Tilden grad wins open 800
By Christopher Hunt
She isn’t quite the same runner she was in high school. But one thing remained the same for Neisha Bernard-Thomas – when she toed the starting line at the Armory, she was the best runner on the track.
“When I raced in high school, I didn’t really take it seriously,” said Bernard-Thomas, a graduate of Tilden High School in Brooklyn. “My coach would say go over there and run and I would just go run. Now I take it a lot more seriously.”
That means that before Bernard-Thomas decided to take track seriously, she was the national 800-meter champion at the Nike Indoor Classic in 2000. She was here this past weekend running the 800 again at the New Balance Collegiate Invitational. Bernard-Thomas won that too Friday. She shadowed the rabbit, Camille Robinson, through a torrid pace for 450 meters and tried to crank out a fast time all on her own. She finished in 2:05.32.
“If I knew we were going so fast I would have stayed back a little,” she said. “Maybe if I packed off a little, I probably would have run faster.”
Bernard-Thomas made her imprint on the PSAL when she moved to the Brownsville section of Brooklyn and began running track at Tilden in her sophomore year. Indoors she was one of the top 600-meter runners around and equally adept at the 400 and 800 meters outdoors. She stayed in Brooklyn for three years before heading to college. After a stint at Central Arizona Junior College, her exploits in high school and in Arizona earned an athletic scholarship to Louisiana State University, where she became a back-go-back NCAA outdoor 800-meter champion in 2003 and 2004.
Bernard-Thomas still lives and trains in Baton Rouge, La. and trains with LaTavia Thomas, who won the women’s championship 800, which Bernard-Thomas played rabbit for, as well as Marian Burnett of Guyana and Sheena Gooding of Barbados.
“It’s a really good environment to be in,” Bernard-Thomas said. “Training is really good. I mean, it’s cold up here.”
Notes: Fred Sharpe outkicked a charging Trinidad & Tobago’s Sheridan Kirk in the final 50 meters of the men’s open 800 meters, finishing in 1:49.06. Campus Magnet grad Jerrell Wisdom was the rabbit for the race. He brought he group through 400 meters in 52 seconds. Kirk took over the pace but Sharpe out-sprinted him in the stretch.
“I know I could have fun faster,” Sharpe said. “This is really my first competitive 800. … I raced against Sheridan all the time in college so I know how he runs.”
Texas alum Darren Brown won the men’s open mile. He went into the race looking to become to only father-son combination to break four-minutes in the mile. His father, Barry Brown, was a sub-four miler with the Florida Track Club in the 70’s and was teammates with Frank Shorter. Darren Brown was just around four-minute pace through 1,000 meters but faded and finished in 4:07.46.