There’s no mistaking LSU sprinter Alia Armstrong on the track.
She’s the one in rhinestones you’ll see blowing by everyone else — on her eyelashes and fingernails, in her hair, and on her uniform, which she decorates herself.
“It’s very therapeutic,” Armstrong said. “I just sit there and listen to gospel music and do my rhinestones."
Sewing rhinestones onto her uniform for last month’s Southeastern Conference championships at LSU “only took 20 minutes, but my hair took like an hour."
“I just want to express that it’s OK to be yourself on the track," she said. "I want to show the younger generation you can be who you are and still run fast.”
Of that, Armstrong has left no doubt. She just leaves other runners in her wake.
On Thursday night in Austin, Texas, the senior from New Orleans will continue her run at a second straight NCAA 100-meter hurdles championship — trying to match the victory she had last June with a time of 12.57 seconds.
Armstrong is set for the 100 hurdles semifinals, which are scheduled for 8:32 p.m. Thursday at the NCAA meet. The championships will be televised on ESPN2 starting at 7:30 p.m.
From last championship season to this, Armstrong has gotten significantly faster.
May 12: The SEC 100 hurdles prelims at LSU’s Bernie Moore Track Stadium. Armstrong ran what is called an “all-conditions” time of 12.31 seconds with a 2.2-meter per second tailwind, which is just over the 2.0 mps allowed for record-keeping purposes. Still, it's the fastest time in that event under any conditions in collegiate track history.
May 13: The SEC 100 hurdles final. With a helping wind of just 0.4 mps, Armstrong broke quickly with SEC indoor hurdles champion Masai Russell of Kentucky charging hard at her right. Over the middle hurdles, Armstrong pulled away slightly from Russell, but had to hold off a fast-closing Ackera Nugent of Arkansas on her left. Armstrong edged her out at the finish by inches to win a thrilling race with a time of 12.40, the third-best wind-legal collegiate time ever.
“I knew I had to get out (fast) because these ladies are very talented,” Armstrong said after her victory. “I don’t sleep on anyone or underestimate them, because I know if I can do it anyone can.
“My top-end speed is something I need to work on with more experience and more races. I knew I had to run out the last hurdle because they have very good top-end speed. I knew I had to hold it all the way until the end.”
Though an NCAA championship could be considered a pinnacle for any collegiate athlete, Armstrong said winning the SEC hurdles title in her one chance to compete in the meet on her home track (the SEC championships rotate among member schools) was something extra special.
“Honestly one of the best feelings of my life, because I had my people with me,” Armstrong said. “They were all in the stands, screaming and supporting me. All I wanted to do was make them proud.
“I didn’t care about a time or an accolade. I just wanted to make them proud and inspire everyone around me.”
Armstrong didn't just win the hurdles. Earlier that night, she ran the leadoff leg on LSU’s 4x100-meter relay unit, teaming with Favour Ofili, Brianna Lyston and Thelma Davies to win the SEC title in 42.92 seconds, edging out Kentucky by one-hundredth of a second.
Not bad for an athlete who missed the indoor track season with an injury, though Armstrong said she is perhaps now the fresher for it.
“Coming off of no indoor (season) was probably one of the best things that happened to me,” she said. “As much as I didn’t understand it in the moment, I was patient. Now I’m in some of the best shape of my life.
“I’m really excited for the future, because there’s something big coming.”
Big, as in another NCAA championship?
“I plan on making it to worlds and breaking the world record” in the hurdles, she said.
The world championships are set for August in Budapest, Hungary, for which Armstrong will have to qualify at later this month at the USA championships in Eugene, Oregon.
It's worth watching Armstrong running — with speed and sparkle.