With many runners not racing because of the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, many athletes have been taking on various challenges, such as the backwards mile and climbing the height of Mount Everest at home, to fill their time. On the trails, fastest known times are falling almost daily.
One of the most popular records this summer has been the world record for running a mile while dribbling a basketball. On September 4, Whittni Orton, a fifth-year senior who runs on the Brigham Young University women’s cross country team, broke the existing women’s record—the third time this record was broken in 2020.
The idea to chase the record came from BYU women’s cross country head coach Diljeet Taylor. When she saw that the basketball mile record had been broken by Foot Locker Nationals champion Sydney Masciarelli in July in 5:08.57, she knew she had two athletes with basketball backgrounds—Orton and Anna Camp Bennett—who could challenge it.
“[Coach Taylor] just sent it to us after it happened and said, ‘Should we?’” Orton said. “We did a workout or two to see how it felt. After that, we decided to just go for it and have fun with it.”
Orton and Camp Bennett, who have balled together over the years, did minimal training for the record attempt—a few dribbling speed workouts and some dribbling during practices. Though seasoned ball handlers, the additional speed created an unexpected challenge.
“At first, I was like, ‘Oh yeah, I could do that for sure,’” Orton said. “Once I practiced, it was so different than what I thought. In basketball, you’re in a defensive position and stance. For running, you want to be straight with good form. Combining the two was harder than I thought it would be.”
On September 4, Orton and Camp Bennett lined up for the record attempt—their first race since March, when the NCAA indoor season was cut short. While the rest of the women’s team watched from a distance, they took off, with NBA-official basketballs in hand and the Like Mike version of “We’re Playing Basketball” blasting out from the speakers.
You can watch the whole race below.
Both athletes stayed together for the first two laps, running each around 71 seconds. Around the 800-meter mark, Orton broke away the second half of the race, she focused on just not mishandling or kicking the ball. Orton cruised to a new world record of 4:58.56, besting the previous mark by 10 seconds.
“It was fun having the whole team come out and cheer in masks,” Orton said. “We were gonna have the men’s basketball team come, but they couldn’t because of COVID. Honestly, it was just fun to get back out there and feel nervous again for a race, but I think, after doing this, I’d like these sports better separately.”
The rest of the BYU team’s fall season is up in the air with the pandemic. The team plans to do time trials and other events as they prepare for uncertain winter and spring seasons.
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