World champ Phillips learned work ethic at UK

Olympic gold-medalist. Five-time world champion.

Dwight Phillips knows how to jump far.

Dwight Phillips (Maloney photo)

Dwight Phillips (Maloney photo)

Recently retired after 14 years of competition on the international circuit, Phillips is in Danville through Saturday. He’s passing on his long-jump expertise in the role of staff clinician for Maximum Velocity Track and Field Academy, hosted by Centre College.

The camp is something of a homecoming for Phillips, who competed in 1997-98 for Kentucky, then transferred when sprints coach Darryl Anderson was hired at Arizona State.

“Kentucky’s where I learned that hard work and dedication, and I’ve got to attribute a lot of that to Coach (Edrick) Floreal, at the University of Kentucky right now. Because without that, I don’t think I would have become the athlete that I became because he really instilled in me the value of hard work, and I have a strong work ethic as a result. So I’m so grateful for my time in Kentucky.”

Floreal, now the head coach at UK, was coaching jumpers when Phillips was here.

“On my second day of practice at the University of Kentucky, Coach Floreal, he watched me run and he’s checking out my mechanics. And he told me ‘Dwight, if you focus on the long jump, you can be the NCAA champion and the Olympic champion.’ I was like ‘man, this guy is crazy. There is no way in the world that I could possibly become an NCAA champion in the long jump or the triple jump.’

“I mean, I’m a 400-meter runner, and that’s what I wanted to do. But I’d like to express to the younger athletes today, in hindsight, that sometimes you can have somebody else that can see something in you that you don’t see in yourself.”

While at UK, Phillips concentrated on the 400 and dabbled in the triple jump. It wasn’t until he was at Arizona State that he blossomed in the long jump.

He made it to the 2000 Summer Olympic Games in Sydney, placing eighth.

In 2003, he won indoors and outdoors at the World Championships. A year later, he won Olympic gold at Athens.

“I would have to say the highlight of my career probably was my very first (world) championship in Birmingham, England. I never won an NCAA championship in the long jump; I never won the high school State Meet in the long jump,” Phillips said. “But at that moment, I taught myself how to win on the world stage. And once I got a taste of that, I just wanted more and more and more. I think that was one of the most defining moments of my career. … And, of course, the Olympic gold medalist – that’s just a dream come true.”

Phillips is one of eight Olympians on the Maximum Velocity staff. He is a business partner with one, 800-meter runner Hazel Clark-Riley.

“We came up with an organization called FOSC – Future Olympian Sports Clinics – where we travel the world and help inspire the next generation of Olympians,” Phillips said. “We do it in a unique fashion. Everything we do is implemented or put together by Olympians. We get to travel to different states and teach kids technique, responsibility, life values. We talk about health and wellness, anti-bullying campaigns.

“And most importantly, just teaching them the value of sport. You may not become an Olympic gold-medalist in track and field, but you can become an Olympic gold-medalist in life. And that’s the message that we’re trying to convey to all of our kids and parents as well, to bring up a positive next generation of track and field athletes.”

Olympians weigh in on Tyson Gay

Phillips and several of the Maximum Velocity clinicians were asked about the punishment levied recently against Lexington sprinter Tyson Gay. With nullification of competition results dating to 2012, Gay lost parts of three seasons. But the ban from when he tested positive for using a banned substance was one year rather than the usual two. That’s because Gay cooperated and named names when the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency was conducting its investigation.

“I’m very adamant about my message with doping. I don’t think it’s right,” Phillips said. “I don’t think it’s the right message that our governing bodies and doping agencies are sending to the kids that if you give up viable information that you can have a reduction. I think the overall message should be that drugs should not be tolerated, no matter what. And I think we’re sending the wrong message to the sport, to the kids. Personally, I don’t think it’s good for the sport.

“Tyson may be a very good guy, but sports is full of good people that make bad choices or bad decisions that allow bad people to be around them. It’s unfortunate. But at the end of the day, it’s wrong. And what’s wrong is wrong and what’s right is right. I hate it. Quite frankly, I hate the fact that he will be able to come back this year, compete. And other athletes have been working hard that have integrity, and they’re going to be kind of pushed to the side. And that’s really unfortunate.”

Clark-Riley agreed.

“I have a very strong stance against people that use performance-enhancing drugs,” she said. “I don’t know if people understand the implications in that people say ‘well, everyone gets a second chance.’ Yes. But the people that you beat and that you took medals away from don’t necessarily get a second chance. You work very hard in this sport. … For someone to cheat, it’s very frustrating for us athletes. A year seems like a slap on the wrist. It doesn’t necessarily seem fair.

“I don’t know the details behind the scenes, but just on the surface the fact that he’s able to already come back and compete, it’s a little bit frustrating. And it doesn’t really send a message to the people that are willing to cheat. It doesn’t deter them. To me, he still is financially in a great position, still has some great endorsements. And he was able get those, unfortunately, by cheating. … I don’t have an Olympic medal, but I have the fact that I can look back on my career and say everything that I accomplished I accomplished with hard work. And it’s something that my family is proud of. And I still had a very successful career and I can look at children and tell them that I did things the right way. It’s not going to be a fairytale, it’s not going to be easy, but you have to do things the right way.”

From Lexington’s Sharrieffa Barksdale, 400-meter hurdler: “I think it was a fair ruling. … Knowing his character and stuff like that, I’m like Tyson’s second mom. So it is what it is. Tyson is a very honest person and knowing him, he would not do anything intentionally to cause this embarrassment and this dark cloud over him. Tyson, he’s just not type of person. … I believe him and I stand behind Tyson wholeheartedly, because I know what type of person he is. … A lot of people will say he’s a dopey. He’s not. He’s not. He’s the type of person that his character, his principle and his upbringing, it stands for something.”

Kevin Young, 400-meter hurdler: “It just shows the evolution of our sport because years ago WADA (World Anti-Doping Agency) and USADA would have took more of a hard-nosed stance. … The court of public opinion on Tyson Gay is pretty positive. Everybody knows he’s a standout athlete, a standout person. … He should have been a little more vigilant on his part. However, I’m glad he’ll have an opportunity to participate.”

Sprinter Lauryn Williams: “I just think that he gave the information that he could. He ended up in a really tough situation and I admire the way he’s handling it. He’s been up front. He’s the only person I’ve seen out of any positive tests who addressed the media immediately when he had the positive test. And, last I talked to him, he planned on addressing them and telling kids his story. Because so often people come back from their ban and they don’t say anything. But I know Tyson has a plan that will be able to really impact the youth by telling his story so that they can avoid coming into a situation like he did.

“I don’t know the particulars of everything that happened, but if he cooperates and we’re going to catch more people in the future, then yeah, USADA had to make the decision that was best for the information that was given to them.”

High-hurdler Aries Merritt: “Tyson and me are actually managed by the same agent. Mark Wetmore’s our agent. And I just feel bad about the whole entire situation. As an athlete, I feel like he was betrayed. You just can’t trust everyone. And as athletes, who do we trust? It’s really difficult to put trust in people as it is, and then to put your career on the line, to trust someone and then be let down is just devastating. It cost him a World Championship medal. It cost him his Olympic (silver) medal from London even though he didn’t even test positive during that time. It’s just tragic. I wish him the best and obviously he’s running this year. He’s served his sentence and hopefully he’s learned from this mistake. The whole situation is just bizarre and it’s just awful.”

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