Sitting inside the McFerrin Athletic Center at Texas A&M, senior sprinter Chrisann Gordon had her face buried in her hands.
She had just taken sixth place in the women’s 400 meters finals at the NCAA Indoor Championships, finishing in 52.81 seconds. Though most athletes would have been reasonably satisfied with the time, the 2016 Olympic silver-medalist found it unacceptable.
“I was just so mad at myself,” Gordon said. “I knew that I could do better.”
But just a moment later, Gordon put her game face back on and began her cool-down exercises with sophomore sprinter Zola Golden. She knew she had to set an example for her younger teammates.
“We’ve had various types of leadership over the years,” head coach Mario Sategna said. “Courtney (Okolo) was a leader by example. Morolake (Akinosun) was a lot more vocal. Chrisann likes to be more of a mentor both on and off the track.”
Though she maintains personal relationships with all her teammates, Gordon has found a particular closeness with freshman sprinter/hurdler Rushelle Burton, her Jamaican counterpart.
This is Burton’s first year in the United States. Gordon made the move three years ago, spending her first year at South Plains College before transferring to Texas. Having gone through similar experiences, Gordon feels as though it is her responsibility to look out for Burton.
“Chrisann considers herself as my mother, so she’s always here encouraging me,” Burton said. “As I started the year, it was really hard. I was struggling. It’s really a big transition moving from high school and coming into the college system. (She’s) a big help.”
Gordon embraces her role as a mentor and has found a second family among her Longhorn teammates.
“We’re from the same country, so I take up that job and try to be there for (Burton),” Gordon said. “I’m older than her, so that’s why I call her my daughter. I try to make sure she’s doing the right thing because she’s talented. She could be a really great athlete.”
The relationship has proved fruitful for both sprinters. Two weeks ago, at the Texas Invitational, Burton went neck-and-neck with world-record holder Kendra Harrison and posted the nation’s top 100-meter hurdles time, clocking in at a wind-aided 12.65 seconds. The result earned Burton Big 12 Athlete of the Week honors.
“Sometimes when she realizes she has fast people in her heat, she’ll be like, ‘Oh, I can’t beat these people, I don’t think I’m going to run well today,’” Gordon said. “I always try to tell her, ‘No Rushelle, you can do it, you’re fast too!’”
Last week, Gordon also took the No. 1 ranking in her event, running a 50.64-second 400 meters at the LSU Alumni Gold to claim a new personal record and Big 12 Athlete of the Week honors as well.
“We’re just close, always pushing each other,” Burton said. “Always behind each other.”
Now in the last few weeks of her final season as a Longhorn, Gordon looks to remain on top and accomplish her goal of becoming the NCAA champion, which will require a great amount of consistency.
“For her, it’s not even about improving her time,” Sategna said. “It’s more about being consistent through each race and having great performances each time.”
When Gordon takes part in the Longhorn Invitational beginning Friday at noon, she will challenge herself to realize her full potential on the track.
“I’m trying to stay hungry and not be comfortable,” Gordon said. “I know that if I work really hard, I can be a really good athlete. I’m just trying to be consistent. The sky’s the limit for me.”