAA Championships — Harrison said he’s become more knowledgeable about the small things that have helped him excel in the sport.

Now, Battle and Harrison represent two current Buckeyes sprinters set to begin their races in Tokyo. Both said staying comfortable and in the moment will be key for their Olympic runs, all the while upholding the expectations of Ohio State in Tokyo.

“My goals are to definitely enjoy myself, enjoy the experience,” Harrison said. “I don’t want to overlook things, get there and get too focused to the point where I forget I’m there and then I don’t enjoy the fact that I’m at the Olympics in Tokyo –– a place I’ve never been before. So one thing I’m definitely focused on is I make sure I enjoy myself and then I train everyday so there’s no doubt in my mind that I’ll be able to perform to my best ability.”

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