Erica Bougard has been at Mississippi State for four years. She’s won a National Title, set school and conference records and beat the best times at venues across the country. She’s everything a proud track parent could want.
This weekend, those parents and around a dozen members of Bougard’s family got to see her compete for the first time since she left Byhalia for Starkville, a two-hour drive along old Mississippi roads. Her response to the first competition in front of family since high school: Bougard won the SEC Championship in the heptathlon, setting four SEC Championship records in only seven events and scoring a personal best 6,250 points.
Not only was her score an SEC record, it’s tops in the country for 2015 and qualifies as the fifth-best heptathlon performance in NCAA history.
“I was happy to have my family here,” Bougard said afterward. “It made me push a little bit harder. They want to see me perform at my best and I want to do my best, so that just gave me a little extra boost.”
With her score, Bougard not only automatically qualified for Nationals, but met the standards for Worlds. In fact, she said, improving her score just by about 150 points would give her Top 10 status on planet Earth.
And she thinks she can do that. Her high jump, for instance, she believes can be improved due to her less-than-perfect form. Despite still finishing in the Top 10, her javelin throw was significantly less than what she’s come to expect from herself.
She’s already one of the most accomplished Bulldogs in history – All-American, SEC Champion and National Champion, to name a few highlights – and she’s got a full postseason ahead of her as she’s at the best she’s ever been.
Track and field may not draw the crowds of football, have the recruiting flair of basketball or be considered America’s pastime like baseball, but quietly in her corner of campus, Bougard may have carved out a career as great as any at Mississippi State.
Regardless of sport, could Bougard be considered one of the best athletes – or THE best – to come through MSU?
“No doubt about it,” head coach Steve Dudley said. “When you say ‘athlete,’ athlete means a lot of different skill sets.
“Who do you think can jump as well as she can?”
Bougard tied a personal-record in the long jump this weekend by leaping 20 feet and 11.75 inches.
“Who do you think can sprint as well as she can?”
She won the 800-meter sprint on Saturday by running two laps in 2:11, despite the fact she had already all but locked up the heptathlon title going into the event.
“Who can hurdle,”
…100-meter hurdles in a record 13.04 seconds…
…previously established long-jump record…
…she cleared a school-record 6’,0.75”…
“and throw like her?” Dudley asked.
“There are a lot of components to being a great athlete. You’ve got a lot of people that are really good in their sport, but they’ve got one athletic skill set or two athletic skill sets they’re good at and then they’re not very good at the rest. That’s why she’s a multi-event athlete.
“So yeah,” Dudley concluded, “I don’t think you want to stack anybody up against her athletically and talent-wise.”
It’s hard to argue with the man, or any of his several good points. Many have been taller, longer or stronger. But in terms of pure athleticism, of maximizing every muscle and reaching a world-class level in so many skill sets, few if any have ever met the standard Bougard continues to set.
Over at Davis Wade Stadium where gridiron heroes receive praise and support from tens of thousands every fall Saturday, the football field is named for Don Scott, not because he was a great quarterback or defensive lineman, but because he was a track star, the school’s very first Olympian.
In 2015, 101 years after Scott Field opened, Bougard is continuing his legacy.