It wasn’t Linfield’s storied football program that brought home the Wildcats’ first national title of the NCAA era. Instead, it was track star Amber Larsen, who, as a senior in 2001, stood atop the podium at Millikin College in Decatur, Ill., as the 400-meter hurdles national champion.
The three-time All-American, three-time Academic All-American and six-time Northwest Conference champion became Linfield’s second woman, sixth track & field athlete and 11th individual athlete overall to be crowned the nation’s best, forever earning a place among the Wildcat elite.
Even as a freshman, Larsen turned heads, claiming the NWC title in the 400-meter dash. Two years later, she tripled her championship total, winning the open 400 and the 400-meter hurdles and running the third leg of Linfield’s championship 4x100 relay. The junior set the program record in the 400, completing one loop on the track in 56.68 seconds.
She qualified for nationals that season, placing third in the 400 hurdles and anchoring the Wildcats’ 4x400 relay that just missed making the finals.
As a senior, Larsen recorded another All-America performance, this time indoors, by finishing third in the 400-meter dash. Later that spring, she was victorious in both the 100- and 400-meter hurdles at the NWC Championships, where she was named the Women’s Most Outstanding Athlete.
Next up: the NCAA Division III Outdoor Track & Field Championships.
Despite having to retreat indoors twice due to dangerous weather conditions, Larsen maintained her composure and focus throughout the interruptions to her warm-up routine. Finally, she approached the starting line, ready to take on 10 hurdles over 400 meters.
Coming off the turn at the third-to-last hurdle, Larsen was neck-and-neck with two other competitors, including the defending national champion. All three hit the standard. Linfield head coach Garry Killgore clearly remembers the reactions of the three women. Where he saw panic in two pairs of eyes, he saw nothing but determination in Larsen’s, and knew the race was hers.
Larsen pulled away over the final two hurdles, winning the race by nearly a full two seconds and setting a program record (59.16).
At the end of the year, she was honored as the Linfield Female Athlete of the Year. She was also Oregon’s state finalist for the NCAA Woman of the Year, one of the nation’s most prestigious awards that rewards athletic, academic, community service and leadership achievements, regardless of division.
Larsen still owns four program records at Linfield – the 400, 400 hurdles and 100 hurdles – and ranks second in four additional events – the 200, 4x100 relay and 4x400 relay. She also lettered two years in cross country, helping the Wildcats achieve a third-place conference finish her sophomore year.
After graduating with a degree in health education, Larsen spent two years as an assistant cross country and track and field coach at the University of Idaho – where she earned a master’s degree in physical education – before heading east. She coached a total of eight years at the University of Illinois and Wake Forest University and is now in her second season as an assistant with High Point University, a Division I program located in North Carolina.
Larsen is married to HPU associate head track and field coach Eric Dudley. The couple welcomed a daughter, Charlotte, earlier this year.