In an unforgettable 2015 season, Shamier Little has emerged from gifted junior into world-class 400m hurdler. We chart the bespectacled American's meteoric journey.

From the projects

Shamier Little was fresh out of nappies (or diapers) when she experienced her first brush with athletics. Her mum, Tiffany, always liked to get actively involved in her daughter’s projects, and as a former athlete with a high jump best of 1.67m, she suggested the topic of one assignment should be Wilma Rudolph, triple gold medallist at the 1960 Rome Olympics and a prominent civil and women's rights pioneer.

“She made medals out of paper and coloured them in gold,” recalls Little. “I then had to run around the classroom like I was Wilma Rudolph.”

Special gem

Born in Louisville, Kentucky – birthplace of boxing icon Muhammad Ali – Little was raised in the south side of Chicago. She possessed bundles of energy as a child. So much energy, in fact, that she admits “they tried to put me on Ritalin because they thought I had ADHD”.

Her wise mum decided her seven-year-old daughter should channel that excess energy into athletics and she joined the University of Chicago Track Club. It proved an inspired choice.

“I loved track,” recalls Little. “I loved the travelling, hanging around with other kids, the running around – period.”

She was an instant success. Starring as a sprinter, her first coach, Gregory Beacham, immediately recognised her talent.

“He used to call me Pearl along with a set of twins he called the Ruby sisters because he said we were special gems,” says Little. “He spotted something special in us.”

Logical step

Little tried the 100m and 200m before graduating to the 400m and sprint hurdles. Then mum wisely intervened (again, this woman KNOWS track) and suggested she give the 400m hurdles a crack. After only a handful of races over the distance, the fledging 400m hurdler ran 57.44 to become national junior champion and booked her ticket to compete at the 2012 World Junior Championships in Barcelona.

“It was event that worked out well for me because of my background as both a 400m and sprint hurdler,” says Little, who qualified for the final in the Catalan capital but did not finish.

Shamier Little ()

World junior gold came a month after Little won her first NCAA title

Con-Vincing coach

In her freshman year at Texas A&M she continued to impress. She won the 2014 NCAA title followed by the world junior crown as her meteoric rise continued. This isn’t by coincidence: Little says Farmers coach Vince Anderson has been an inspiration.

“He’s a great coach: passionate, enthusiastic and he’s big on communication. He always tries to make eye contact with me to check I’m good.”

Student gains

Until recently, Little lived up to the student stereotype, sleeping through to 10am (that’s defo early) and slacking on her diet.

Breakfast was often skipped. A peanut butter and jelly sandwich ten minutes before practise was about as good as it got. This suspect nutritional approach left her vulnerable during training, and a change was needed.

“I was kind of shaky and cramping up during practise,” she says. “I was getting it done but struggling,” adds Little, who says she was often living off just two meals per day.

She has since seen a nutritionist who taught her to eat the correct amount of protein and regular healthy food. Little now sets her alarm to rise at 8am to eat breakfast earlier. The cramping stopped and the quality of her training sessions improved. Her body fat has also plunged from around 18% to 11%.

Collegians take note!

Shamier Little ()

 Little was the youngest athlete in the final at US nationals. She only went ahead and won the damn thing

Beat it

Little loves to listen to the “upbeat” rhythms of Caribbean music.

“My best friends are Bahamian and my library of Caribbean music has grown,” she says. “I like to listen to it before a big race, and before the world 400m hurdles final I listened to Who Dem by Capleton.”

Which allows us to wheel out an amazing SPIKES fact: Capleton’s sister is 11.04 100m sprinter Aleen Bailey, who won Olympic gold in Athens and world championship gold in Berlin as part of the Jamaican 4x100m team.

The chilled champ

Little slashed almost half a second from her personal best at the South Eastern Conference Championships in Starkville in May, running a world-leading time of 54.68. Just one month later she ran another WL 53.74, successfully defending her NCAA title in Eugene. Two weeks later she was US champion. The key to her success? Stay relaxed.

“The expectation as a world leader is to win, but I don’t let that expectation get to me,” she adds. “If I lose, I lose. I can take a loss, providing I have given my all.”

Shamier Little ()

 After scrapping through the preliminary rounds, Little put in a late, great surge to win world champs silver

Best till last

Making her debut at a senior world champs in Beijing also did not faze the 20-year-old. She got into the final the hard way: advancing from her heat and semi as the slowest qualifier each time. Nonetheless, her confidence remained intact. In the final she unleashed the third fastest time of her career: 53.94 to take silver behind Czech Zuzana Hejnova, who secured back-to-back titles.

“I felt I am the world leader, I’m not doing what I’m supposed to be doing,” she says of her laboured performances in the prelims.

She caught a cold ahead of her final, but refused to buckle.

“I felt really drained when I stepped on the track, but I had to remind myself I can run well when I’m feeling bad, because I had put in so much effort in training.”

The look

With her trademark Malcolm X glasses and bow, Little is instantly recognisable. She’s worn the specs since first grade – she tried contacts but prefers glasses, even if they don’t provide the perfect solution.

“Sometimes the glasses get a little loose and they move as I hurdle, so I have to scrunch my face up to see the hurdle.”

The bow first made an appearance as a college freshman, and she’s variously sported stripy maroon, maroon, US flag patterned and neon. She ditched the bow when she took the Pan American Games title in Toronto in July, but mum stepped in and demanded its return.

“She said she could not see me on TV,” Little says. Sure enough, back came the bow, just in time for the biggest medal of her career to date in Beijing.