Standing 6 feet, Elise Cooper is one of the taller sprinters in most fields she runs in. Even so, there are times when she feels like she’s walking among giants.

Last year at the U20 championships in Eugene, Oregon, Cooper ran in the 200-meter finals and placed second, one of just three girls to finish the event in under 23 seconds. But what left the biggest impression was talking to some of her track idols — Sha’Carri Richardson, Tara Davis-Woodhall and Sydney McLaughlin-Levrone among them — who were competing concurrently in the national finals.

She had watched them for years as they ran races and chased gold medals. Suddenly, she realized, their eyes were on her.

“You have to go to this area where you get your uniform and other things, and I would literally be right next to them,” she said. “I’m thinking, ‘Oh my God, I’m next to them.’ And they’re telling me, ‘I saw you run, good job.’ I couldn’t believe it.”

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Thursday night, several U.S. sprinters will have to keep an eye on Cooper — not as an up-and-comer but as a direct competitor. The Owings Mills native qualified for the 200 meters at the U.S. Olympic trials, being held in Eugene, just a few months shy of starting her senior year at McDonogh.

Against the likes of favorites Gabby Thomas and Richardson — two huge stars in U.S. track — Cooper is a long shot this week. But the momentum in her career, all before she’s even narrowed down where she’s going to college, is building.

She holds more than a half-dozen McDonogh records and has swept past in-state competition in the 200 meters, her best event. This year she won the distance in the Nike Indoor Nationals, and she’s a two-time indoor nationals All-American and a three-time outdoor All-American.

Elise Cooper has dominated local high school competition and is making her mark at the national level. (Derek Toney)

Cooper is working to smooth out her starts, when her lanky frame gives her a slight disadvantage getting out of the blocks. But, while the 100 meters and shorter races are almost entirely dependent on starts, the 200 showcases her top-end speed, which can go against almost anybody.

“It’s the fastest race where you go all out,” Cooper said. “I like running on the curve. I guess, with the form I have, it’s good enough to carry me to the finish.”

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From the age of 7, when she started her track career and finished with an appearance in her first national final in the same year, she’s had a natural, breezy talent augmented by work ethic. You don’t have to ask Cooper to do things twice, her coach Michael Ray said. She just puts her mind to it, which has kept her going for a decade in a sport in which there are plenty of early-blooming stars who burn out or burn off before nearing the Olympic level.

“I honestly believe she’s a generational talent,” Ray said. “She feels nervous competing against these big stars, but she’s never lost in the moment. She always shows up.”

The key might just be the team behind her: her family. Cooper is one of three sisters who are track stars and accomplished students. Older sister Ella is joining the Harvard track team as a sprinter in the fall, while her twin sister, Elena, is a standout long jumper and triple jumper (5th-best distance in Maryland outdoors this season) for McDonogh. Her father, Carnell Cooper, played basketball at Yale before becoming a surgeon.

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Then there’s Danielle Cooper, mom and supporter-in-chief. Danielle helped fill out Elise’s application for the Olympic trials, was the lead anxious party refreshing to see if she had been accepted, then excitedly showed her the news that she had been accepted as they boarded a red-eye flight from Oregon and shared a celebration on the plane.

“I think I’m still in shock,” said Danielle Cooper, who will be among her daughter’s supporters in person Thursday at Hayward Field. “[Trying for the Olympics] is something you talk about when your kids are little. It’s different when it’s actually tangible that you’ll be able to be in the space where it’s real.”

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Danielle Cooper is a driving force for all of her daughters, encouraging balance among track, school and other interests but also reveling in their athletic achievements as much as anyone. She jokes to her daughters that, when they all go to college, she will buy an RV to visit each of them throughout the school year. “I’ll just stand outside my RV with a cup of coffee, making sure they’re all going to class,” she said teasingly.

Elise meets her mother’s doting with the mortification of a typical teenage daughter, but it’s clear she values the support. When they cheered her on at her last U20 championships event, she was almost embarrassed by how loud her family was, but they might have helped her all the same.

“I just try to hold them in my heart,” she said. “I just try to think of all the times they’ve been with me, what they would say in the moment. I try to run for them. It makes me feel less alone and less scared.”

There is a surreal quality to lining up in the same event as Richardson and Thomas, the U.S. pro favorites who have nearly a second advantage in their personal records over Cooper. But she has a lot of races left to run, and Ray has helped her view her first Olympic qualifying opportunity as a sort of win-win.

“He tells me to be myself, just run how I always run,” Cooper said. “I have to be aware in races like these that, if the pros beat me, they’re literally supposed to beat me. But if I beat them …”

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Cooper paused thoughtfully, as if entranced by the thought of unexpected success.

“Well,” she said, “then they were supposed to beat me.”