Big 12 Campus Correspondent
After a freshman campaign where he garnered All-American honors, Texas hurdler Keiron Stewart had high expectations for himself in 2011.
Stewart hoped to improve on the early success he enjoyed at UT as one of the country's top short hurdlers, and on the final day of the Big 12 Indoor Championships in Lincoln, Neb., Stewart put his improvement on display. He clocked the fastest 60-meter hurdles time in UT history in 7.66, breaking the previous record of 7.67 set by Jermaine Cooper in 2004.
Understanding his place in Longhorn track history, Stewart explained how he feels being a Big 12 Champion and UT record holder.
"It means a lot seeing there aren't many winners of the Big 12 in my event coming from Texas," Stewart explained. "This conference is one of the toughest in the country. I feel really good knowing that I ran really well. The time proved it. I broke the school record, and I was really excited to win."
While he had been one of the top performers on last year's squad, Stewart explained that he hadn't achieved the kind of success he was accustomed to at his high school of Kingston College in Jamaica.
"It felt really good finally winning a big race," Stewart said. "It's basically my second real collegiate win. My first one was in New York (at the New Balance Collegiate Invitational) against some really good competition. It felt really good to be on top again. It felt like I was in high school having fun and just supporting my team."
Stewart admits that he was aware of Cooper's record time. However, breaking the seven-year-old record was not his top priority.
"I knew what the record was and it was in the back of my mind," Stewart said. "With that run I felt really comfortable. I wasn't sure if the record would be broken because of how fast the time was. I felt really comfortable during the race. I really just wanted to get the win, so I'm happy with it."
The sophomore acknowledges that he doesn't feel that he has yet pieced together a perfect race. After stumbling over the first two hurdles at Big 12's, Stewart understands that he still has plenty of room to improve.
"I came off the blocks good, really good. Then I hit the first two hurdles," Stewart recounted. "Then I made up ground. By the fourth hurdle I felt like I was in good position, and I felt really good going through the finish line."
After a freshman year where Stewart experienced ups and downs as he failed to qualify for the finals at NCAA Indoors but achieved All-America status during the outdoor season, he is finally settling into his comfort zone. The Texas coaching staff has worked with the sophomore to make a few minor changes that have paid dividends in his performance.
"Just the preparation," Stewart said of the biggest difference from last season. "I've been managing my weight better. My fitness level is up. Coach has changed a few things in the workouts, which makes me more competitive. It's just been an overall better year. I've understood the whole college situation a lot more. I'm more comfortable in my surroundings."
A year ago, Stewart admits that it was difficult being a country away from his home in Jamaica. Most of all, he remembers the difficulty in being far from his mother. When he broke the 60-meter hurdles record in Nebraska, his mother was naturally one of the first people he told.
"She was really excited about it," Stewart said. "Knowing her, she's used to me winning and stuff. Last year was different for her when I was telling her this college thing is a bit different. It won't be as easy as high school. She really understands that now. She knew I would be pushing myself to the top once again. She was just really proud of me."
Stewart calls himself a thinker on the track. While he has tremendous ability and athleticism, he feels as though his biggest edge comes from his calm demeanor and cerebral approach to racing.
"I'm a person that likes to listen to R&B music before going into my races, because it kind of slows you down," Stewart said. "Knowing that you have a big race coming up, people tend to get anxious, thinking fast and not thinking carefully. I listen to R&B music that slows me down, makes me think carefully and look at what's really going on. Once I'm there it's just go time. Whatever coach has put in place and my work, I have to trust in that and move forward."
Stewart explained the importance of mapping out the race before coming out of the blocks.
"You have to think about the start," Stewart explained. "If my first step isn't where it should be, that throws off my entire race. The first hurdle is key. Just like in the Big 12 finals, I rushed my first step and it threw me right into the hurdle. I could have run a way better time. I lost focus of that."
Just two short weeks later, Stewart stepped on the track in College Station, Texas and clocked 7.68 to finish fourth in the 60-meter hurdles. Picking up his second All-American accolade, the sophomore was pleased though he knows he can still put together a stronger race.
Stewart called his fourth-place finish "a good race" and a "stepping stone."
"It feels really good knowing that I can run faster," Stewart said. "I'm really excited to see what I can do with a clean and carefully thought out race."
The Kingston, Jamaica-native is anxious to see how he can build upon the success he's enjoyed to this point. But for now, Stewart realizes that his accomplishment places him in special company at Texas.
"It feels really, really good knowing the tradition of The University of Texas, knowing that it's a school known for great athletes and that I have a record here," Stewart said. "I don't know how to explain that feeling. It's priceless."