By LARRY VAUGHT
Chloe Abbott was a three-time first team All-American sprinter when she transferred from Purdue to Kentucky after coach Lonnie Green, who recruited her at Purdue, left to become the coach at Kentucky last summer.
She’s a 400-meter dash specialist who one day hopes to complete that event in 49 seconds, a hefty goal for any athlete.
She’s also a theater major/vocal performance minor who made a huge impression a few weeks ago when she sang the national anthem before the Kentucky-Texas A&M basketball game in Rupp Arena. She had to audition to get the invitation to sing and then get permission from Green to miss practice so she could sing.
“Coach was all for it,” Abbott said. “When I first heard about it, I thought, ‘How many people get a chance to do something like this?’ I don’t have a lot of time on my own to travel and audition because of track. Being able to perform in front of more than 20,000 people on a Tuesday night while still doing track was like the perfect storm. I jumped at the chance and was lucky enough to get picked. Now I hope I get to do it again.”
Based on the reception she got in Rupp Arena, that certainly would suit Kentucky fans.
“The fan reaction was fun. It gave me validation that I was able to do well. I was glad I could perform in a way that the audience appreciated,” Abbott, who is from Detroit, said. “I know a lot of people think some singers are cocky and big-headed. It was nice to know what I did was appreciated.”
She said her teammates weren’t surprised by her performance because they’ve now had time to get to know her — and her singing abilities.
“I sing all the time. They were all so supportive and shouted me out on social media. They showed up at the game and some friends even got down on the court,” Abbott said. “It was really just a good environment. Not strict, high intensity. Then I got to enjoy the game.”
She got to sing the national anthem before a Purdue basketball game in front of about 14,000. However, she said that was “way scarier” than singing in front of more people at Rupp Arena.
“At Rupp Arena you can only see a certain amount of people,” Abbott said. “It didn’t seem as intimidating. At Purdue, I could see everything. It shocked me at first and was my first time to sing in front of that many people. At Rupp I was not so scared that I thought I might drop the mic. It was really fun and I would love to do it again.”
Abbott says her mother tells her she has always loved singing. She said her parents put her into performing activities to “burn off steam” and she liked what she found. She’s also so competitive that she worked at her singing because her older sister was a better singer.
“I was jealous of her,” Abbott laughed and said. “I worked hard to be the best singer in my family. Then I just decided that’s what I wanted to do with the rest of my life and track just happened to weave its way into that. Track is not acting or music but it has helped because running track has got me on stage, on camera, on film. Track is my ticket to more exposure.”
Abbott, who would like to perform on Broadway, is far from ordinary on the track. She set numerous records at Purdue during her All-American career in the 400 and 4×400 relay. She ran the second fastest time in the 400 at Purdue in 51.57 seconds in the NCAA.
The junior says she is training better now than she ever has and is learning to maintain speed and running better times earlier in the season than she ever has. She also says being in the SEC where track is “not just something to get a degree and get through college” but is a sport with big-time athletes and a lot of attention has motivated her.
She’s part of a UK 4×400 relay team that finished in 3 minutes, 32.15 seconds at Arkansas — the nations’ fourth best indoor time this season.
Her specialty is the 400 where she wants to hit 51 seconds during indoor season so she can get down to 49 seconds outdoors.
“That has been my goal since before college,” Abbott said. “You are going to see a lot more improvement from me here at Kentucky. I want to leave my mark and knock people off that (school record) board just like I did at Purdue.”
The 400 is not a race for everyone. It’s basically a quarter-mile sprint that requires speed and endurance. It was not an event she picked for herself.
“They chose for me in high school because I was long and had speed,” the UK junior, a three-time Michigan state champion her senior year, said. “I actually cried the first time I ran it and didn’t want to do it again. But I started getting better and embraced it. I do have long legs and the 400 gives you a little big longer to turn over. It took me some time to get comfortable but now it is my race and I know how to properly run it.”
What about the relay?
“I usually feel like I need another 60 to 100 meters to just keep going in the relay,” Abbott said.
Green has had a knack for inspiring her — the main reason she chose to transfer to Kentucky after he got the job.
“I knew once he took the job, I was going where he did,” Abbott said. “He is very inspirational in a way that is very Christian like. Just a Godly man and he reminds me of my dad. He knows me as an athlete and person. I have always felt such a strong relationship with him because he knows me and how to develop me. A lot of people just don’t know how amazing he is. He’s low key but he knows all the secret ingredients to make me really good.”