A shot at gold

Raven Saunders competes during the women’s shop put final at the U.S. Olympic Track and Field Trials, Thursday, July 7, 2016, in Eugene Ore. (AP Photo/Matt Slocum)

Raven Saunders used to practice the shot put from the sidewalk at Harmon Field across from Burke High School. Now, she’ll compete at the highest level of her sport — the Olympic Games.

Saunders, a Burke graduate and three-time NCAA champion, qualified on Thursday night for a spot on Team USA in the Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro next month. A sophomore at Ole Miss, Saunders finished second in the shot put finals at the Olympic Trials in Eugene, Oregon, to earn her Olympic berth.

“It means a lot,” said Saunders, who followed coach Connie Price-Smith from Southern Illinois to Ole Miss. “My head coach is a four-time Olympian, so I have pretty big shoes to fill.”

Fort Dorchester’s Jasmine Camacho-Quinn, who’s already secured a spot on Puerto Rico’s Olympic team, advanced to the semifinals in the 100-meter hurdles. The semis and finals are set for Friday.

Camacho-Quinn, a redshirt freshman at Kentucky and NCAA champ in the hurdles, ran 12.68 seconds to place second in her heat and finish eighth overall among 21 runners who advanced to the semifinals.

During a back-and-forth final in the shot put, Saunders vaulted from fifth to second place with a throw of 19.24 meters (63 feet 11/2 inches), just short of her NCAA record mark of 19.33 meters.

Joining her in Rio for the shot put will be three-time Olympian Michelle Carter, who won the finals with a 19.59-meter throw, and Felisha Johnson whose 19.23-meter throw was good for third place.

All told, seven throwers topped the 60-foot mark, a first in U.S. Olympic Trials history.

Saunders’ day started Thursday afternoon in the qualifying round, and culminated Thursday night with a whirlwind performance in the finals.

Saunders finished third in qualifying for the finals earlier on Thursday, with a best throw of 18.43 meters. Her first two attempts were 17.68 and 17.00 meters. Tia Brooks led the shot put qualifying at 19.06 meters, with Jill Camarena-Williams second at 18.93 meters.

In the finals, Saunders fouled on three of her six throws, but kicked it into gear when it mattered with the 19.24-meter throw coming on her fifth try.

With a berth on the Puerto Rico team in hand, Camacho-Quinn can earn her own spot on the U.S. team in the 100-meter hurdles Friday. The semifinals are set for 6:58 p.m. Friday, and the finals will follow at 8:54 p.m.

“I’m not sure (what it will take to make the team), but something pretty fast,” said Brianna Rollins, who stands in first place at 12.56 seconds.

Opening ceremonies for the Olympics are set for Aug. 5, with the track portion running from Aug. 12-21.