Track athletes are always racing — against others, against the clock and against themselves. Even in the best races, a curve can always be cleaner, a time can always be faster and a kick can always be stronger.
Kynnedy Flannel, who has run track since she was seven years old, knows this reality better than anyone. As a high school freshman, Flannel bested seniors and made the Texas state meet. By her last year, she ran away with 6A state titles in the 200-meterb and 100-meter.
Although Flannel was the nation’s No. 1 recruit in the 200-meter, the Alvin, Texas, native viewed running in college as a goal rather than an expectation.
Any doubts about Flannel’s collegiate potential disappeared once she arrived at Texas. Track and field head coach Edrick Floréal recognized her capabilities early on.
“I noticed how special Kynnedy was as soon as she got to campus,” Floréal said in an email. “I predicted she would be an NCAA champion before the end of her freshman season and someday go professional.”
By the indoor season, Flannel’s talent began to show. In January at the Clemson Invitational, she rose as a star after winning the 60-meter and 200-meter. With a mindset similar to the one she had entering college, Flannel went into the meet collected and without much expectation.
During the Texas Tech Shootout three weeks later, the relaxed runner from the Clemson Invitational was gone.
“If you looked at a picture of her at Clemson, her face had completely no emotion — it was completely calm,” Floréal said during a press conference in February. “And you look at the picture of her face at Texas Tech — completely different. I mean, there was tension all over the place. What I told her is that, ‘At Clemson, you were a nobody. Nobody knew who you were … and now you have expectation.’”
With world-class expectations suddenly on her shoulders, Flannel felt the pressure and became her own fiercest competitor.
“I ran these times and it was just crazy,” Flannel said. “I was like, ‘OK, I have to keep doing this, so I have to run faster than I did.’”
Embracing the spotlight has been difficult for the introverted track star, but she’s managing.
“I’m not really one of those people who likes all the attention,” Flannel said. “After the Clemson meet, it has been crazy and it’s hard for me to accept some things … I have to learn how to accept the situation I am in.”
Flannel made adjustments. In late February, she became the Big 12 Indoor Champion in the 200-meter. But what followed was an NCAA Indoor Championship meet that didn’t go as planned.
When Flannel crossed the finish line at nationals, she believed she came in second place. But her strong finish was stripped away after she was disqualified for a lane violation.
Flannel’s first indoor season, which ran from January to early March, presented a challenge as she struggled to master the ins and outs of a banked track. Navigating the curves was also difficult. However, she feels confident about outdoor season — so confident that she has already set lofty goals for the NCAA Outdoor Championships in June.
“I feel like I have to win the 200 for me,” Flannel said. “I know I can run with these people. They’re fast, but I’m right there. Outdoor is more familiar territory, so I really think I can do well.”
When the gun sounds at Texas Relays this week and at nationals in June, Flannel will fight against the screaming nerves and the lactic acid building up in her legs, against the nation’s best — and against herself.