For a guy that didn’t make the finals of the 400 meters in either the NCAA Indoor or Outdoor Track and Field Championships, Elija Godwin is a long way from Georgia’s Spec Towns Track right now.
Despite his disappointments at the two NCAA Championships this year, Godwin made the most of his biggest opportunity of the year. He did reach the final of the 400 at the U.S. Olympic Trials, held at Eugene, Ore., on the same track as the NCAA Outdoors the week before, and finished sixth, earning a relay spot on the U.S. team in the Tokyo Olympics.
“There are a lot of thoughts that come to mind when you think about, I’m actually about to go to the Olympics,” Godwin said before leaving Athens. “Sometimes I think about how this is one of the biggest stages I’ve ever been on, and then I think about it again and I’m like, no, this is THE biggest stage that you can be on as a track and field athlete.
“To be able to have come so far and be able to accomplish something like this, it’s amazing to me. I feel extremely blessed and I’m just excited to go out there and see what it will be like.”
Godwin, a Covington native and rising senior at UGA, was a part of a history-making quartet July 30 at Olympic Track Stadium in Tokyo. He joined former Bulldog sprinter Lynna Irby, the 2018 NCAA champion in the 400, in the inaugural Olympic heat of the 4x400 mixed relay, a new event that features two women and two men. Godwin led off the race, handed the baton to Irby, who passed it to Taylor Manson, and then Bryce Deadmon ran the anchor leg.
The U.S. won the heat easily, but it was then disqualified for a zone violation. About five hours later, the U.S. team’s appeal of the disqualification was granted, allowing the team to advance to the final. Godwin ran the opening leg in 45.67 seconds and Irby ran her’s in 49.77. The group won its heat by more than a second, with a total time of 3:11.39, which ranked third among all qualifiers.
If Godwin isn’t selected for the mixed final on Saturday, he will likely be back in action on Sunday during the men’s 4x400 relay qualifying.
At the NCAA Outdoors, Godwin said he ran a poor race strategically in the semifinals, posting a time of 46.18, which was fourth in his heat and 11th overall, two spots out of making the final. It wasn’t all bad at the NCAAs, though. Godwin teamed with Matthew Boling, Arian Smith and Delano Dunkley to place second in the 4x100 relay with a school-record time of 38.54, .06 out of first.
Godwin was able to shake off his disappointing 400 at NCAAs quickly and get his mind right for the Olympic Trials a week later.
“You would think that would hurt my confidence or something negative, but it wasn’t that,” he said of not reaching the NCAA final in the 400. “I looked at it as, I’m going to turn this moment into something positive. I’m going to come back successful.
“To actually do it, to set your mind to something, to have a big dream and make a plan, and then actually be able to see it through, it’s like a surreal moment. You’ve got to keep telling yourself it’s real.”
It’s real because he made it real. Godwin won his first heat at the Trials in 44.81, running the second-fastest time overall. In the semifinals, he ran 45.10, placing second in his heat and sixth overall, earning him a spot in the final. In that final, with a spot in the Olympics on the line, Godwin ran 44.94 to place sixth and punch his ticket.
Of course, Godwin didn’t know he’d made the team immediately after the race. He walked off the track disappointed in sixth, thinking that he’d had a good shot at third if he’d finished better.
“I was walking off the track and I got to the tent and everybody was like, ‘Congratulations.’ When I got to the warmup tent, they gave me my processing papers for the next day because I’d made the team. I remember a hint of excitement but I was more flooded with the emotion of coming in sixth,” he said.
“I kind of wish I would have gone back and enjoyed the moment a little bit more, but as a true competitor, coming in sixth isn’t something you feel good about initially. Once I realized how big this was, I was able to smile about it, really take it in and be happy about it.”
Great comebacks are nothing new for Godwin, who in May 2019 was seriously injured when he was impaled by a javelin. Two years almost to the day after that, on May 15, at the 2021 SEC Outdoor Championships, he ran a personal-best and school-record 44.61 in the 400.
“It’s crazy to me to see my story unfold, and this is another climax in my story,” he said.
It’s a great story that’s still unfolding, on the biggest stage in track and field.
Saturday, July 31, Godwin earned a bronze medal in the 1,600-meter mixed relay in track and field. He earned the medal after running on the relay in prelims, then the U.S. foursome of Trevor Stewart, Kendall Ellis, Kaylin Whitney and Vernon Norwood finished in third in the finals with a time of 3 minutes, 10.22 seconds.