Erica Bougard wants a medal. And in the heptathlon, that’s not easy.
How do multievent athletes keep it together through the pains, highs and lows of runs, jumps and throws over two days, where every time and length has added value or added debit?
The difference is focus.
Bougard is well-versed in the focus. She’s been a consistent face at the elite level of the heptathlon since she was a U.S. Junior Champion in 2012. She qualified for Team USA for three World Athletics World Championship, but an Olympic berth eluded her in 2016.
“That set off a fire in me,” she told The South Reporter. “I knew in 2016 that I was just as good as those who made the team. It was more about getting my mental strength, and everything came together for me this time around.”
Bougard put together two solid days at last month’s U.S. Olympic trials to finish third behind long-time rivals Annie Kunz and Kendell Williams to make her first Olympic team. All three hope to be the first American to bring home a medal in the event since Hyleas Fountain’s silver-medal performance in 2008.
All three also represented Team USA in the event at the 2019 World Athletics World Championships in Doha, Qatar. It is also the place many outside of hardcore track fans first heard about Bougard.
A furor centered around the flap of one of her spikes, where a rainbow flag shone brightly. Such a symbol is met with stern glares in a nation where same-sex love is illegal and LGBTQ people can face a death sentence.
Whereas others were fazed, Bougard stayed strong. She said she wasn’t trying to make an implicit statement, although she was an out lesbian and had been dating a girlfriend at the time for more than a year.
She said in an interview with Pink News after the first day of competition that her truth and her support were no secret.
“I feel like we have a voice, us as athletes, because more people look at us to perform,” she said. “It’s important because I feel like people hate people for loving who they love. Some people don’t believe in it, which is totally fine. I wanted to show my side and put the symbol on my shoe.”
She went on to have one of the best placings of her career as the highest finishing American in fourth. Her showing in 2019 propelled an improvement trend that led to one of her most complete efforts at the U.S. Olympic Track and Field Trials last month with 6,667 points and she says she can do better still.
“I really want to zero in on my flaws,” Bougard told the South Reporter. “I know I will give it my best effort and whatever happens, happens.”