|Hall of Fame - Angela Whyte|
“Remember that you belong here with the best of them.”
Six years later, those words still elicit a great deal of emotion from one of the toughest performers Idaho Athletics has ever seen.
Whyte was what she called a “hot mess” of tears and raw emotion the night before her first Olympic race at Athens, Greece, in 2004. For days, the former Vandal was awestruck at the sights, sounds and smells of the Olympic experience, but it was time to get to business, so she called her father, Evert, for one final chat before heading to bed.
“My dad has never been the one to give me all the emotional speeches, so I just think the moment he said that, I knew it was go-time,” Whyte said. “When he said that, I just knew it was true and that’s what got me to the finals.”
The 2006 Olympic finals and subsequent sixth-place finish in the 100-meter hurdles are just two of the many achievements of Whyte’s track and field career. As a two-time Olympian, five-time IAAF World Championships qualifier, three-time NCAA All-American, eight-time Big West Conference champion and holder of 13 Idaho school records and two Big West records, Whyte knows a thing or two about success.
She was a key element of Idaho’s 2001 and 2003 Big West team titles and was the Big West Athlete of the Year both times. She set a school record in 2001 after scoring 35.5 points, then she broke that mark two years later when she put up a ridiculous 46 individual points in 2003. In 2001, her point total beat Boise State’s entire team. In 2003, her individual score would have put her in ninth among the team standings.
Idaho’s storied track and field history, Angela’s 81.5 combined points in two years of competition is better than the highest score by any other four-year athlete – by a double-digit margin.
“Someone scoring 80 points in four years is an amazing accomplishment,” Idaho co-head coach Wayne Phipps says. “That’s winning two events every year for four straight years – and Angela did that in half that time.”
It wasn’t always this way for Angela, though. As a young athlete in Alberta, she aspired to be the next great point guard on the basketball court. While she believes she could still be a great hoopster, Whyte said she started to realize that her athletic future lay elsewhere.
“I think sometimes the sport chooses you and you’ve just got to go for it,” Whyte said. “At this moment, I know it’s not going to last forever, but my passion is track and field.”
She started her athletic career at New Mexico, where she had success, but didn’t feel quite at home. When she spurned offers from established national track and field powers to come to Idaho, it turned heads, but Phipps and fellow co-head coach Yogi Teevens weren’t surprised.
“We were very confident in what we had to offer and we knew that Angela wasn’t going to be swayed by the flashy things other people showed her – she was going to make the decision that was best for her as an athlete and as a person,” Phipps said.
As a top-tier athlete, it would have been easy for Angela to walk in to the Idaho program, demand attention and to thrust herself into the spotlight, but that wasn’t the case.
“A lot of times, athletes with that kind of talent aren’t great leaders, and they’re worried about what the school and the coach can do for them,” Teevens said. “Angela was by far, over the 15 years I’ve been here, the athlete who cared about the team more than anyone else we’ve had.
“The team and the success of her teammates were always what was the most valuable to Angela, and her doing well was just a bonus.”
Teevens told the story of the long jump competition in 2003, when the plan going in was for Angela to take two attempts, win the competition, then move on to the 100-meter hurdles, which she would also need to win. After her two jumps, however, she was in second place and needed to hurry over to the other side of the track to prepare for her race.
“She and I got into a big argument,” Teevens said. “I was telling her that second place was good enough and that she needed to get over to her other event and she just kept saying, ‘No, I can do it. What if we need those two points?’
“I just remember a couple other coaches coming to me afterward and saying, ‘Wow, that is one amazing kid.’ It was about the two extra points for first place, and not her being able to say she won the long jump, and that’s what has always stood out. I wish all the time that I had let her take the jump, because I know she would have won it.”
Angela says she couldn’t have given anything less than her best in those meets, because she knew that everyone else on the team was doing the same for her.
“It was amazing in the fact that my teammates wanted to be better because they saw what I was doing, and I wanted to make myself better because I saw how hard they were working and nobody wanted to let anybody down,” Whyte said. “Some of my fondest memories are from those teams, and yes, I’ve been to the Olympics, but my experiences here rival that because of the team element we had.”
The team-first mindset, paired with a unparalleled work ethic, are what helped Whyte become what she is today, according to Phipps, who is still her personal coach.
“At the world-class level, it takes a lot of God-given talent, for sure. It also takes a huge amount of work, and that’s what Angela has dedicated herself to do,” Phipps said. “If I set any workout, she’s going to go after it 100 percent and that’s the difference between being a very good track and field performer and a world-class performer.”
Phipps said that her personal drive is also what sets her apart from many of the athletes he’s seen and worked with. Before she set foot on campus, Phipps asked Whyte what she wanted to achieve in her career and she decided that she wanted to qualify for a World Championship meet.
“I told her what I thought she needed to do and in Year One with us, she wins the Canadian championship and makes the World Championships, so she accomplished her initial goals within a year.”
Some athletes might have been content with such an impressive start, but not Angela.
“She continued to set higher and loftier goals and the amazing thing was, she just kept achieving them, whether they were at the NCAA level, the conference level, the Olympic level or the world level,” Phipps said. “The crazy thing is that she’s not done improving yet. She has a few goals she still wants to accomplish, and in my mind, there’s no reason why she still can’t still attain all those goals.”
To any who may doubt Whyte’s abilities, Phipps offers another illustration of her toughness.
In 2008, Whyte was invited to compete in the prestigious Millrose Games in New York City, but when she arrived, she found out that there had been a scheduling error and that she no longer had a spot in her race.
“If she had been one of those boisterous, loud athletes, she would have made a huge deal of it and yelled and screamed, but that’s just not the way Angela is,” Phipps said. “Once she realized the mistake, she decided she was just going to get back home as quickly as possible, so she gets a flight back and I pick her up super-early in the morning in Spokane and all she wanted to do was run faster at our place than the winner at the Millrose Games, and that’s exactly what she did.”
After her cross-country, red-eye flight, 90-minute drive from Spokane and just a couple hours of sleep, Whyte came to the Vandal Indoor, stepped into the blocks and ran a career-best and world-leading time of 7.92 in the 60-meter hurdles.
Despite all of her accomplishments, awards and accolades, Phipps and Teevens both say that she’s the same as she was the day she first set foot on campus, and that often, they have to tell others about her background, because she won’t.
“Typically when someone gets to that level, they let you know about it,” Phipps said. “With Angela, when I introduce her to people, she’ll never say anything and I’ll always have to tell them all about her.
“Sometimes we’ll sit down and talk about the things she’s done in her career and it’s really amazing. How many people have qualified for the World Championships every year since 2001?” Phipps asks. “If you take her body of work and compare it to any other track and field athlete in the history of the world, she’s definitely right up there, and to see her be the same person right now as she was the moment she stepped on campus is just amazing.”
To answer Phipps’ question: Two women in the world have qualified for the 100-meter hurdles each year since 2001. Regardless of what happens when Whyte laces up her spikes and tries to make it six-straight World Championships in 2011 and three-straight Olympic Games in 2012, one thing is for sure.
Angela Whyte belongs here with the best of them.