Hillman set to compete for U.S. Olympic team today

Christina Hillman graduated from Iowa State as a seven-time All-American. (Delaware State News file photo)

Christina Hillman graduated from Iowa State as a seven-time All-American. (Delaware State News file photo)

Christina Hillman is only human.

So how can the former St. Thomas More shot putter not imagine what it would be like to actually make the U.S. Olympic team?

“I can’t help but daydream about it,” said Hillman. “Is it likely? No, because we have some of the best throwers in the nation by far.

“But it’s still there, it still encourages me. It’s still something to strive for.”

Underdog or not, Hillman will take her shot at fulfilling her Olympic dream when the women’s shot put competition is held today at the U.S. Olympic Trials in Eugene, Ore.

The qualifying round is slated for 2 p.m. EST with the finals scheduled for 9:15 p.m. The top three finishers in the meet make the U.S. team that will compete in the Summer Olympic Games in Rio next month.

Christina Hillman

Christina Hillman

Hillman, who graduated from Iowa State this spring as a seven-time All-American, said she loves just being around all the world-class athletes at an event like this.

“I was just practicing with them this morning,” the Dover native said earlier this week. “I couldn’t help but get excited. There are Olympians here, there are record-holders here, there are women who dedicate their lives to the sport. I learn a lot from them, I respect them.

“It’s just a great opportunity to be considered among them.”

Of course the 22-year-old Hillman has earned the right to be part of the Olympic Trials.

She won both the indoor and outdoor NCAA Division I national titles in 2014. The Holy Cross Elementary School grad was also named the CoSIDA Women’s Track and Field Academic All-American of the Year as a senior.

Hillman took part in the U.S. Olympic Trials in 2012 when she was a freshman at Iowa State.

Ranked 24th that year, she earned the last qualifying spot, before finishing 15th in the competition. She said a lot has changed since then.

“I wasn’t really that nervous,” Hillman remembered. “I was really excited and so happy to be there. I was just surrounded by elite throwers and it was so cool for me to be able to throw with them, even though I didn’t expect anything. I loved every second of it.

“It’s different this time because I think I have more expectations for myself. I just know I can do something really great here. … I like the feeling that I can put something together. It all depends on the day.”

Hillman’s first goal, naturally, is to make the finals — something she didn’t do in 2012. Her qualifying mark of 17.93 meters is 13th among this year’s entries.

Olympic veteran Michelle Carter is the favorite with a qualifying mark of 20.21 meters — just shy of her American-record throw of 20.24. The rest of the field’s top throw is under 20 meters, though.

Hillman knows she can’t get too caught up in what everybody else is throwing.

“I’m my own biggest competition,” she said. “I can’t control what they do but I can control what I do. I think I know what I’m capable of doing so I strive for that every time. If you put a number out there, you’ll be chasing numbers forever.”

Whatever happens today, Hillman doesn’t think this will be her last chance to make the Olympics. She plans on staying competitive in the sport for several more years.

So this isn’t an all-or-nothing moment for Hillman. At the same time, competing for a spot in the Olympics before a crowd of 22,000 people doesn’t get too much bigger for a shot putter.

Hillman’s mom, Deborah Carey, and grandmother will both be there to watch her in Oregon today.

“I think they’re more excited than I am actually,” Hillman said with a laugh. “They’ve been texting me every day — ‘Are you excited? We’re so excited to come watch you.’ I can tell how proud they are of me.

“I feel like I’m trying to stay realistic. But that’s not to say who knows what could happen. When people ask me, ‘Oh, are you going to go to Rio?’ I’m like, I’m going to try my very best and see what happens. I will be happy with myself if I can walk away from this meet knowing that I put it all out there.”

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