Last year, Julia Ratcliffe ’16 — school record-holder and world-class performer in the women’s hammer throw — went to the NCAA Outdoor Track & Field Championships with the top collegiate mark in her event. She carried a special burden: The Tiger faithful were calling upon her to rescue “The Streak,” the Princeton string of producing at least one national champion — individual or a team — every year since 1972. The New Zealand native came through with flying colors as she claimed the hammer crown with a winning throw of 66.88 meters (219 feet, 5 inches) and added a 43rd year to Princeton’s national championship string.
Fast forward to June 12, and it was déjà vu all over again: All eyes turned to Ratcliffe as Princeton was once again champion-less with the school year winding down. Could she successfully defend her title and preserve The Streak for yet another year?
After leading briefly in the NCAA finals with a third-round throw of 67.3 meters (220 feet, 9 inches), Ratcliffe fell behind Southern Illinois junior DeAnna Price by barely more than an inch. Price extended her lead with a meet-record heave of 71.49 meters (234 feet, 6 inches), which proved too much for the defending champion. Ratcliffe finished second.
After the competition, Ratcliffe was composed and reflective, saying she was glad that Price won with a record-breaking throw. “Otherwise I would have been beating myself up a little bit more,” she said. “I came in ranked third and came out second, so I can’t complain.” Aware of — but not obsessed with — The Streak, the Tiger thrower lightheartedly said she tried not to think about it during her preparation for the meet.
Ratcliffe’s silver medal headlined a strong showing for Princeton. Decathlete Stephen Soerens ’15 set a school record for points in his event and placed sixth. Four other Tigers competed in running events — Cecilia Barowski ’16, Lizzie Bird ’17, and Megan Curham ’17 on the women’s side and Sam Pons ’15 for the men — and alumnus Peter Callahan ’13, a graduate student at the University of New Mexico, placed fourth in the men’s 1,500 meters.
Ratcliffe plans to take the next year off from school, with an eye toward qualifying for the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro. She will throw this summer in the World University Games and hopes to meet the qualifying mark to earn a trip to the World Championships in Beijing. “I’ll be at home training in New Zealand. Mom and Dad have actually just moved into a new house, and there is a little bit of land there,” she said. “Dad has put a hammer circle in there. So I’ll be able to roll out of bed in the morning and go and throw. That should be quite funny. I’ll be able to train full time — as opposed to balance it with the school work — which is always an advantage.”
The economics major plans to return to Princeton and complete her undergraduate studies during the 2016–17 academic year. When she does get back, might she be looking to extend, or even start, a new national collegiate championship streak for Princeton? There was no hesitation. “Absolutely,” she replied.