Anna Hall of Florida competes in the heptathlon high jump during the NCAA Championships (© Getty Images)
Anna Hall’s versatility has made her the greatest American collegiate heptathlete ever.
In her next heptathlon, Hall will have the opportunity to showcase her skills in front of the world when she competes at World Athletics Championships Oregon22, the first World Athletics Championships on U.S. soil.
Hall has already gotten one heptathlon out of the way this season at the reimagined Hayward Field at the University of Oregon as the University of Florida sophomore won the seven-event discipline at the NCAA Outdoor Track and Field Championships in early June.
“I’m really excited because even in high school, people have been talking about the Worlds being at home, and I was like, ‘I want to be there,’” Hall said. “To be able to make the team, especially after last year, I think kind of proves to me that hard work really does pay off. This year showed me I work really hard and it’s paying off, so I’m just really excited.”
At the USA Track and Field Combined Events Championships in May, Hall ran away with the heptathlon title, scoring 6,458 points, winning by 274 points, and surpassing the World Athletics Championships qualifying standard of 6,420 points. That score ranked second in the world midway through June.
Hall is looking for a better finish to her season than a year ago when she hit the eighth hurdle in the 100m hurdles, the first event of the heptathlon, at the U.S. Olympic Team Trials – Track & Field and fell to the track. She suffered a broken foot, leading to a long offseason of rehabilitation.
“From our standpoint I thought I had an outside shot to make the team, but by no means was I the favorite,” Hall said. “I think on paper going in, I was fourth or fifth and the multi I had done that year, I think I high jumped 1.70 (meters) so there were some things that were really off.
“I thought I had a shot at hitting the (Olympic qualifying) standard, and I didn’t really know where that would be. Some years that’s third, some years that’s fifth, you never know. But going in, in my mind, I was like, I can make this team and obviously that didn’t happen.”
After finishing second in the NCAA indoor pentathlon and third in the high jump while at the University of Georgia in 2021, Hall had heptathlon scores of 6,200 and then 6,117 in winning the Southeastern Conference title. With the Olympic Trials only two weeks after the NCAA Outdoor Championships, Hall skipped the heptathlon at the NCAA meet and competed in the high jump instead, where she finished seventh. She also finished 11th in the high jump at the Olympic Trials, six days before the heptathlon began.
After having surgery to repair the broken foot, Hall was in a non-weight bearing walking boot for 10 weeks before spending two weeks easing off the boot. While Hall was going through the rehabilitation process, she also had to decide if she wanted to stay at Georgia after head coach Petros Kyprianou left the Bulldogs after his contract expired.
In 2018, Kyprianou led the Bulldogs to the men’s NCAA Outdoor team championship and the women’s NCAA Indoor championship. He developed a strong multi-event culture at Georgia, led by heptathletes Kendell Williams, Louisa Grauvogel and Quintunya Chapman, and decathletes Garrett Scantling, Johannes Erm, Kyle Garland, Maicel Uibo, Devon Williams, Karel Tilga, and Karl Saluri.
Kendell Williams, who won the 100m hurdles at the 2014 World U20 (Junior) Championships at Hayward Field, was a four-time NCAA Indoor pentathlon champion for the Bulldogs and a three-time NCAA Outdoor heptathlon champion. Her PR of 6,688 points came at last year’s Olympic Trials when she made her second Olympic team. In March, she was the bronze medalist at the indoor World Athletics Championships in Belgrade, Serbia.
Hall said Williams was a huge factor in picking Georgia for college after a standout high school career in Colorado, as well as the opportunity to train under Kyprianou, who will be on the U.S. coaching staff for the World Athletics Championships as a women’s assistant coach for the jumping events and heptathlon.
“When he told us that he was leaving, I knew kind of right away that I might want to at least look at other options,” Hall said. “I didn’t really know for sure if I would leave or not, but I was like, OK, this is kind of a turning point, I should probably just consider everything.”
“Honestly, at Georgia, I loved the track portion, I loved the track team, but I do think it wasn’t necessarily the best fit for me school wise, the social aspect and academically outside of track. It was a good opportunity to find a place that I was happier off the track, which is important too, and then (have) some coaches that I really enjoy training with.”
Hall wasn’t the only former Georgia Bulldog to transfer to Florida. Jasmine Moore also left the Bulldogs for Florida, and with the two of them on board, Florida won the NCAA Indoor and Outdoor team championships this year. Hall won the five-event pentathlon, and Moore won the long jump and triple jump indoors as they combined for 30 of Florida’s 68 points. In the outdoor meet, Hall won the heptathlon and was second in the 400m hurdles, and Moore again won the long and triple jumps as they combined for 38 of Florida’s 74 points.
Before Hall could think about winning NCAA titles at Florida, however, she had to get healthy, and her new coaching staff wasted no time in getting Hall back to full strength.
“I just did everything I could, and I got to Florida and the coaches pushed me in the pool," Hall said. “There were some days that my legs were shaking the way they do after a 400 workout, and I was like ‘I’m in the pool, how’s this happening?’ I just kept trusting them and when I finally got cleared, I was pretty surprised by my fitness levels. The first few runs, obviously, I was really tired because I wasn’t used to it, but then I came back a lot faster than I was expecting to.”
There were also mental hurdles to overcome in returning from the broken foot.
“Literally the first meet before I high jumped, I think I cried before the warmup because I was so terrified of putting my foot down,” Hall said. “So that was worked through during the indoor season, which I obviously would have preferred to work through all that stuff in the fall. But it was nice to see some other events, like the shot put started improving, and my running was doing so well that even though some events were kind of lagging behind, I still had some positives.”
The high jump was one of Hall’s favorite early events along with the 800m. She added the hurdles in high school and the idea of the heptathlon began to circulate amongst Hall and her father, David. David Hall was a quarterback on the University of Michigan football team, played basketball for the Wolverines, and competed in the decathlon. He set the Michigan decathlon school record of 7,035 points in 1985 and remains No. 9 on the Wolverines’ all-time list.
“I never really wanted to give up the 800 or high jump and I was really stubborn about that, so I found an event that allowed me to do both and then I started falling in love with the other events as well,” Anna Hall said. “He helped guide me toward the multi after I was trying all of the events and not wanting to stop them.
“He just kind of gets the multi and understands how draining it can be and what the different practices take out of you. It was nice, especially in high school, having somebody around the house that just got how I was feeling through tough training cycles.”
Anna Hall got her multi-event introduction as a high school sophomore and later that year was second at the high school New Balance Nationals. As a junior in 2018, she won the U.S. U20 title and finished ninth in the World U20 Athletics Championships in Finland. Hall set the national high school heptathlon record her junior season with 5,798 points and increased it to 5,847 points her senior season when she was the Pan-American U20 Games gold medalist after repeating as the national U20 winner.
Competition was always in supply in the Hall household. One older sister, Kara, played tennis at Michigan, where another older sister, Julia, ran track for four years. Julia Hall then transferred to Georgia to join Anna, and ran the 400m and 800m in 2021 in her one season with the Bulldogs.
Anna Hall said she loved growing up in an athletic household.
“I thought it was really fun, but looking back, sometimes I’ll tell stories to my friends and they’re like, ‘what, your family was doing that?’ It was definitely a lot of fun," she said. “I was just always competing with people which I enjoy because that’s my personality.”
That competitive personality helped Hall return to her best after overcoming the broken foot. She scored 4,370 points in an indoor pentathlon at Clemson University in January and turned in a personal-best 4,618 points in February in winning the SEC indoor title.
“I think after the first or second meet I was like, ‘OK, I don’t know how well I’m going to be able to high jump, but I think I can score really high without it,’” Hall said. “So then that kind of became the goal, becoming more well-rounded, working on everything else I can work on and then if high jump comes back, it’s going to be money.”
Hall said a personal best in the SEC meet was a big step forward in her comeback “because I just wanted to have some progress to take away from post-surgery. So, getting a PR, even if it was by 20 points at SECs, meant a lot to me.”
Watch: Anna Hall discusses her win in the pentathlon at the 2022 NCAA Indoor Championships
That set Hall up for the NCAA meet where she took the lead in the second event, the high jump, and scored 4,586 points to win by 203 points over runner-up Erin Marsh of Duke.
“I felt good, but I was still very nervous,” Hall said. “I knew I had a target on my back. I didn’t feel comfortable by any means. I knew everyone was like ‘I want to beat her,’ so I definitely felt a little bit of pressure. And I think going in it was scary but then on the day, I live for that moment, so it was really fun.”
Capitalizing on the momentum from the indoor season, Hall opened the outdoor season two weeks later at the Texas Relays where she shattered her heptathlon personal best with a score of 6,412 points. That 6,412 total came with personal bests in the 100m hurdles, shot put, long jump and the 800m where she turned a lot of heads with her time of 2 minutes, 4.61 seconds.
The Texas Relays score made Hall the No. 2 collegian all time behind George Mason’s Diane Guthrie-Gresham, the Jamaican multi-event star who scored 6,527 points in winning the 1995 NCAA Outdoor Championships. Hall broke the American collegiate record of 6,390 set by Jackie Joyner-Kersee in 1983 when she was starring at UCLA. Hall just missed the World Athletics Championships qualifying standard of 6,420 points.
“I knew I was going to PR because I think my PR from last year is a little soft just because it wasn’t the best put-together multi,” Hall said. “But I was kind of tired because I think everyone at Texas Relays, (right) after NCAAs, you’re not super fresh. I think I was expecting somewhere near 62(00) high or 63(00). I think I even talked to my coaches about it before and ‘we’re not really shooting for the standard this week, are we?’
“They’re like ‘if you get it great, but no, don’t put that pressure on yourself.’ When we left with 6,412, they were like that’s the best we could have asked for to open up with. I felt like there were a lot of events that I could have picked up some points in.”
Unlike last year when Hall had to skip the heptathlon at the NCAA Outdoor Championships because of the tight schedule with the Olympic Trials, she had no such worries this year. The USATF Combined Events Championships were held in early May to allow college athletes the opportunity to compete in that and earn a top-three finish to qualify for WCH Oregon22 while having enough time to recover for the NCAA Outdoor Championships in early June. It also allowed the pro athletes plenty of recovery time for WCH Oregon22.
Hall, who turned 21 in March, ran with that opportunity. With Olympic Trials champion Annie Kunz out with an injury and Williams and Erica Bougard, last year’s other U.S. Olympic qualifiers, choosing to do only a few events at the USATF meet, Hall had personal bests of 13.21 seconds in the 100m hurdles and 23.14 in the 200m to close the first day with 3,781 points, another personal best, and a comfortable lead entering the second day. She built on the first-day lead throughout the second day and punctuated her 6,458-point performance, another personal best, with a 2:03.11 clocking in the 800, the final event of the heptathlon. That was the third-fastest heptathlon 800m time in history.
“I tried not to look at the numbers overnight, but I knew I was slightly ahead of what I did at Texas,” Hall said, “I never really feel that much relief, I always feel everybody’s coming for you. You’re at USAs, Day 2, people are fighting for their spots on the team so I was like, ‘OK, people are going to try and pull something crazy and hopefully I can pull something crazy too.’
“Maybe the moment of relief for me is going into the 800 because I know that’s an event that I can just gut it out and it’s a little bit more controllable than some of the tactical ones.”
With no heptathlon to compete in, Hall ran the 100m hurdles and 400m hurdles at the NCAA East Regional Preliminaries, one of two qualifiers for the NCAA meet for all events except the multi-event disciplines. She further showed her versatility by winning the 400m hurdles in 55.25 seconds to make her the No. 2 seed in the NCAA meet.
Hall’s 2:03.11 800m PR from the USATF multi-event competition would have placed her fourth at the NCAA East Regional. Had Hall wanted to, she likely could have qualified for the NCAA Outdoor meet in the high jump and long jump, too. It took marks of 1.81m and 6.08m, respectively, to qualify for the NCAA Outdoor meet from the NCAA East Regional, well within her range.
When you add up Hall’s personal bests for the seven events that comprise the heptathlon, it equals 6,846 points. It’s unlikely anyone would record seven individual bests in a heptathlon, but that shows the potential Hall possesses. Since Jackie Joyner-Kersee retired, the U.S. has shown potential in the heptathlon before, but it hasn’t led to major global championship successes. Hyleas Fountain’s silver medal at the 2008 Beijing Olympics is the only Olympic medal the U.S. has won in the heptathlon since Joyner-Kersee's retirement. The only outdoor World Athletics Championships heptathlon medal won by a U.S. athlete in that span was a bronze by Sheila Burrell in 2001 in Edmonton, Alberta.
“I’m always looking at other progressions and trying to see where I’m matching up,” Hall said, “and what we can get done this year. What are we going to fix next year and how we’re going to keep improving and going forward?
“I was super excited at Texas Relays when they said (I) scored higher than Jackie Joyner-Kersee (as a collegian), but I also know that Jackie Joyner-Kersee improved a lot. It’s not like you’re just on her track. You have a lot of work to do, too. I would love to be that person for the USA, and I’m just going to keep working hard and hopefully I can do it.”
It looked like Guthrie-Gresham's collegiate record was in hand for Hall at the NCAA Outdoor Championships when she had three personal bests and three season bests through the first six events, leaving her needing to run 2:11.65 in the 800m to break the collegiate record. But that race came nearly 20 minutes after she finished second in the 400m hurdles in 54.76 after running 54.48 in the semifinals for a top-10 time in the world this season.
The 800m was a struggle for Hall after that as she finished in 2:21.23 and completed the heptathlon with 6,385 points and a comfortable 446-point victory.
“I knew it was going to be really, really hard,” Hall said. “In training we never had a goal of a time to run, it was just win the meet, and then obviously when the record came into play, I was like maybe I can pull out a 2:11 but we really didn’t know. I’ve never stepped on the line that soon after something before. I went for it, but we really had no idea what to expect.”
Hall had to convince head coach Mike Holloway that she could handle that workload in practice before competing in the 400m hurdles and heptathlon at the NCAA meet. The desire to do both was Hall’s competitive nature not allowing her to settle for what may have been comfortable with Florida in pursuit of adding the outdoor women’s team title, the first in school history, to its NCAA indoor championship.
“I’ve always wanted to run the 400 hurdles,” she said. “I loved doing hurdles in high school and I think some coaches wanted me as a 400 hurdler in college and not do the multi. I asked to do it a couple of times at Georgia, the schedule just never really worked out for me and when I got here, they let me try it. Then kind of the stubborn person in me, if I’m doing so well in it, I don’t want to not run it at NCAAs and racing against the best. It’s kind of a fun break from the pressure of my main event.”
Hall is the only American woman to break 6,400 points in the heptathlon and run under 55 seconds in the 400m hurdles. Hall may be done with the 400m hurdles this season, however. In preparation for the heptathlon, where she’s ranked No. 2 in the world, Hall will compete in the 100m hurdles, high jump and long jump this week at the USA Track and Field Outdoor Championships.
Then it’s on to the World Athletics Championships Oregon22. The heptathlon begins there on July 17, where Hall will get to showcase that potential and versatility on the biggest stage of her young career.
By Ashley Conklin