Stephanie Brown Trafton has been a pillar of the U.S. Olympic team and one of the top American women in professional track and field since leaving Cal Poly more than a decade ago.
The 2003 graduate of Cal Poly, where she was a seven-time All-American and school record holder in the discus and shot put, has competed in the past three Olympics Games: Athens in 2004, Beijing in 2008 and London in 2012. And she has her sights set on making it four straight appearances this week.
Brown Trafton, who took home the gold medal at the Beijing Olympics, will be one of five former Cal Poly standouts competing at the U.S. Olympic Track and Field Trials that run Friday through July 10 at Hayward Field on the University of Oregon campus.
Fellow ex-Mustangs Sharon Day-Monroe (heptathlon), Maggie Vessey (800 meters), John Prader (pole vault) and Ben Bruce (10,000) also are scheduled to compete over the next two weeks with aspirations of qualifying for the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro.
“At this point, I’ve physically done everything I can when it comes to my sport and strength training,” said Brown, who currently lives in Galt, a small city outside of Sacramento. “Right now, the most important thing for me to do is have a great diet, relax, recover and have my central nervous system kind of kick in.”
An Arroyo Grande High School graduate, Brown Trafton has already achieved the Olympic qualifying standard, doing so in May at a test event in Rio de Janeiro. She was among the first athletes to compete in the Nílton Santos Olympic Stadium and defeated a field of South American throwers with a top mark of 200 feet, 10 inches.
Upon returning to the United States, Brown Trafton broke off a season-best throw of 207-0 two weeks later in Salinas, solidifying her status as one of the throwers to beat in the U.S. despite being in the twilight of her career.
She enters the 4 p.m. Friday qualifying round with the fourth-best individual mark, and the top three finishers will represent the U.S. in Brazil in August. The women’s discus final is scheduled to begin at 10:45 a.m. Saturday, and Brown Trafton feels confident she will be among the final three standing.
“The Rio trip was great. It’s obviously going to be 10 times more chaotic during the Olympics than it was then,” Brown Trafton said. “Just having the experience really prepares me to go back there and hopefully compete well.”
Brown Trafton has never shied away from the biggest stage.
She arrived on the national scene in 2004 when she threw over 200 feet for the first time en route to a second-place finish at the Olympic Trials in Sacramento. Brown Trafton did not make the Olympic final in Athens, though, and her top mark of 203-1 stood as her personal best for the next four years.
In 2008, Brown Trafton placed third at the Olympic Trials and delivered the best throw of her career a few weeks later in China. A heave of 212-5 during the first round proved to be the gold medal mark as the field of 11 opponents couldn’t match it the rest of the way.
Brown Trafton became the first American woman to win gold in the discus since 1932 and received the Jesse Owens Award as the top female athlete of the year.
Arguably the best stint of her career came in 2012, when she broke the American record with a career-best throw of 222-3 and won her third national title at the Olympic Trials later that summer. Brown Trafton went on to finish seventh at the London Olympics after runner-up Darya Pishchalnikova of Russia was disqualified for a doping violation.
Life outside the ring has certainly grown more hectic since then.
Brown Trafton and her husband, Jerry, welcomed their daughter, Juliana, to the family, and she will celebrate her third birthday in October. Juliana often attends Brown Trafton’s workouts and competitions, and it was certainly a family affair when the former Mustang competed at the Cal Poly Invitational in March.
“I feel good about it,” Brown Trafton said. “I feel like I’m really hitting my stride right now and the performances are going up and I feel good. I feel pretty confident.
“That just means I have to work that much harder to kind of sustain that, being able to be physically and mentally ready.”
2016 U.S. Olympic Track and Field Trials
When: July 1-10
Where: Hayward Field, Eugene, Oregon
How to watch: Coverage provided by NBC, NBCSN or streamed online at nbcolympics.com
Locals to Follow
- Stephanie Brown Trafton, discus, Cal Poly 2003
- Maggie Vessey, 800 meters, Cal Poly 2005
- Ben Bruce, 10,000 meters, Cal Poly 2005
- Sharon Day-Monroe, heptathlon, Cal Poly 2008
- Jordan Hasay, 10,000 meters, Mission Prep 2009
- John Prader, pole vault, Cal Poly 2012
- Barbara Nwaba, heptathlon, UC Santa Barbara 2012