Beatričė Juškevičiūtė never envisioned herself as a star in women’s track and field. Hailing from Kaunas, Lithuania, Juškevičiūtė grew up having little interest in the sport.
Despite her persistent effort to avoid getting involved in track, Juškevičiūtė was eventually convinced, and after two years at Cornell, she has accumulated a bevy of awards. Emerging as one of the team’s biggest stars, the junior boasts the Cornell record in the heptathlon, the freshman Cornell record in the pentathlon, and was named first team All-Ivy freshman year and sophomore year and USTFCCCA All-American her sophomore year.
Juškevičiūtė clearly has a bright future with two years left on East Hill, but in her youth, she made numerous efforts to not participate in track in spite of encouragement from those around her.
“I said I would never do track,” she recalled. “Back home, we don’t have high school sports, but once a year, [there was] sort of like a cross country meet. You would run one kilometer for your school so I would always have to do it. My PT teacher would always say, ‘you should do track,’ and I was like, ‘I will never do track. I’m not interested — it’s the most boring sport.’”
A club team coach who spotted her natural ability later pleaded with her to come to a practice. Juškevičiūtė made up an excuse that she was leaving for vacation, but the coach asked for her phone number to connect with her after her “vacation.”
“I just made up a number … and she was like ‘can you repeat it?’ I couldn’t repeat it and I gave her my real number,” Juškevičiūtė said.
That nudging from her club coach propelled Juškevičiūtė into a sport in which she clearly excelled. From an early age, Juškevičiūtė succeeded as a sprinter in Lithuania, but she began to unlock her true potential after her introduction to the heptathlon.
The heptathlon is a combined contest in women’s track and field in which each competitor participates in seven different events, which usually includes 100-meter hurdles, high jump, shot put, 200-meter dash, long jump, javelin and the 800-meter run.
While all of those may sound intimidating — especially bunched together — Juškevičiūtė was hooked after her first taste of a heptathlon.
Juškevičiūtė soon began looking for a summer camp outside of Lithuania to further improve her skills, and she found it in the form of IMG Academy, an elite preparatory school in Bradenton, Florida known for its development of professional athletes. Juškevičiūtė spent her summers at IMG before transferring there full time for her sophomore year.
IMG’s location was particularly attractive to Juškevičiūtė, who specifically wanted to go to the United States, and after visiting IMG’s facilities and meeting with their coaches, she knew it was the place for her.
Once she arrived at IMG, Juškevičiūtė continued to perfect her craft. Throughout her high school career, she was known for her unrelenting work ethic and razor-sharp focus. Juškevičiūtė finished off high school by placing fifth in the heptathlon at the 2017 World Youth Championships in Nairobi, Kenya.
Juškevičiūtė, who speaks English as a second language, has been an exceptional student since childhood, so it came as no surprise when she announced her commitment to Cornell to continue her track and field career.
Since stepping foot in Ithaca, Juškevičiūtė has made her name known in the Ivy League. During her freshman year, she placed first at the Ivy League Outdoor Heps Championships in the heptathlon, and in addition, she finished first in her first-ever pentathlon at the Ivy League Indoor Heps Championship.
On the national stage, she also finished 19th in the country at the NCAA Division I Outdoor Championships in the heptathlon. She finished her first year ranked No. 2 in the Ivy League for the heptathlon, only behind only Carly Paul, a then-senior at Brown. Her shortened sophomore year consisted of setting her own records and proceeding to break them — all while dominating the conference competition.
She broke the Barton Hall pentathlon record at the Ivy League Championships, finished first in the pentathlon at the Upstate Challenge and finished first in the pentathlon at the Ivy League Indoor Heps Championships. By the end of the year, Juškevičiūtė was ranked No. 1 in the Ivy League for the pentathlon.
Juškevičiūtė attributes her success both on the floor and in the classroom to her time management.
“If you don’t stay ahead of your work you’re not going to be able to get sleep, and if you’re not going to be able to get sleep you’re going to struggle during practices”, Juškevičiūtė explained. “If you want to feel good in practice, you have to do your work. I sort of try to do a lot of work early in the morning, while also using all of the time in between classes.”
Juškevičiūtė seemed destined for another record-breaking campaign this year, but the COVID-19 pandemic has erased the possibility of any varsity competition during the fall semester. The indoor track season, which begins late in the fall semester, could either be postponed or canceled entirely.
While this development could potentially hamstring Juškevičiūtė’s career, there are still workarounds, even in a world where athletic competition has come to a standstill.
“[In September], you can get things done. You can run up Libe Slope, and it’s still physical conditioning,” Juškevičiūtė said.
But when the weather inevitably turns colder, outside training will become less feasible. In addition, she is currently unable to train with Cornell coaches given the current limits on practice during the fall semester.
Juškevičiūtė is currently eligible to compete in the Olympics, and if she was to compete on that stage, she would represent her home country of Lithuania. To qualify for the Olympics, she needs to record a 6000-point heptathlon in order to make the cutoff for the Olympic trials. During her freshman year, she recorded a 5504-point effort.
Given the postponement of the Olympics until next summer, the fall semester may present a perfect opportunity for Juškevičiūtė to get in peak physical shape and continue to reach her maximum potential when the Olympic trials take place in June 2021.
Some naysayers have told Juškevičiūtė that she isn’t built to be a heptathlete and that she should just stick to sprints due to her being only 5 feet 5 inches. But one would only need to look at the 2012 Olympic champion in the heptathlon to dispel that notion.
Jessica Ennis-Hill, who also stands at 5 feet 5 inches, captured the gold medal in the heptathlon at the 2012 Summer Olympics. Ennis-Hill is Juškevičiūtė’s idol and serves as proof that height doesn’t matter, especially if the athlete has a phenomenal work ethic. With Juškevičiūtė’s talent and hard work, she could be poised to become an Olympic medalist in the sport that she sought to avoid in her childhood.