Deajah Stevens made finals against world’s best runners in Rio
Mount Vernon native Deajah Stevens was recently on the world stage competing in the 200 meters at Olympic Stadium in Rio. Her improbable appearance in the Summer Olympics involved many obstacles which included attending three high schools starting with Mount Vernon High School and two colleges – finally finding a home at University of Oregon.
While waiting to compete in the Rio Summer Olympics her biggest worry was finding a way for her single mother and sister to attend the Olympics to cheer her on because the airfare and hotels were out of her mother’s reach financially.
Miraculously, on Friday, August 5, Stevens was ecstatic when she learned, during an overflowing press conference held in the Mount Vernon City Hall rotunda, that Mayor Richard Thomas, elected officials, and prominent business owners from around Mount Vernon united to announce they were sending Stevens' family to the Olympics. Several Mount Vernon business owners made a contribution that enabled Stevens’ mother and sister to travel to Rio to watch her compete.
Her family’s arrival invigorated her and she became mentally ready for her first relay and was successful, allowing her to make it to the finals, which was truly incredible.
On the day of the finals competition, it probably never crossed Stevens’ mind that she was the youngest runner and was competing against some of the fastest runners in the entire world. In other words, she was a real so-called ‘underdog.’
The Oregon sophomore finished seventh in the final of the women’s 200 meters at Olympic Stadium, but she kept her head up high, since she knew it was her first Olympics and she gave it her best shot while the entire world watched.
Stevens finished in 22.65 seconds, well behind the winner, Thompson, who held off a surge by the Netherlands’ Dafne Schippers to win her second gold medal of the week.
“I wasn’t in the right head space,” Stevens said. “Usually in my races I feel more of an awareness, which I didn’t feel this race. It might have been a bit of nerves, but I wasn’t as nervous as I thought I was going to be. I was kind of calm but maybe I should’ve been more upbeat.”
It’s been a long season for Stevens, who competed for the first time at the Division I level and then all through the summer against world-class competition. Despite all those races, she said she felt fresh and ready to race in the finals.
“I don’t feel like I’m worn down,” Stevens said. “Once I got here I wasn’t really practicing that much, I was just kind of staying sharp, staying strong. Am I tired? Yeah, it’s been a long season. But I had that one more race and I’m happy with it.”
Unfortunately for Stevens, she trailed out of lane 1 the whole race, but finished strong to overtake Bulgaria's Ivet Lalova-Collio for seventh place. Jamaica's Elaine Thompson staved off Dafne Schippers of the Netherlands to win in 21.78. Schippers (21.88) gained on Thompson in the last fifty meters, but Thompson had enough left to race to her second Olympic gold in Rio. Thompson had already won the Olympic 100 a few days ago.
Stevens' run to the finals is all the more impressive considering she became the first active woman in Oregon track and field history to qualify for the Olympics.
The 21-year-old has nothing to hang her head on, and like fellow 21-year-old and Oregon teammate Devon Allen, may be considering turning pro.
“Did I see myself here six months ago? No,” she said. “But right now I’m just living in the moment and I’m just happy to be here right now.”
And she wasn't without support. Along with plenty of love from the Oregon community, viewing parties were held in Mount Vernon so the community could watch her compete.
“Stevens energized the entire Mount Vernon community and everybody is proud of seeing her make an Olympic final this early in her career, regardless of the result," said Mayor Thomas.
Mayor Thomas has promised to hold a parade for Stevens soon after her return from Rio.
Deajah Stevens (c) competing in the finals
Deajah Stevens being consoled by a teammate after losing in the finals
Deajah Stevens qualifying to make the finals