Illini, Stevenson star Stryganek faces Olympic-size challenge

When Brandon Stryganek hears the gun to start the 200-meter dash Saturday afternoon at the USA Track and Field Outdoor Championships, he hopes it will feel like "just another race."

But it won't be if Stryganek, a former Stevenson star and recent Illini graduate, takes a glance to his right.

"I mean, it's going to be a little different because I have (2004 Olympic Gold Medalist) Justin Gatlin and (2008 Olympic Bronze Medalist) Walter Dix on my outside," he said.

In addition to Gatlin and Dix, 2012 Olympians Ryan Bailey and Isiah Young will be in Stryganek's heat at Hayward Field in Eugene, Oregon.

The prospect of racing against four Olympic athletes didn't dawn on Stryganek until he got on the phone with his mother, Trudy.

"I was talking to my mom and I look at the heat sheets and in lane eight is Justin Gatlin," Stryganek said. "(I) have Dix in my heat, Bailey, Young, guys that I grew up watching and idolizing and now I'm in the same heat as they are. That's kind of surreal."

Stryganek is one of three suburban standouts and Illini athletes competing this weekend. Illinois sent nine athletes to Eugene.

David Kendziera, a 2013 Prospect High School graduate, is coming off a third-place finish in the NCAA Championships in the 400-meter hurdles. He competed in Thursday's preliminaries and qualified for Friday's semifinals with a time of 50.81.

Jonathan Wells, a 2014 Grant graduate, was a co-runner-up in the high jump in the Big Ten Championships. Wells competes Friday in the USA Track and Field Junior Championships, which are held in conjunction with the USATF Outdoor Championships.

"It's nice to have everybody out here and it's a good showing," Stryganek said. "Nine people is a lot of people to have to go to the USA Trials. It's a good thing to have."

Stryganek found out last week that he had qualified to race in Eugene.

This weekend gives Stryganek and his teammates a rare opportunity to just race and not focus on team points or standings.

"We're expecting some pretty good performances, but this is a meet that's all about us," Stryganek said. "There's no real expectations or pressure. Now it's just about going out there and doing your best. Whatever happens, happens."

Racing Olympic athletes will give Stryganek and his teammates memories they will carry forever.

"Meeting those guys and running against them is definitely something special," Stryganek said. "Even being in the same conversation and being on TV in the same heat as them is definitely special for us. We've worked really hard to get to this level and being very close to them is extremely special for us."

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