Kentucky sprinter Abby Steiner has unfinished business at SEC Outdoor Championships

It wasn't even close.

In fact, the only lead Abby Steiner granted her opponents in the women’s 200-meter on her home track came at the starting blocks.

The rest is NCAA history.

Steiner, who last week graduated from the University of Kentucky, posted a scorching 22.05 in the 200 on April 22 at the Kentucky Invitational in Lexington. The time was good for the third-fastest in collegiate history, another accolade on Steiner’s lengthy résumé that boasts both indoor national championships and a bevy of broken records.

There is, however, something missing: an outdoor Southeastern Conference title. That could change in the coming days, when Steiner and the Wildcats take to the track against the league’s best at the SEC Championships in Oxford, Mississippi.

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“It's definitely the most competitive conference in the country, so we always say that this is basically a national meet — give or take a few teams,” Steiner said Monday before the UK track and field team departed for the University of Mississippi’s campus. “It's a really great meet to prepare for those national championships. And it's just taking it one meet at a time for this championship cycle.”

For how easy Steiner makes breaking records look, her journey to dominance hasn't been without hurdles. The Dublin, Ohio, native arrived at Kentucky with aspirations of being a two-sport athlete. That changed when she stepped onto the track after her freshman season with the UK women's soccer team.

"I kind of just knew, within two weeks that this was really what I was meant to be doing," said Steiner, who decided to walk away from soccer after playing for 15 years. "I could just feel it in my heart that, you know, it's just something that I'm so passionate about and wanted to pursue at the highest level and give my full attention."

Kentucky sprinter Abby Steiner competes in the Kentucky Invitational on Friday, April 22, 2022, in Lexington, Ky. Steiner posted the third-fastest time in collegiate history in the women's 200-meter during the meet.
Kentucky sprinter Abby Steiner competes in the Kentucky Invitational on Friday, April 22, 2022, in Lexington, Ky. Steiner posted the third-fastest time in collegiate history in the women's 200-meter during the meet.

Fast forward to her junior year, and Steiner went from someone "learning how to really be a sprinter" to standing atop the podium as the NCAA indoor champion in the women's 200 with a time of 22.38. A bout with Achilles tendinitis, however, derailed most of her outdoor season — and tested her patience.

"I don't think I'm the most patient person in the world, especially when it comes to track and field and being able to practice," Steiner said. "We did everything medically possible. But sometimes with those tendon injuries, the most important thing that you can do is rest."

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So, between health concerns and the COVID-19 pandemic, one of the best sprinters to ever wear Kentucky blue hasn't had much of a chance to prove herself on the outdoor circuit. Until now.

"Superstar — that's my wife's word for her," said head coach Lonnie Greene, who is in his fourth year leading the Wildcats. "Even in times when she wasn't at 100%, she was still, in my mind, head over heels better than every other athlete in the country. I think coach (Tim) Hall, who works directly Abby, has done a phenomenal job, a yeoman's job with her.

"The sky's the limit for where she's getting ready to go. If done right, her name is gonna be up in lights, you know what I mean? I might be at the World Championships crying like a big sissy when she medals."

Kentucky sprinter Abby Steiner competes in the Kentucky Invitational on Friday, April 22, 2022, in Lexington, Ky. Steiner posted the third-fastest time in collegiate history in the women's 200-meter during the meet.
Kentucky sprinter Abby Steiner competes in the Kentucky Invitational on Friday, April 22, 2022, in Lexington, Ky. Steiner posted the third-fastest time in collegiate history in the women's 200-meter during the meet.

No pressure, right? Steiner said she's not one to get ahead of herself, especially with unfinished business on the table for the Wildcats at the SEC Championships.

"I was actually reading a quote before this (interview), and it said that, 'Pressure is a privilege, because it means someone believes in you.' So that's kind of how I view it," Steiner said. There's no pressure; it's just — I have a lot of people supporting me and believing in me, and I'm excited to do the best that I can and just have fun."

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Steiner will begin her quest for the SEC outdoor title in the 200 when the preliminary race is held at 7:10 p.m. Thursday. The 200 final will be held at 7:25 p.m. Saturday.

The first two days of the SEC Championships can be livestreamed on SEC Network+. The final session of Day 3 (6 to 10 p.m. Saturday) will air on SEC Network.

This article originally appeared on Louisville Courier Journal: UK track and field: Abby Steiner preparing for SEC Championships