Sunday, March 25, 2012

My Tack Heroes: In Lane 1...

So here we are in the final week of My Track Heroes. I really hope all of you have enjoyed reading about these amazing athletes and why they are heroes to so many track & field athletes, cross country athletes, and just runners in general all over the world. Many of you may already know who will be My Track Hero in lane 1, but you might not know that this lane is shared in my mind.

The first hero in lane 1 is, yep, you guessed it folks, Steve Prefontaine. Of course it is Pre, how could it be anyone else? The man is a running legend whose story is told the world over. Pre painted a picture when he ran, he set his sights on being the best and would never stop. His story is one that we have all heard and celebrated many times. Races are run in this man’s honor, track clubs are named for him, he even has movies about his life and running career, both of which ended far too soon. Having only lived to the age of 24, Steve Prefontaine grew from small town kid who discovered a love for running, to an internationally renowned running phenomenon.

“A race is a work of art people can look at and be affected in as many ways as they’re capable of understanding” is one of many, many quotes from Pre. Another of these, probably the most famous quote of his, is “To give anything less than your best is to sacrifice the gift”. This quote can be read on T-shirts, bags, shoes, shorts, sweats, Facebook pages, literally anything that can be attached to a runner, track athlete, cross country athlete, coaches, etc. “To give anything less than your best is to sacrifice the gift”; Straight from the mind of Steve Prefontaine and he put those words into action every single time he ran. Pre was known for his talent, but more so, his will, determination, and guts to go out into a race and run his heart out.

Prefontaine attended Marshfield High School in Coos Bay, Oregon, where set a national high school record in the two mile, and went on to break 19 more national high school records in track. At one point in his short life, Pre held the U.S. records in every long distance event from the 2k to the 10k. He truly is an inspiration to runners of any background, demographic, age, gender, any runner or athlete or person period. Pre inspires us still to this day because of his will, determination, guts, and his drive to be the absolute best. He is the epitome of never giving up, reaching for your goals, and breaking through that proverbial wall and running through the pain. Pre painted us all a picture to tell us that when you set your mind to something, you reach deep down within yourself and find the strength to make it happen.

Now as I told you all, Lane 1 in My Track Heroes is being shared with Pre. But who could possibly stand next to Pre in a ranking of track & field heroes and legends? Who else can even come close to being as monumental as him? Let me tell you who…

Also in lane 1, the ultimate heroes of the running world, are all of YOU. That’s right ladies and gentleman. Each and every one of you are at the pinnacle of my list of track & field, cross country, and running heroes. I applaud each and every one of you everyday for being so passionate about an amazing sport, which unfortunately takes the backseat to others much of the time. You are all heroes for going out there and running, jumping, or throwing even when the training can be absolutely draining or painful. Thank you all for being crazy and continuing what you do even when others say, “How can you possibly enjoy running as a sport?” or “All you do is throw something?” or “You just have to jump as high or as far as you can? That sounds easy.” When these things are said, we just shrug and answer by putting ourselves through more demanding training sessions than those people could even imagine. It is all of us in RUNNER NATION or JUMPER NATION or THROWER NATION who make the sports of track & field and cross country the insanely fun and passionate sports that they are today. Whether you are an elite, amateur, high school, collegiate, youth, or any kind of athlete, you are making this sport possible. It is all of the runners, throwers, jumpers, officials, coaches, athletic trainers, and just straight up running enthusiasts who make our sports what they are today. So keep on running, jumping, and throwing, because honestly, there is no way anyone will be able to make you stop.

There it is folks. The final segment of My Track Heroes series is complete. Thank you all for reading and I have thoroughly enjoyed taking a closer look at some of my favorite athletes from my favorite sports of all time. It was difficult for me to choose this list because as I said, every track & field and cross country athlete, and runner in general are a hero of mine. Next week will be a special edition of My Track Heroes in memory of a young man and runner who touched the lives of not only myself, but an entire community as well who will forever be missed. Join me next week for My Track Heroes: A Memorial…

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

My Track Heroes: In Lanes 3 and 2...

Well, here we are in the last two weeks of My Track Heroes blog series. Sorry I am posting a little late. It is finals week here at OSU so I have been quite busy. Anyway, it has been a lot of fun to discuss and take a closer look at some of my favorite track athletes of all time. My Track Heroes this week feature a pair of 400 meter runners. Sticking true to my roots in the quarter mile, these two men had to be near the top of my list.

In lane 3, a King in the Quarter, Baylor University graduate, and Olympic medalist, Jeremy Wariner. Ever since I began running the 400 meter as a sophomore in high school, Wariner has been a runner I have always looked up to. I would study his races and running form, tried to emulate how he did things in practice the next day, go home, and repeat. Wariner is exciting to watch in every race he runs because you never know if/when he will be breaking the 400 meter world record, still held by Jeremy’s agent, Michael Johnson. Wariner is a man that any sprinter, of any age, can idolize. The quarter miler strives not only to be the best 400 meter runner of this generation, but the most decorated quarter miler in the history of the event. He craves championships. Once Wariner’s eyes are set on a prize, he gives his all to get there.

The stats: Wariner was a high school state champion in Texas in the 200 and 400 meter sprints. After enrolling at Baylor, Jeremy instantly became a collegiate sprint star. (From Wariner’s website) Jeremy Wariner is the only athlete to ever win the following in the same year: Gold medals at the NCAA Indoor and Outdoor Championships in the 400m and 4x400m relay, gold at the US Olympic Trials in the 400m, and gold medals at the 2004 Olympic Games in Athens in the 400m and 4x400m relay. Since then, Wariner has won 5 gold medals (3 in the 4x4, 2 in the 400) at World Championships and a silver in the 400 at a World Championship, a gold medal in the 4x400m relay at the 2008 Beijing Olympics, and a silver medal at the 2008 Beijing Olympics. Wariner’s personal best time of 43.45 seconds in the 400m is a mere .27 seconds behind Michael Johnson’s world record of 43.18 seconds. Jeremy’s personal best is the third fastest of all-time.

Unfortunately, due to a plague of injuries, not much has been seen of Wariner since 2008. He ran quite a few races in 2010/2011, but none were near his best times. I have high hopes that we will all be seeing Wariner’s return in full effect in this Olympic year. We can all hope that come July/August we will be watching Wariner sprinting his way to gold yet again.

In lane 2, it could be none other than Jeremy Wariner’s mentor and agent, Michael Johnson, once thought to be the fastest man in the world. Johnson is a man that I have heard/read about and admired for what seems like my entire life. The sprinting sensation was an American hero in the Nineties being titled, “the world’s fastest man”. Johnson has been an idol for sprinters around the globe for about two decades now. As I would study tapes of how Wariner raced, I would do the same with Michael Johnson. Both men are extremely talented sprinters and can teach other runners so much even if it is merely by watching them on film. Michael Johnson is without a doubt, one of the greatest track athletes of all-time.

The stats: Johnson won 4 gold medals in 3 different Olympic games, 1 in the 4x400m relay in Barcelona in ‘92, 2 in the ‘96 Atlanta Games in the 200m and 400m, and 1 in the 400m at 2000 games in Sydney. World Championships: Johnson won gold in the 200m in ‘91, golds in the 4x400m relay and 400m in ‘93, golds in all three events in ‘95, gold in the 400m in ‘97, and gold in the 400m in ‘99. In 2004, Johnson was elected to the U.S. Track & Field Hall of Fame and his 200 meter race at the ‘96 Olympic Games was named the greatest track & field moment in the last 25 years. Johnson still holds the world record in the 400m at 43.18 seconds and in the 4x400m relay at 2 minutes 54.29 seconds.

Not only is Michael Johnson an amazing 400m runner, arguably the best of all time, but he is a stand-up guy as well. Michael Johnson voluntarily returned his 4x400m relay Olympic gold medal from the 2000 games in Sydney because he believed it was not earned fairly. On August 2, 2008, the International Olympic Committee stripped the 2000 Olympics U.S. 4x400m relay team of their gold medals because Johnson’s teammates Antonio Pettigrew, Alvin and Calvin Harrison, and preliminary round runner Jerome Young all admitted to or were tested positive for performance-enhancing supplements and some were involved in the BALCO scandal. Johnson never was or has been implicated in any drug scandal. He is also an amazing person for willingly giving up an Olympic gold medal because he knew it had not been won fairly. Kudos Mr. Johnson, that is why you are a hero to so many.

Join me next week for My Track Hero in lane 1. Also the following week I will be adding a special addition to My Track Heroes series. I hope you are enjoying my blog. I will continuing updating fun and interesting track & field stories, bios, workouts, memories, etc., every week. So be sure to check out my blog Runnin’ Down a Dream every Sunday/Monday. Thank you all! See you next week!

Sunday, March 11, 2012

My Track Heroes: In Lanes 5 and 4...

The Track Heroes in lanes 5 and 4 are the epitome of the term “Hero”. Both have overcome, and continue to overcome, adversity and pursue their dream and put their all into everything for which they strive. Both have celebrated great success and suffered from great obstacles. In lane 5…

South African runner, Oscar Pistorius. “The fastest man on no legs” has made amazing strides in the sport of Track & Field. What amazed me when I first heard of Pistorius were the accomplishments and times he posts while running with two prosthetic legs. This man is a truly gifted and determined human-being. It is easy to say that any disabled athlete deserves the utmost respect, and Oscar Pistorius has gone above-and-beyond what many able-bodied runners could ever wish to accomplish. Pistorius suffered a double-leg amputation before his first birthday, having been born with congenital absence of the fibula in both legs. Regardless, Pistorius went on to compete in rugby, water polo, tennis, and wrestling as he grew up. After suffering a knee injury in 2003, he was introduced to running in rehab and the rest is history. Oscar is the world record holder in the 100m, 200m, and 400m in the T44 sporting class, which identifies T44 eligible athletes as, “Single leg below knee amputation. Combined lower plus upper limb amputations. Ambulant with moderately reduced function in one or both lower limbs.”

 The stats: Pistorius has world records in the T44 sporting class in the 100m, running 10.91 seconds in  2007 at the Nedbank Championships for the Physically Disabled, 200m, running 21.58 seconds at the same meet the next day, and a 47.49 second 400m at the 2008 Summer Paralympics in Beijing, but also a 45.07 second personal best at an able-bodied meet in Lignano, Italy, qualifying for the 2011 World Championships in Daegu and hitting the A Standard for the 2012 Olympic Games. In Daegu that same year, Pistorius qualified for the semi-final in the 400m with a time of 45.39s in the prelim round, but did not quite make it to the finals. He assisted the 4x400m relay squad in running a national record setting performance of 2 minutes, 59.21 seconds and making it to the finals, but was not selected for running in the final heat in which the South African relay team took a silver medal.

Pistorius runs using J-shaped prosthetics known as the “Cheetah Flex-Foot” made by Icelandic company Ossur. Oscar has battled much adversity and criticism in that he has been challenged that his prosthetics give him an advantage over able-bodied athletes who do not use equipment such as prosthetics, wheels, etc. Yet, Oscar Pistorius has overcome such obstacles and sets his sights on running for South Africa in the 2012 London Olympics and becoming one of the greatest sprinters of all times.

Much of what inspires me about Oscar Pistorius are not the accolades and records he has accumulated, but more so his drive, will, and determination to become one of the greatest track athletes of all time despite the fact that he had a double-leg amputation between his knees and ankles. Anyone can look up this accomplished track runner with no legs and be inspired to become something great themselves. Good luck to you and your future goals and aspirations, Mr. Pistorius.

In lane 4, U.S. hurdling inspiration and go-getter, Lori “Lolo” Jones. Lolo has been hurdling adversity and life obstacles since she was a young girl. Jones’ mother often held two jobs in order to support her family of six, while her father was either in the Air Force or prison for most of her young life. Lolo and her family once had to live in the basement of a church in Des Moines. When Jones’ family decided to make a move to Forest City, Iowa, Lolo did not want to go to a city where there was no track because she wanted to pursue her dream. In her time at Theodore Roosevelt High School in Des Moines, Lolo lived with four different families. Lolo Jones attended Louisiana State University where she received silver medals in the 100m hurdles and 4x100m relay in the NCAA Outdoor Championships in 2002, a gold medal in the 60m hurdles at the 2003 NCAA Indoor Championships, gold in the 4x100m relay at the 2003 NCAA Outdoor Championships, silver in the 60m hurdles and 60m dash at the 2004 NCAA Indoor Championships, gold in the 100m hurdles outdoor at the NCAA Mideast Region Championships, SEC Championships, and the Penn Relays, and gold in the 4x100m relay at the 2004 NCAA Outdoor Championships.

Lolo’s pro stats: Jones got sixth place in the 100m hurdles in 2007 at the World Outdoor championships in Osaka, Japan. In 2008, Lolo took first in the 60m hurdles at the World Indoor Championships in Valencia, Spain, seventh place in the 100m hurdles at the Olympics in Beijing, China, after stumbling on her second to last hurdle, and a second place in the World Athletics Final in the 100m hurdles in Stuttgart, Germany. In 2010, Jones defended her World Indoor Championship in the 60m hurdles.

Jones has recently recovered from surgery to repair her tethered spine. Before the surgery, Lolo could barely walk without feeling severe pain. Now, Jones is back and ready to compete. She won the 50m hurdles at the U.S. Open earlier this year and still has her sights set on the 2012 London Olympics. My money is on Lolo to get there and accomplish great things in the future. She is the epitome of an amazing athlete and an amazing person. A phoenix arisen from the ashes of her difficult childhood, and phoenix beginning her rise from the ashes of a risky spine surgery. Lolo Jones is an iconic figure to runners, hurdlers, men, and women all over the world. Also, she’s pretty easy on the eyes as well. I have no doubt we will all be seeing her on the Olympic track in London this summer. Get it Lolo.

Next week in “My Track Heroes” two more athletes will be revealed in lanes 3 and 2. Thanks for all the views and reads everyone! The “My Track Heroes” series will continue for the next three weeks with some older, well-known track & field athletes making their debuts on my heroes’ list and a relatively unknown, yet unforgettable high school athlete who made an impact on everyone around him. Join me next week on my blog, Runnin’ Down a Dream.

Also, shout out to all the USA Track & Field athletes at this weekend's IAAF World Indoor Championships! Do work Team USA! Congrats to those that have medaled thus far and to Ashton Eaton for his third time breaking the indoor heptathlon World Record! 

Sunday, March 4, 2012

My Track Heroes: In Lanes 7 and 6...

My next two track heroes to be featured are both fairly recent up-and-comers in the sport of track & field. Both have achieved some amazing accomplishments in the past several years and continue to climb the ranks of their respective competition areas.

In lane 7, Jenn Suhr, the pole vaulting, American record holding phenom. Suhr has been making leaps and bounds in rankings and records in whatever sport she participates in since she was young. Jenn’s drive and determination gives her a step ahead of the competition in everything she does. Attending Robert Wesleyan College in Rochester, New York, Jenn graduated as the all-time leading scorer in basketball and record holder in the high jump, javelin, 400m hurdles, and 100m hurdles. It wasn’t until 2004 that her coach, and now husband, Rick Suhr, introduced Jenn to pole vaulting, and she took to it like a fish to water. The amazing woman seemingly breaks an American record in the event every time she jumps. Since 2005, Jenn Suhr has won 11 national titles between indoor and outdoor competitions, the most recent of those occurring only a week ago at the USA Indoor Track & Field Championships in Albuquerque, New Mexico.

I hold a special respect and admiration for pole vaulters in my heart. They are a crazy group of people who like to launch themselves to heights up to 19 feet in the air and then fall all that way back down. It may just be my slight fear of heights, or the fear of the pole breaking as it launches people upward, but you have to respect anyone who puts themselves through that. Having tried to pole vault before, I know you have to be strong in order to do it. Look at some of the best pole vaulters in the world, look at Jenn Suhr, they are RIPPED. They have to work their entire bodies in order to have the strength to perform the mechanics and techniques needed for shooting themselves that high in the air.

It is not only because of her achievements, her strength, or her athletic drive to be the best that Jenn Suhr is one of My Track Heroes, but it is also because she is a positive and inspiring icon to female athletes across the globe. Suhr is a person that all women can look up to for inspiration in anything. Being one of the most respected and accomplished track & field competitors in the U.S. gives her an amazing pedestal upon which Jenn can inspire hundreds of thousands of women everywhere.

Jenn Suhr came into the competition of pole vaulting being an unknown, unranked competitor and has vaulted her way to the top of the elite pole vaulting world and will continue until she is the best of all time.

In lane 6, Ashton Eaton, the rising star of the multi-events, the decathlon and indoor heptathlon. Ashton Eaton has been one of my favorite athletes for several years now. Coming from Bend, Oregon, Ashton used to compete for Mountain View High School in the Intermountain Conference. Even back then, having competed against Eaton in high school, I would look up to him and think that he was going to be a great track athlete one day. Sure enough, Eaton has gone on to accomplish much as a member of the University of Oregon Ducks and currently as a member of the Oregon Track Club Elite program.

The statistics and achievements: Eaton won three consecutive NCAA titles in decathlon between 2008 and 2010. In 2010, Eaton won the NCAA Indoor Championships and broke the world record in the indoor heptathlon with a score of 6499. Later, in 2011, Eaton went on to break that record again at a combined events meet in Tallinn with a score of 6568, despite underperforming in the high jump. Eaton, in the decathlon, placed fifth at the 2008 U.S. Olympic Team Trials, second at the 2009 USA Outdoor Track & Field Championships, 18th in the 2009 World Championships in Athletics, and second at the 2011 World Championships in Athletics.

In my mind, there is no better showing of all-around athleticism than the multi-events of track & field. The multis contain something to satisfy every type of competitor. It astounds me that a person can be so good at all the different types of competitions that are involved in the multi-events, especially at the elite level. You look at some of those men and women competing in the multis and think, “Wow, not only are they good enough to compete at elite level in some of those individual events, but to combine all the events in which they compete and stay at elite status…. That is amazing.”

So hats off to you, Jenn Suhr and Ashton Eaton. Both athletes have achieved much recently in their track & field careers, and rest assured, both have much, much more to achieve. Expect even greater things to come from these two Track Heroes.

Next week, the athletes in lanes 5 and 4 will be revealed. Join me again next Sunday on my blog, Runnin’ Down a Dream.

Disclaimer: Photos portrayed in my blog of professional athletes or athletes other than myself do not belong to me and belong entirely to those who took the photos. The only purpose of using them here is to portray the amazing athletes that I decide to feature in my blogs.