When Michelle Atherley was selected to participate in the Thorpe Cup, she didn’t even know what it was.
“It’s really fast pace. I didn’t really know what was happening at first, but my coach was like this is good. We need to go,” Atherley said. “I was really excited, I wasn’t sure what it was or what to expect from it.”
The Thorpe Cup is an annual competition held in September between the United States and Germany for decathletes and heptathletes. Atherley was invited to compete in the heptathlon for Team USA after her stellar 2019 season.
In 2019 alone, the track and field star captured the NCAA Pentathlon Championship in the winter, was the ACC Outdoor Heptathlon champion and was the recipient of numerous awards, including the ACC Indoor Field MVP and the ACC Scholar of the Year.
But for Atherley, representing Team USA in the Thorpe Cup was on a different level than anything she had ever done.
“I knew that it was bigger than a normal college meet,” Atherley said. “You go to another country, and people don’t know who you are, they don’t know where you’re from. They just know that you are an American and that you have the USA on your chest. Representing something bigger than myself was really cool.”
Atherley finished third individually in the heptathlon and helped Team USA finish in first place overall. Rob Jarvis, Atherley’s coach, is glad the Thorpe Cup provided Atherley the opportunity to see what it’s like to compete in a different country.
“The whole intent for us to go there was for her to get her first international meet out of the way,” Jarvis said. “Overall she had a great experience, and we walked away pretty confident from it.”
Now that Atherley has competed on an international stage, she said she is ready to take her talents to the next level at the 2020 Olympics.
“It’s definitely on my radar,” Atherley said. “It’s definitely a possibility.”
As someone who takes a very methodical approach to her training, Atherley said she feels the Olympics is just the next stepping stone in her career.
But Jarvis knows that the Olympics would be the peak of her athletic career.
“Making it to the Olympics is an accomplishment in itself,” Jarvis said. “That’s obviously the pinnacle.”
Despite the allure of competing in the Olympics, all of Atherley’s current focus is on qualifying for the competition.
“My mind frame is more like ‘My goal is to get there,’” Atherley said. “It’s not like ‘Oh my gosh, the olympics. I’m here and my life is made.’ I want to make sure that I can get there first and that I can be excited about being there and kind of being in the moment. I’m completely focused on reaching that goal first and celebrating it after.”
Jarvis knows that qualifying for the Olympics will not be an easy task, but he said he believes Atherley has what it takes to get there.
“For the United States, it is literally the most difficult Olympic team to make,” Jarvis said. “That’s obviously the ultimate goal, and I think she’s definitely capable of achieving that. I just think it’s awesome that she feels she can compete with these women.”
The process for qualifying for the Olympics starts in June, two weeks after the NCAA championships, where Atherley will look to redeem herself after last years third place finish in the heptathlon.
Until then, Atherley’s priorities will be to stay healthy and prepare her body for the upcoming summer, she said.