Olympic hurdler David Kendziera is headed to the Tokyo Games this month, backed with plenty of support from his Chicago-area hometown.
Originally from suburban Mount Prospect, Kendziera will compete in the 400-meter hurdles at the Games, with round one slated to begin July 30.
“It’s surreal. It’s like a dream came true,” Kendziera said.
In 2013, he graduated from Prospect High School as a state champion in the 300-meter hurdles, then went on to become Big Ten track athlete of the year in 2017 as a student at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.
The Tokyo Games will be his first Olympic competition after finishing third in the 2021 Trials with a personal best time in the 400-meter hurdles of 48.38 seconds.
“Oh he crossed that line and I was just screaming my head off in exhilaration and disbelief until that monitor came up and I saw his name on the board that he was third and going to the Olympics was just unbelievable,” said Mike Stokes, Kendziera’s high school track coach.
To make the moment even more special, Kendziera qualified for the Olympics on his mother’s birthday, something he said they’ve talked about for years.
“She always would joke about it,” Kenziera said. “She’s like ‘yeah, you know, the 26th, it’s my birthday too.’ She’s like ‘no pressure, though.'”
His mom said being able to be at the Trials and witness her son cross the finish line, qualifying for the Olympics, was the “greatest gift.”
“We couldn’t see exactly where he ended, and we see Rai’s name come up. Then we see Kenny Selmon, then we see, do you remember? Then we see David and it was like wow! Yes! Like, I mean, we’re screaming, we’re crying — like all four of us were just, I mean it was, wow, it was so wow,” his mom said. “I mean, I shake. It was awesome.”
Kendizera competed in the 2016 Olympic Trials, but was dealing with injuries at the time. He finished 14th in the 400-meter hurdles, which did not qualify him for Team USA that year.
With the pandemic forcing people inside and away from competitions in 2020, he said he took the time to focus on his strength and “found his stride.”
Kendziera gave credit to his family and community for taking him to the Games, noting that giving back to kids and young athletes in Mount Prospect is important to him. He said he hopes to make his hometown proud this month.
“The goal is to win,” Kendziera said. “The goal is not to make the team, it’s like the goal is to win. So I mean, absolutely I want a medal. I want to be up there. I want to be on the podium.”