Who's the best athlete on Florida's campus? Track & field star Anna Hall | David Whitley
Anna Hall and her boyfriend sometimes debate who’s the better athlete. One way to settle it is with a game of pickleball.
Don’t laugh. Pickleball, a shrunken version of tennis played with solid paddles, requires quickness, agility, reflexes and stamina.
“Obviously, I get destroyed,” Hall said.
It must be noted that her boyfriend is Ben Shelton, the No. 1 player on the defending national champion UF tennis team that's competing in the NCAA tournament.
It should also be noted that Hall would likely destroy 99.9% of all other humans on campus in the heptathlon. To which 99.9% of you might say, “The hep-what?”
Anna Hall scores top time in world in heptathlon
It’s the two-day test in track and field, the sport where the planet’s best athlete is traditionally found. It’s been that way since the 1912 Olympics when Sweden’s King Gustaf V shook the hand of decathlon champ Jim Thorpe and said, “Sir, you are the greatest athlete in the world.”
The heptathlon is the women’s version of the decathlon. It’s seven events that test everything it takes to be an athlete.
If King Gustav were still around, he’d tell Hall, “Madam, you are the greatest athlete at the University of Florida.”
That’s not an official competition. I just like the thought of a woman who’s half the size of the average linebacker being the top jock on an SEC campus.
“I wouldn’t say I’m the best athlete,” Hall said. “But I do pride myself on being a well-rounded athlete.”
Give her points for modesty. But with all due respect to Anthony Richardson, Jud Fabian, Colin Castleton and Hall’s boyfriend, none are close to being ranked No. 1 in the world at what they do.
Hall won the USA Track & Field championship this past weekend with 6,458 points. It was the second-best in NCAA history and top score in the world this year.
The performance confirmed Hall wasn’t totally crazy years ago when she told her father, “I’m going to be the first person to do the high jump and the 1,500 meters at the Olympics.”
The fact she didn’t hate the mere thought of running the 1,500 is what makes Hall so good. Most heptathletes and decathletes are natural sprinters and jumpers. They’d rather eat a plate of worms than grind out a distance race.
That’s why the 1,500 meters is the last event in the decathlon and the 800 meters is the final one in the heptathlon. There’s nothing technical about it. It’s just a pure gut check.
“I do have a natural affinity for that,” said Hall, who’s a third-year sophomore. “When everybody’s hurting, let’s see who can handle it the best.”
Her 800-meter time of 2:03.11 on Sunday was the fourth-fastest in heptathlon history and set an American record. That’s handling it.
Hall inherited a lot of that ability from her father, David, who played football and basketball at Michigan. He was also a decathlete with Olympic aspirations until a knee injury did him in.
The road to Gainesville started in Colorado and stopped at Georgia
Anna is the third of his four daughters. They grew up in Highlands Ranch, Colo., trying to one-up each other in sports and school. The oldest two went to Michigan to play tennis and run track.
Anna Hall was the nation’s top high school pentathlete and narrowed her school choices to Georgia and Florida. She chose the Bulldogs, mainly because they’ve produced a lot of world-class decathletes and pentathletes.
When she got to Athens, the first question she asked had nothing to do with sports.
“What’s the hardest major to get into?” Hall asked.
Finance, she was told.
“Okay, I’ll try that,” she said.
Whether it’s the 1,500 or finance, Hall thrives on a challenge. “I guess I’m a little hard-headed,” she said.
Another challenge for Hall
Georgia’s coach left after last year, so Hall decided to look around. She decided to transfer to UF about the same time she entered the Olympic Trials.
The first event was the 100-meter hurdles. Hall was flying until she hit the eighth hurdle. The wipeout left her with a broken foot and torn ankle ligaments. She needed surgery and three months off.
It was a whole new kind of gut check.
“I was miserable,” Hall said. “I did everything I could to find different ways to work out.”
A few days after surgery, she propped her aching foot on a box and tried a rowing machine. The rehab continued when she got to Gainesville, with the goal to be ready for indoor season.
Hall helped the Gators win their first NCAA indoor title in 30 years. This week, the SEC and USA Track national athlete of the week is competing with her UF teammates at the SEC Outdoor Championships in Oxford, Miss.
Her training is geared toward peaking for the NCAA and World Championship meets this summer.
At 21, Hall is just entering her prime. The 2024 Olympics loom, though we shouldn’t get ahead of ourselves.
For now, we’ll have to settle for calling Hall the Greatest Athlete at the University of Florida. Even if she can’t play pickleball.
David Whitley is The Gainesville Sun's sports columnist. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter: @DavidEWhitley