Christine Sonali Merrill may be one of the most unlikely Olympians in London. The daughter of doctors with a job designing solar turbines, the Bakersfield, Calif. native never intended to become a full-time athlete.
The 24-year-old, whose high school didn’t even have a track, will be competing as a wild card entrant in the 400-meter hurdles in the London Olympics for Sri Lanka.
Countries that can’t qualify an athlete who meets the Olympic standard for an event are allowed to send an athlete below the standard. Merrill, whose mother is of Sri Lankan heritage, ran 0.18 seconds under the qualifying time, but was chosen over three others to represent the country.
The jump to the Olympics from NCAA Division II champion at the University of California, San Diego, where she earned a degree in mechanical engineering, is no small feat.
“She’s coming from a Div. II school, where if any athlete turns in a good performance or practice it’s appreciated but not expected,” said her coach, Joey Tosta, in an interview with local media outlet UT San Diego. “They’re students first, athletes second. Now she’s being pushed harder than she ever has before.”
Merrill has been working full time while training to pay her way through pre-Olympic meets around the world. Training usually takes place before work.
“It’s pretty much a miracle every day,” Merrill told UT San Diego. “It makes me focus on the basics — sleeping, eating. Luckily my employer is flexible. As long as I can get my work done, they’re okay with that.”
She added that she tries to visit Sri Lanka a few weeks each summer and is learning Sinhalese. She’s also begun using her middle name, Sonali, which means “golden.”
While Merrill’s chances of medaling at these games may be slim, she won’t go through them unnoticed: the athlete turned heads at the opening ceremony, with Indian entertainment site Miss Malini calling her one of the most “beautiful” Olympians.
She’s expected to be back in Brazil for the 2016 games — her coach believes that’s when she’ll be in the run for a medal.
Source: India West
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