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Seven with Saunders: A Q&A with Pan Am Juniors shot put gold medalist Raven Saunders


USATF: You're a sophomore and have already set a world lead in the shot put. What kind of tone does that set for your season indoors?


RS: This just basically shows me that I have a lot more in me. This season has started greater than I could have imagined, so the future is bright. I’m ready to keep working in practice and moving forward.


USATF: You followed your coach, 2016 U.S. Olympic Head Coach Connie Price-Smith, when she accepted her current position at Ole Miss. How has the transition been and what do you enjoy most about being a Rebel?


RS: The transition was kind of difficult at first, just trying to get used to being back in the South after being up north for a year. Everything’s going pretty good right now.


I think I like the title, “The Rebels.” It sounds like a force to be reckoned with. It fits me pretty well.


USATF: What are your competition plans for 2016? Is Rio on your radar?


RS: Rio is my main goal. Of course, NCAA Championships is big. But pretty much everything is gearing toward the Olympic Trials and making that team.


USATF: Changing from a glide to a spin technique, how has that changed your performance and your confidence in your technique?


RS: The spin was definitely a hard transition my senior year of high school. But now going into my third year of it, it’s so much easier. There are so many things to work on and improve. Being young and only doing it for just a few years, my learning curve is so high. I’m really looking forward to what the future holds. There’s definitely a lot in the tank and I can’t even imagine how far I can go.


USATF: You've been incredibly successful on the collegiate and international stages since your silver medal performance at World Juniors. Is there something about pressure at big meets that you respond well to?


RS: With any big meet, I basically have the same feel. Inside, I’m just ready to attack it. People try to put emphasis on international competition or whatnot, but in my mind it’s just people wearing different jerseys, which is the same thing as high school and college. To me the competition is the same. I just attack it like how I do any other meet.


USATF: Who are your role models both in the sport and outside of it?


RS: One person I really look up to, being a spin shot putter, is Reese Hoffa. He’s a big, powerful guy. I was actually really happy to meet him last year at USAs. That’s my idol in the sport. Who I look up to out of the sport, even though she’s still in it, is Coach Connie. She’s a wonderful coach, basically like a second mother to every person on the team. Sitting under her, there’s a lot to learn. She’s teaching me the ropes of what to do, what not to do, how to conduct yourself. You just look at how successful she is, and you try to learn as much as you can.


USATF: What does representing Team USA mean to you?


RS: It means a lot. Growing up and having watched the Olympics since I was a kid, I looked up to these big people on the huge stage like they weren’t even humans. Like they were above everyone else. Now being close to wearing that Team USA jersey at the Olympics, it would be a dream come true. It’s so hard to imagine it, but I know it’s possible. It’s going to be a surreal feeling when I make that team.

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