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Elija Godwin qualifies for USA's Junior Olympics track and field team
Elija Godwin
Newton's Elija Godwin qualified for the USA National Junior Olympics team Sunday at the University of Indiana. - photo by Sydney Chacon

COVINGTON, Ga. — After finishing third place in the Junior Olympics trials at the University of Indiana Sunday, recent Newton High graduate Elija Godwin has qualified to compete in Finland with the USA’s Junior Olympics track and field team. 

After posting a 46.15-second time in the preliminaries of the 400 meter dash, Godwin came back and ran a flat 46 seconds, placing him behind only a pair of runners who already compete collegiately at Arizona and Baylor. 

Perhaps even more impressive is the fact that Godwin was able to achieve his latest and most coveted milestone with only a couple of days of prior training. 

“That’s the amazing thing about it,” said Newton track coach Kevin Barnes. “Because of his hamstring injury earlier in the season, he still hadn’t really trained. That performance Sunday was just all guts and glory and natural ability without proper training. If he had been able to train two or three weeks in advance, he may have given those other guys a run for their money for first place.” 

As it is, Godwin adds the Junior Olympic team designation to an impressive litany of achievements, including multiple Georgia state championships and wins in a plethora of high profile national meets. 

“The Junior Olympics was the only thing he hadn’t done in his high school career,” Barnes said. “He’s done Brooks (Invitational). He’s done the Free Fontaine and a lot of AAU national championships, but this was the last thing on his bucket list. He was excited and looking forward to it. I think it takes some of the sour taste out of his mouth of not being able to participate in the state championships.” 

That was because Godwin was sidelined with injury for much of his senior season, rendering him unable to defend his 200 and 400 meters state crowns. But the qualifying time he posted in Indiana is the fastest 400 meter time from a Georgia runner this year, including 2017 Class AAAAAAA 400 meter champion Justin Long of Parkview. 

Barnes said Godwin is looking for more, though, now that his spot on the national team is secure. 

“We’ve seen him eclipse that 45 (seconds) mark before,” Barnes said. “So now we’re gonna put in a couple weeks of training right there at Newton before he heads on over to Finland to compete.” 

Godwin’s accomplishment was one that Barnes said was like a big feather in the cap of the Rams’ entire track program. 

“As a coach it’s definitely exciting for me to see,” Barnes said. “Elija is the one of those kids who won’t forget where he came from. So in all he’s doing, he’s still going to be representing his high school and Newton County. He’s going to point the spotlight back to our program and do what he can to help his old teammates follow in his footsteps. It wouldn't surprise me to see this kid competing in the Olympics for the USA in 2020. I’m just glad I had a small part to play in his development as an athlete.”

Godwin signed a track scholarship to Georgia and will begin with the Bulldogs' program in the fall.