Originally Published at www.tampabay.com Sat. June 13, 2015 by Bob Putnam
Florida State’s Kala Funderburk knew she had a difficult task to win what had been an elusive 400 meter title at the NCAA Division I track and field championships.
The former Lakewood standout was assigned to lane eight, perhaps the toughest lane, in Saturday’s final. Not only would Funderburk have to make up ground, but she had to do it with a strong headwind in the homestretch.
In the final 200 meters, Funderbuk found another gear and leaned in to win in 51.67. Initially, Funderburk thought she was beat. It wasn’t until an ESPN camera crew approach that she knew the title belonged to her. Funderburk reacted by falling to the ground in disbelief.
“It hit me as soon as a camera was in my face,” Funderburk said. “It was just an amazing feeling to pull it off. I wouldn’t say it was impossible, but I knew it was going to be awfully tough to win from that lane. I was going to have to run the perfect race and be in the right state of mind.”
It was the first 400-meter title for Funderburk and the first for the Seminoles’ since Marita Payne won her second straight in 1984. Funderburk also become the first FSU women’s athlete to earn All-American honors in the event since Samantha George’s sixth-place finish in 1999.
“What an amazing race for Kala,” coach Bob Braman told Seminoles.com. “No one ever wins from lane 8 – what a gutsy effort.”
The win continued Funderburk’s remarkable progression in the 400.
In high school, her best finish was third in 2011. She started her college career at Memphis, where she she was a six-time Conference USA selection and set the school indoor (53.96) and outdoor (52.59) records in the 400. But after two years with the Tigers, Funderburk left following the 2013 season to transfer to FSU.
Because Funderburk transferred, she had to sit out last season. Still, she put in the work, running in a series of meets as an unattached athlete.
The results were encouraging. Funderburk reached the 400 semifinals at the USATF Championships in a then-best time of 51.87, her first time running under 52 seconds. She also was on Team USA's 4x400 relay team that took gold at the NACAC Under-23 Championships.
At the NCAA East Preliminary Championships two weeks ago, Funderburk won in a season-best 51.09 seconds, season-best 51.09 seconds, currently No. 3 among NCAA women, No. 5 in the United States and No. 7 in the world. It vaulted the former Funderburk to the top seed in her signature event at this week’s NCAA Track and Field Championships. In Wednesday’s semifinal, Funderburk finished in her semifinal heat, which put her in lane eight for the finals.
“I was just talking to someone and remembered I was in lane eight at the NCAA during my sophomore season at Memphis and didn’t make it out of the preliminary round,” Funedrburk said. “It’s tough. But I had to block everything out. I wasn’t thinking about the other runners or the wind. I was just focused on what I needed to do – and it happened. I won.”
Funderburk capped off her meet by running the anchor leg to help FSU’s 4x400 relay team finish third in 50.98. That put the Seminoles in sixth-place overall with 35 points. It was FSU’s highest finish as a team since 2009.
“I still had a lot of adrenaline when I ran the 4x400,” Funderburk said. “I wanted to give my best effort. I couldn’t ask for anything more this season.”
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