From Last to First: The Cheickna Traore Story

From Last to First: The Cheickna Traore Story

Cheickna Traore galloped around Penn State’s IM fields last fall, racing to beat a fading clock during a tempo workout that continuously got tougher. Traore was in the middle of the hardest workout of his life and watched as his Nittany Lion teammates pulled away from him. What he quickly realized was that this moment set the stage for a record-breaking indoor campaign and a confidence that’s blossomed into Olympic aspirations.


Traore’s journey to becoming a record-breaking Division III sprinter at Ramapo College and three-time Big Ten champion and Division I silver medalist in the 200-meters at Penn State didn’t happen overnight. It happened through each transformative learning moment, like that day at the IM fields, that allowed Traore to prove to himself that he had the heart of a champion.


“Towards the end [of the workout], I was getting destroyed by the whole team,” Traore said. “Everyone was just going crazy and I’m just in the back just fighting for my life. I’m like ‘this is crazy.’ I stuck with the process, though, and I kept doing what [coach Brandon Rizzo] told me to do, and just kept trying to hit the times, and eventually, things started to click. I started seeing that I’m actually able to hang with the guys now and eventually, I’m starting to just go a lot faster than pace just because I feel good and I can do it.”


Traore came into the 2023-24 indoor track and field season hoping to surpass 20.60 in the 200-meters. He had a conversation with sprints and hurdles coach Brandon Rizzo and expressed how this was his benchmark. Traore went 20.42 in his 200-meter season-opener on Jan. 20 in Michigan and his goal-oriented mindset took on a new life.


Traore shared how the end of every track season ignites a fresh fire and a new set of goals meant to push the Linden, New Jersey, product past what he thought he could do. Traore said that his goals change based on how his body feels and how his training has progressed. There’s one…

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