Running Star Gets Olympic Invitation

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If track and field experts' predictions hold true, Payson might soon produce the town's first Olympic athlete.

That standout is Payson High School running star Whitney Hardt who has impressed almost everyone in the state with her performances in the 800, 1,600 and 3,200-meter runners.

Her long list of track accomplishments has apparently reached officials at the Olympic Training Center in Chula Vista, Calif.

Last week, Hardt received an invitation to participate Aug. 5 to 12 in an Olympic Training Center that annually invites only the premier athletes in the country.

Payson High School track and field coach Chuck Hardt, also Hardt's uncle, knows what's in store for the track star at the camp.

"The first thing they will tell her is 'our goal is to someday put an Olympic gold medal around your neck,'" the coach said.

That's pretty heady stuff, but Olympic officials apparently have plenty of confidence in Hardt since they invited her to the camp on an "elite" basis. This means all of her expenses to the training session will be paid for by the Olympic committee.

Elite invitations, coach Hardt said, are very rare.

During her seven-day stay, Hardt will be taught the Olympic training methods that are used by America's best athletes as they prepare for competition.

According to her father Shaun also a PHS track coach and the school's mile record holder Hardt also will be put through a series of tests to see if she has the physical and mental makeup to succeed at the Olympic level.

Only a sophomore, Hardt has strung running feats that would make much older, more season athletes proud.

Last fall, she won the Class 3A state championship by outdueling a talented field that included several top-notch runners from the Hopi and Navajo reservation schools.

During the spring track and field seasons, she set school and regional records in the 800 (2:16), 1,600 (4:54) and 3,200 meters (10:51). Her clocking in the 3,200 is also an Arizona record.

As one of the state's best, she was invited last spring to participate in the prestigious Arcadia California Invitational.

Battling the West Coast's best runners, most of whom were seniors, Hardt finished third in the 1,600 setting a state record of 4:54.44. The clocking also was the fifth fastest run in the nation this year .

At the conclusion of the regular season, she was invited to the Luke Greenway Meet where she easily won the 800 meters.

Next up is the Great Southwest Invitational next month in Albuquerque.

During the summer months, Hardt will compete on the USA Track and Field circuit.

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