Feature Friday: Whittle Is Burning Up The Track This Season

No sprinter in New Jersey and very few in the country have lit up the track the way Shamali Whittle has this season.

The junior speedster at Hamilton North has left lots of smoke around the oval while burning five NJ No. 1 times this season.

In his most recent meet, Whittle, competing for the Trenton Track Club, dropped a sizzling PR of 21.52 to win the 200-meter dash and placed third in the 60m dash in 7.01 at the 757 Showdown last weekend at the Virginia Beach Sports Center.

The 21.52 is NJ No. 1 and US No. 9 this season, and places Whittle No. 6 on NJ's all-time indoor list. Whittle's previous PR came when he won the 200m at the indoor Meet of Champions last March in 21.68.t

Whittle's 7.01 is also NJ No. 1 this season, giving him an astonishing five NJ No. 1 times this season. He's also NJ No. 1 in the 55m dash with a 6.52, which is US No. 18, the 55m hurdles (7.74), and the 60m hurdles (8.27). 

NJ MileSplit recently caught up with Whittle, which is something very few sprinters have been able to do to do this season, for a Q and A.

In the Q and A, Whittle talks about his sizzling times, his huge goals, his chances to break the state record in the 200m, how meeting the legendary Usain Bolt has inspired him,  how much the success of his club teammate, Athing Mu, has motivated him, and much, much more.       

So, sit back and enjoy our latest installment of Feature Friday as we shine the spotlight on one of the top sprinters in the nation, the one and only Shamali Whittle.

Shamali Whittle Interview

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NJM: You have put together some really strong performances this season, especially the PR of 21.52 to win the 200m last weekend, which is NJ No. 1 and US No. 8 this season, and places you NJ No. 6 all-time on the indoor list. And you're also the state leader in the 55m and 60m dash, and the 55m and 60m hurdles. How excited are you with those performances, and what does it mean to you personally to be No. 6 in state history in the 200?

It feels great to be up there with some of the state's best of all time in the 200m, like Mario Heslop, who's of Jamaican descent, like myself, and UC's Taylor McLaughlin. It definitely fuels me to work even harder to put Nottingham HS on top.

I also like that I am able to step into the role that my former teammate Louis Akpadago left in the short sprints. Hopefully, I improve my 55m times soon, maybe 6.4 mid or so. The hurdles I am fine with, but stopped early due to changes I need to deal with in training because of growth and changes in my body.

The indoor state record of 20.90 was set by Mario Heslop of Franklin when he won the 200 at the 2019 New Balance National Championships. What are your thoughts on trying to break that record? Do you feel it's within your reach this season?

I respect what Mario has done and it would mean a lot to break it. Sub 21 is a big deal though, so if not this season, then for sure next year.

What do you consider your greatest strength as a track and field athlete? What do you think enables you to be as fast as you are, and what have you been able to specifically do to drop your PR's in the dashes this season?

I think my greatest strength is my versatility. Being able to run the dashes up to the 400m as well as both high and intermediate hurdles keep things fresh and interesting for me. To be honest, this season is the first time running the 55m/60m in high school. I ran it once in NYC in December and again last weekend in Virginia. Acceleration has been one focus to get my time down. With the 200m, it's just trying to hold my form into the second half of the race and having better speed endurance. 

When will you be competing again? Anything this weekend? 

Yes, I will be back in Virginia this weekend for the East Coast Invitational. I plan to run the 200m as well as the 60m. Maybe next weekend too in Alabama to close the indoors in terms of competitions. My coach will decide.

What are your biggest goals for the rest of this indoor season and for the outdoor season? What kind of times would you like to hit in all your events?   

My biggest goal is to go 21 low and 6.4, either this weekend or maybe next weekend. I'm ending my indoor season after that though, so I can focus on some growth/technical issues with my hurdling because I would like to hit 13.6 or so in the 110h outdoors. I would also like to break my old teammate Dana Ridley's outdoor records of 10.50 and 21.03 in the 100m and 200m. And perhaps 53s in the 400 m hurdles. Hopefully those goals will help my school win the state team title, and do really well in the 4x100m, fingers crossed. So those are a few goals I have.

What's your favorite event to run and why? 

I am not sure yet, between the 200m and the sprint hurdles. I like the 100m too. This outdoor season will tell me more about my preferences.

You've had a lot of great moments in your career at Hamilton North, but which do you consider your biggest moment and why? The 1-2-3 by you and are teammates in the 200m at the Meet of Champs last indoors is hard to top!         

Yes, most definitely the 200m at Meet of Champs! To have me, Louis, and Dana go 1-2-3 and all of us run sub 22 was surreal, and to do something that was never done before in NJ was a big accomplishment for our school. The relays were great too, going undefeated indoors last year in the 4x200m and US No. 1 (excluding club) 1:27.89 while we were still loaded.

Let's get into some background. Can you tell me how, when, and why you first got started competing in track and field? 

I started in 2014. I was playing AAU basketball for Team RIO National and CJ Hawks and teammates and parents used to say I am fast and would always encourage me to try track. I got the same comments playing Pop Warner football and HTRBA baseball too. So I felt I had to try it out! But that first time running 200m indoors in 2014, I remember thinking the track was too big and no way I could sprint around it! It turned out cool though. Plus, I was at the London Olympics in 2012 and got an autograph from Usain Bolt, I mean, the great Usain Bolt... and that moment has always stuck with me.

Who is your favorite college/pro sprinter to watch and why? Whose videos do you watch the most to try and pick up things that you can use in your own races?  

I love watching Usain Bolt because of his personality and how he's down to earth and great at the same time. Grant Holloway and his incredible acceleration in the 110h despite his height, plus his versatility, and Daniel Roberts and how determined he is. I pick up some great things from these guys. Athing Mu at Texas A&M too, knowing that she was my Trenton Track Club teammate, and to see how well she's been doing is definitely motivation for my own races.

Unfortunately, there wasn't an outdoor season last spring because of COVID-19, so you didn't get a chance to run outdoor track last spring. How challenging was that and how tough was it mentally to deal with?

It was very difficult to deal with. We had a great team that I felt was a once in a lifetime team. We wanted to win at Penn Relays, and get another State title, things like that. I was looking forward to another road trip to Orlando, FL with the Trenton TC. I just tried not to think about it too much, but whenever I do, it really hurts, even to this day. But I know that COVID-19 is a big deal, so I just have look at the bigger picture and know it was for the best.

What type of things did you do to stay sharp for track and field during the spring/summer? I know you ran some races for your club.

A few of us would get together on our own when we could, get some work in. It was a good outlet for us too. I was also able to get one meet in, in Las Vegas. It was extremely hot but a fun trip!

When would you say you had your first huge breakthrough moment when you realized you could be a big track and field star?

Probably 2018, when I broke the 100m hurdles 14-and-under record in 13.3 seconds at AAU Club Nationals and was able to win 100m hurdles, and 200m hurdles at both the AAU Junior Olympics and AAU Club Nationals, as well as 200m silver at both events with a 22.48 PB.

What do you love the most about being a track and field athlete?

The road trips, meeting new friends, and the adrenaline rush of going to battle with other rivals. 

 What's your biggest long term goal in track and field in college and beyond? 

My biggest goal is to land a track scholarship with a great program, both academic and track, that can help me grow and be very successful on that national level in track.