When it’s time to compete, Ohio State women’s track and field star Christina Manning likes to get down to business.
“Everyone knows I’m a very silly person,” Manning said. “But when it comes down to competition, I know that there’s expectations.”
Manning has met those expectations and built an impressive résumé in her time at OSU. In her tenure, the junior has been named a three-time All-American and has earned five Big Ten Individual Championship titles.
Most recently, Manning was named Big Ten Outdoor Track Athlete of the Year and Athlete of the Big Ten Outdoor Championships.
The accolades compliment her performance at the 2011 Big Ten Indoor Track and Field Championships where she was also named the Athlete of the Championships and Big Ten Indoor Track Athlete of the Year.
“Well, it feels amazing,” Manning said. “I had previously won indoor last year, but last year outdoor I had a downfall and didn’t get to finish the race. So this year I had to defend a title and earn a title, and being able to do that made me feel really good about both seasons. I take championships very serious, and to be named Athlete of the Year both indoor and out is recognition to that.”
Coach Karen Dennis said Manning’s focus is the key to her success. Before she competes, Manning prefers to warm up on her own.
“She’s soft-spoken,” Dennis said. “I think when it comes time to be on the track she becomes introverted. I think that’s probably one of the qualities you need in order to be a champion. You have to get centered and be able to avoid distractions.”
The recognition added to an already great season for Manning and her team, who claimed the Big Ten Indoor Championship for the first time in school history.
But for Manning and her team, one championship wasn’t enough.
When the outdoor championship came, Manning knew she had to turn it up a notch to sweep the conference.
When her team called on her, she delivered, claiming first place in the 100-meter dash and the 100-meter hurdles, and anchoring the 4-by-100-meter relay team to a first-place finish.
“I was working really hard, and you don’t really go to a meet like that and leave with that title,” Manning said. “It felt really good.”
Relay teammate Letecia Wright agreed.
“Christina is a great hurdler and competitor. I’m proud of her,” said Wright, who leads the 4-by-100-meter relay team that Manning anchors.
Manning’s versatility makes her a valuable asset to her team and to her coach.
“Christina is probably, pound for pound, one of the best sprinter-hurdlers in the history of this program,” Dennis said.
That’s a label Dennis doesn’t use liberally. Manning has affected the team in a huge way, and it’s taken hard work to earn that respect.
“I definitely think it’s because of the work ethic that I put in,” Manning said. “Coach Karen molded me into a more serious athlete and a more serious individual.”
Considering her high school career, Manning’s success may come as a surprise. She was a devout hurdler in high school and didn’t become a sprinter until she came to OSU. The atmosphere she trained in at high school practices wasn’t near the challenging level she has experienced in college.
“We didn’t really practice in high school,” Manning said. “You went there; you laughed; you saw your friends. … There were no rules.”
Once she arrived at OSU, her coaches let her know things were going to be different. In the latter stage of her college career, Manning adapted to the demands of the workouts.
“Coach Joel (Brown) … he runs professionally, so he knows exactly what he talks about,” Manning said. “He doesn’t play. There’s no fun and games when he’s around. That helps us focus.”
Dennis wasn’t easy on her either. Used to making her own rules, Manning had to learn to bend to her coach’s will.
“Coach Karen is hard on me,” she said. “She doesn’t let me do whatever I think would be best for me. … She just keeps my head on.”
Manning understands Dennis has her sights set on teaching her athletes to be their best in more ways than one.
“It’s helping to make me a better woman in general,” Manning said. “Coach Karen cares a lot about the women we’re going to become.”
But Dennis’ rules have helped mold Manning into a champion still looking to accomplish even bigger goals.
“By the time I leave here … I want to get three individual (medals) and then a relay,” Manning said. “Four gold (medals) at the end of Big Ten Championships. And, of course, I want to win nationals.”
No matter what happens, Manning said, her ultimate goal is to compete professionally. Dennis said Manning has what it takes to break records at OSU and excel at the next level.
“Christina has ambitions to be an elite athlete,” Dennis said. “I think she’s certainly on the right track to running at the elite level.”