Kenny Selmon runs the fourth-fastest 400-meter hurdle time in the world this year at ACC Championships
Kenny Selmon is a junior hurdler for the North Carolina track and field team who won his first ACC championship over the weekend in Atlanta, Ga. His 48.76 in the 400-meter hurdles is an NCAA No. 1 mark and ranks No. 2 in the United States and No. 4 in the world this season.
Selmon spoke with staff writer James Tatter about the significance of his title, the nerves of running in front of his hometown crowd, his future ambitions in the event and his text to UNC 400-meter hurdle record-holder Ken Harnden after his race.
The Daily Tar Heel: In the past five seasons, there have been only two collegiate athletes that have run faster than you in the 400-meter hurdles, including marks from World Championships and Olympic Trials. How significant does this mark feel to you personally?
Kenny Selmon: I've always run fast times. I showed up fast at nationals last year and got third, and I went 49 a couple of other times last year. But this time, it's very significant. One, because it sits amongst an eliteness that I hadn't even touched before. To be fourth in the world is just kind of surreal. It hasn't really hit me yet.
But this time is also significant because I did it at the ACC Championship. There's something to be said about showing up on the special day. Because you can run that time a million times, but I really wanted to get a title. To run that time and also get a title made that very special.
DTH: It’s not news that you are fast, especially on the national level. But did you expect to go into the race to be able to hit that kind of time?
KS: If I'm being honest, I did. I knew that if I wanted to win I would have to do something of that sort of level. I knew that Desmond (the runner-up in the event) had beaten me twice at ACCs the past years. I knew what he was capable of. My main priority going into this was that I wanted to win. I didn't want to focus on time, I wanted to win.
But I knew if I wanted to win I was going to have to drop a kind of crazy time. And so I felt like I was conditioned and I had the knowledge and ability to run that kind of time. I mean, 48.7 was shocking. I thought I was going to go 48 a little bit higher. But, I did fully expect to run sub 49 when I went into that race and that was my goal.
DTH: What was your immediate reaction when you saw the time?
KS: Relief. I've been to the Olympic trials, I've run at some big meets. But I've never been more nervous than I was on Sunday. It was kind of my homecoming. I've always had people watching me run, but I've never had that many people watching me run in person. My nerves were just all over the place. Once I crossed the line and knew that I had won that was one sigh of relief.
Then I knew what the nation leading time was going into the race, and so when I saw I had beaten that I was ecstatic. I couldn't really figure out what to do. It was absolutely insane.
DTH: What are your goals for regionals and beyond?
KS: I obviously want to be a national champion. My goal moving forward from this point now is to be a national champion, to win once we get to Eugene, Oregon. I obviously need to advance through regionals to get to nationals.
After nationals, it's a world championship year. We have the US trials for the world championship meet which is in August. You have to run in the national trial meet on June 22. So I also plan on trying out for that team and hope to make that team as well. My first goal right now is to win nationals, my second goal is to get on that world championship team.
DTH: You were at the Olympic trials last year, you raced against a lot of the North Carolina greats like Johnny Dutch and Bershawn Jackson. But does the fact that you hit this super elite time alter your expectations for where you can go after collegiate running?
KS: Yeah, I mean it really has. I'm in the business school, and the business school pushes you very much towards going into the corporate lifestyle and trying to get things started in that way. It's not until recently that I've realized, I mean, I knew I was fast at a certain level, but to run that time ... My coach really said it. I was like, "I don't know if I want to do the world championships." And he was like, "Kenny ... I don't think you understand that you've run a time that would have made the Olympic team last year."
When he said that, it kind of hit me. Like gosh, track is sort of so black and white. If you run the times, you run the times. So now that I am in that category, it's a lot to take in honestly. I've been so set on not really going pro, I was going to see what happens. But now a pro career is kind of more and more in the forefront of my priorities. It's something that I have to take a lot more serious now. It's definitely changed things.
DTH: Ken Harnden (now a coach at the University of Georgia) still holds the school record of 48.72 from all the way back in 1995. Should he be worried?
KS: Ken and I are actually really good friends. He recruited me back when I was in high school and we've made a good relationship even with me coming to Carolina. I've been texting him and letting him know that I want him to be at the next few meets because I'm under 49.
DTH: Is there anything else you want to add about your reactions or thoughts since you've had a little more time to digest what you did this weekend?
KS: I'm the same dude who came up from Atlanta. We've got more work to do. I've gotta make sure I keep my head down. This is just a step, I can't let this take over my mindset because I can't become stagnant. I've got to remain hungry and aggressive. Gotta keep moving forward.