EUGENE, Ore. -- Nothing has been conventional in Amalie Iuel’s life so it’s no surprise that her track career is any different.
A freshman from Southern California, Iuel began as a high jumper, moved to hurdles and then to heptathlon, all without the benefit of a scholarship.Iuel, 19, came to Los Angeles from Bangkok, Thailand, hearing about USC from one of her mom’s friends and decided she would try and get on the track team.
“I was really interested in going to school in the states,” Iuel said. “I talked to the coaches a bit and decided to come here.”
Getting on the team, however, was not guaranteed. The coaching staff had doubts about someone who never was on a formal track team, with most of Iuel’s training coming as a youngster against her brother.
“My brother and I raced everywhere, whether it was to the car or up the hill, we were always competing against each other,” Iuel said. “I started track when I was nine. My dad signed me up for the club track team. I continued until I was 12 and then we moved.”
The programs she was in were not very organized and a lot of what she learned was self-taught.
So when she came to USC and had to endure a tryout to get a spot on the roster, Iuel totally understood, but that didn’t make the day any easier.
“Tryouts were really nerve wracking,” Iuel said. “It started out with a 30-meter sprint and some jumps and then a 45-second sprint to see how far you would get. There were five other people there.”
Iuel got a spot but not in the area she thought. Instead of doing hurdles, the coaches put her with the jumpers. She trained in the high jump for a couple of months and then got a herniated disc in her back that forced her to sit from October until Christmas.
“I sat out and then talked to my coach and said I was a hurdler and I want to pursue that,” Iuel said. “She looked at my times and let me start with hurdlers when I got healthy but she also said she thought I could do the heptathlon.”
Iuel agreed though she had never thrown anything in track and was a novice in the 800 meters.
“I did the first meet in San Diego and tried everything out and got my feet wet,” Iuel said. “That was kind of a practice meet. The Pac-12 was when I really started. I really improved a lot and was happy with that.”
By the time the conference championships came in the spring, Iuel was getting experience but didn’t think she was ready for elite competition.
“I came in ranked seventh I think and as the day went by I saw I was moving up and with two events left I saw that I could win,” Iuel said. “I figured I would leave it all on the track. I had been looking at the other girls and I saw one girl from UCLA that was really good and figured I had to stick close to her. I didn’t think I was going to be able to beat her but I did.”
Winning the event shocked everyone, including Iuel.
“It definitely came as a surprise,” she said. “I set a lot of PRs [personal records] and my point total was a lot higher than San Diego.”
That’s what made missing out on the heptathlon for the NCAA Division I Outdoor Track and Field Championships so disappointing.
“I was 11 points off,” Iuel said. “I kept checking to see if I had made it. It’s annoying thinking that if I had leaned a little more I might have made it.”
Regardless, this season has been a success.
“I’ve come a long way from the beginning of the year,” Iuel said. “I am really happy with what I accomplished.”
So is her coach.
"I can't be more proud of the freshman Amalie Iuel," USC director of track and field Caryl Smith Gilbert said. “Amalie is one of the brightest spots this year. She didn't run her senior year of high school because she was hurt, comes back to win the conference championship in the heptathlon and makes the NCAA semifinals in the 400m IH. She is a great asset to our program and I don't know what we'd do without her.”
Those words might lead to an offseason conversation between coach and athlete about a scholarship.
“Hopefully I’ll have a talk with her after the meet and we’ll see what happens,” Iuel said. “I know there are a lot of new people coming in so I understand if I don’t get one. I will stay here, I love USC.”