It's been said that wearing the red, white and blue colors that represent the United States is among the highest honors an American athlete can receive.
So, one can understand the pride Cal Poly Pomona assistant track and field coach Joel Stallworth felt when he was measured for his Team USA uniform upon the conclusion of last week's USA Indoor Track and Field Nationals held in Boston.
“It really hit me when I tried on the uniform for the first time,” said Stallworth, who will compete on Team USA's 4 x 400 relay at the 12th annual IAAF World Indoor Championships, held in Valencia, Spain, on March 8 and 9. “It definitely was an emotional moment. I get to represent my country and to represent my family, my coaches and everyone that's been a part of what's gotten me to this point is incredibly gratifying.”
Stallworth finished fourth in the open 400 meters, where he ran 46.98 seconds, just one-hundredth of a second off his personal indoor best time. By virtue of his finish, he was selected to race on the relay team for his first-ever international competition.
It's been a meteoric rise on the track and field scene for the 25-year-old Stockton native. He didn't enter the sport of track and field until his basketball eligibility was complete in 2006 at Cal State Stanislaus, where he was an all-CCAA player for the Warriors. In just his first year of competing in track and field, Stallworth was named the CCAA athlete of the year by virtue of winning a pair of conference titles (200 and 400) and was named the USTFCCAA West Region Track Athlete of the Year.
But 2007 was the year that Stallworth burst on the national level. He again won the 200 and 400-meter CCAA championships and was named the conference's athlete of the year. He went on to finish second in the 400 at the NCAA Division II meet, held in Charlotte, N.C, and finished his two-year college career with three All-America honors. His personal-best time of 45.40 seconds qualified him for the 2008 U.S. Olympic Trials, to be held in Eugene, Ore., this June. Should he place in the top three, he would make the U.S. Olympic team that will compete this year in Beijing, China.
Stallworth leaves for Spain on Sunday, where he will fly from Ontario to Atlanta, then the long tripto Paris, and finally on to Valencia. It's also the first time he will make use of his passport as this is his initial overseas trip.
“I really want to keep it low-key and not to over-exaggerate this,” Stallworth said. “It's one of those things where, when I look back I'll be thrilled about what I've experienced, but I've got to look at this as my job, my work. It's all about taking care of business and performing well.”
The only time this spring Stallworth ran indoors was on race day where he competed in meets in Seattle and Boise, Idaho. He trains at Kellogg Field and has made the transition from the outdoor 400-meter tracks to those that are 200 meters or less in length.
“It's different going from a 400-meter track with the longer straight-aways and gradual turns to a banked track with tighter turns and shorter straight-aways,” he said. “But I like where I'm at. This has been a good base for my long-term goal of making the Olympic team.”
Once Stallworth returns from Europe, his schedule has him competing in a handful of events leading up to the U.S. Olympic Trials. Should he make the team, he would like to compete on the summer European circuit and then off to China.
Stallworth earned his bachelor's degree in communications from Cal State Stanislaus in 2007. He also earned an associate's degree from San Joaquin College in Stockton.