EDMOND — Imagine that it was your dream to compete in the Olympic Games, and as a high school senior, you earned the chance to qualify.
Edmond Santa Fe's Gunnar Nixon did. And he's going to turn it down.
His performance at the Arcadia (Calif.) Invitational earlier this month qualified him to compete in the U.S. Olympic Trials for the 2012 Games, but he's going to pass. Doesn't feel like he's quite ready for that level of competition.
Instead, he will try to qualify for next year's World Junior Championships.
“I just feel like I need to do the World Juniors,” said Nixon, who has signed with the University of Arkansas. “It's like a steppingstone to the Olympics, so that's what I want to do.”
Not many high school athletes have the kind of discipline to turn down such an opportunity. But Nixon is different from most high school athletes in a number of ways.
Nixon is an Oklahoma product in every sense of the phrase.
He was born in Weatherford and raised in Tulsa until he moved to Edmond as a high school sophomore. In addition to the coaching staff at Edmond Santa Fe, he has been helped by coaches from Guthrie and Weatherford, as well as a few other Edmond folks.
The work of all of them together — most notably Nixon himself — has produced one of the state's most accomplished track and field athletes at the high school level.
And before long, we might need to drop that part about “at the high school level.”
“I've truly never had an athlete as talented as Gunnar,” Edmond Santa Fe coach Carl Hawkins said. “I really expect big things out of him in college, and the thing about it is, he does too. Some kids say, ‘I'm gonna do this.' But Gunnar, I think he knows, ‘I can do this.'”
Earlier this month, Nixon set the national record for points in the decathlon by a high school athlete using international implements, winning the Arcadia Invitational for the second year in a row.
He has competed, and succeeded, on the national and international level, in events like the Youth Olympics in Singapore last summer. But his Olympic goal will have to wait.
“In 2016, I'll be 23 years old, so that's the first year I'm looking at,” he said. “And then 2020. And there are the World Championships in the years in between.”
Building this track and field prodigy has been a team effort.
It started with Nixon's talent, determination and discipline. Then came the guidance of Hawkins, himself a high school decathlete.
Hawkins' knowledge was exactly what Nixon needed. By the time he came to Edmond, Nixon had already won a junior national decathlon as a freshman at Tulsa Union. Hawkins simply helped to fine-tune his skills.
“At the beginning, I could work with him on the basics and get him going in the right direction,” Hawkins said. “That first year, I was able to give him a good foundation.
“As he progressed, he needed a little more specialization in some areas.”