World championship relay silver medallist and former University of Oregon Duck Jenna Prandini is facing her biggest challenge yet: learning to compete for herself.

If there were an athletics MVP award in 2015, Jenna Prandini would have won it hands down. During last year’s collegiate track and field season the Oregon student outscored more than half of the NCAA teams by herself, collecting an incredible 49 team points for the Ducks. Her 23 point haul indoors is the most by any individual athlete since 2003; her 26 outdoors is a record only nine-time Olympic medallist Merlene Ottey and three-time Olympic champion Gail Devers have surpassed.

At the NCAA Outdoor Championships she collected points in the 100m (1st place, 10.96), 200m (2nd place, 22.21), long jump (2nd place, 6.80m) and ran in the 4x100m relay (which got DQed), all just two weeks before the US Outdoor Championships.

Her full-on approach was brave. Most ordinary athletes would rest up as much as possible ahead of a big championships. But Prandini isn't ordinary. “I think it helped me a lot,” the 23-year-old tells SPIKES.

“At USAs [last year], I did three rounds of 100m and three rounds of 200m and that wasn’t a big deal to me. The other girls were saying ‘oh my gosh another round’ and I was like ‘doesn’t this always happen to you?’”

The brutal schedule (5 x 100m, 5 x 200m, 2 x relays and a long jump competition in the space of two weeks) didn’t hamper her form. Prandini stormed to one of the stand-out performances of the championships, a 22.20 PB to take the 200m crown in front of an ecstatic Hayward Field home crowd.

Her showing on the national stage earned her qualification for her first major global champs. At the Beijing World Championships she made the semi-finals in the 200m and came away with a silver medal in the 4x100m relay. Not bad for someone who, in her own words, “wasn’t ready”.

“I guess I was a bit exhausted,” reflects Prandini, though she is quick to state that she has no regrets of how her 2015 season panned out.

Jenna Prandini and Jasmine Todd at the 2015 World Championships ()

 Prandini hands the baton to fellow Duck Jasmine Todd in the world champs 4x100m final

This season, however, brings new challenges for the 2015 Bowerman Award winner, who after Beijing signed a pro deal with Puma. She’s no longer part of the Oregon team and has a new coach. But “everything’s worked out” for Prandini. She got to stay in Eugene and her new coach is former Ducks teammate Trevor Ferguson.

Indeed, the biggest challenge Prandini faces now is learning to be egotistic.

“The biggest difference is that the focus isn’t on what event I have to do to score a certain amount of points for the team. The weirdest adjustment now is that everything’s for me, and basically this season’s all about what I want to do.

“It’s definitely different going to a meet and just having one race to do.”

Things look promising so far. Last month she opened her outdoor season with a then world-leading 10.95, only 0.03 shy off her PB.

“Excited” for her upcoming races, she recognises: “I think it is better for me in the long run as I’ll be able to focus on just one or two events at a time rather than running from event to event.”

Prandini opened her 2016 outdoor season with a 10.95 at the Mt Sac Relays

Greg Friesen, Prandini's coach at Clovis High School, California, last year told us he “felt like she could potentially be a national champion, an NCAA champion as a jumper before a sprinter” and that he “did not anticipate that she would develop so well as a sprinter”. From 2010 on, however, Prandini proved him wrong, steadily moving away from the sandpit and on to the track.

“I think I’m more of a sprinter now,” she says. “But I still love long jumping and it’s still one of my favourite events.

“I would say the 200m is my favourite, but I also like the 100m, and the relay is the most fun race as you get to run with three other girls. I don't know, it's a tough call [picking a favourite].”

For now, though, everything is geared towards the US Olympic Trials in July in Eugene, where Prandini will once again hope to benefit from the Hayward Magic.

“I love running at Hayward,” she says, her voice lighting up with excitement. “I mean, I do train there every single day, so I know the track and the fans there are crazy and definitely biased towards the hometown runners.

“I don’t know if it’s an advantage, but as I was running the 200m at USAs I could feel the energy of the crowd as they were standing up and shouting at me. As I was walking to the starting line I could hear people that I know from around town yelling my name and saying good luck and rooting for me. It’s fun and a great experience to have.”

Prandini hasn't decided on her main focus yet come July. But although she won't be repping the Ducks’ team vest, you can bet your bottom dollar she’ll receive a champion’s reception at Hayward Field – even though she’ll be competing just for herself this time.

Cover photo credit: Puma