The fastest ever: Brianna Duncan dashes into record books for UNC

DURHAM — January 13: 7.29 over 60 meters. April 6: 11.35 over 100 meters.

These two times, in these two events, had never been run by a Tar Heel in competition. That is, until 2018, when Brianna Duncan burst onto the scene.

Duncan is only a sophomore, hailing from Cambridge, Mass., but she is already the fastest woman in the history of the University of North Carolina’s track and field program. She stakes that claim without challenge. Those two events are the fastest and shortest of the springs, and she holds the record in both, as of Friday's Battle of the Blues meet in Durham.

When Duncan crushed that 60-meter record at the Dick Taylor Carolina Cup to open the indoor season three months ago, it was a surprise. Why shouldn’t it be? Duncan was a sophomore who did not necessarily tear up the track in that ever-important adjustment year into college competition last season — in which she ran only 11.82 seconds over that same 100-meter distance.

There weren’t expectations, really. Obviously Duncan is talented; she is at UNC, after all. But no one thought she would break the school record in her first race in the prelim, much less demolish her own record in the final at that meet. At the time, Duncan told me she knew it was over as soon as she got out of the blocks — she knew she had the talent. That 60-meter indoor record had stood for 20 years, so just to get that record is a big deal.

Then comes Friday: the Battle of the Blues tri-meet with Duke and Michigan. The weather was nice, on and off rain — cool, but not too cool. The four-year-old Duke facility was primed to spit out fast times. Even with that though, it's unlikely anyone legitimately expected Brianna Duncan to break the school record. Maybe her and her coaches, maybe her family, but not many people besides that.

At 4:55 p.m., when the gun went off for the women’s 100-meter race, Duncan took no time at all to shoot to the lead. She never relinquished that lead and carried it to the line in 11.35 seconds.

Kendra Mackey ran 11.37 in 1991. No Tar Heel had run under 11.50 since 1999. After 27 years, UNC has a new queen of the sprints. Brianna Duncan, by two one-hundredths of a second, is the fastest woman in North Carolina history.

And she is far from done. Duncan made it very clear immediately after the meet that her goal now is to not only continue to break her own 60- and 100-meter records, but to break the 200-meter record. LaTasha Colander holds that mark at 23.21 seconds from 1997 — the year before Duncan was born. Duncan hasn’t run a 200 in college, but the way she’s running, that doesn’t matter one bit; 23.21 is not out of realm of possibility in the next few weeks.

“The long jump is coming soon,” Duncan says, making clear that her time Friday is not enough. She has no plans to settle.

When I asked head coach Harlis Meaders about Duncan’s new goal, he laughed and sang the praises of Duncan's talent and athleticism. "Records are meant to be broken," he said. "I wouldn’t count her out."

Meaders also made sure to mention that another one of her next few steps will be championship competitions, specifically noting the ACC Championships and NCAA Championships as goal competitions. A confident athlete and a confident coach should have the rest of the country’s attention.

Duncan can compete; she can win. She has the talent, and now she had the credentials. And the fastest woman in UNC history isn’t going anywhere anytime soon.


Photo courtesy UNC Athletic Communications