The third annual High Velocity Track and Field Academy wrapped up Friday at Centre College in Danville.
With Jackie Joyner-Kersee, Dusty Jonas, Kevin Young, Dave Wottle, Francie Larrieu-Smith, Erin Gilreath, Jeff Hartwig and Ato Bolden, plus former Kentucky football player/Bryan Station jumper Littleton Ward, High Velocity continues to grow its reputation for having a staff filled with Dream Teamers.
The camp founder is pleased to see the camp growing and the Olympians continuing to help.
“Oh, my goodness — yes, yes, yes!” said Lexington’s Sharrieffa Barksdale, a 1984 Olympian and former American record-holder in the women’s 400-meter hurdles. “To have this caliber of track and field camp and to have this type of Olympians come … it’s phenomenal.”
Barksdale says the Olympians are willing to come to Central Kentucky because “we have a camaraderie. When you have that type of friendship and camaraderie, it’s hard to say no to me. It really is.” She doesn’t often take “no” for an answer.
Although the camp continues to take baby steps in growth, Barksdale would like to see a giant step. That will take a push from high school coaches to encourage, inform and maybe even help with fund-raising for their athletes, she says.
“When you have this type of Olympians that are coming into the state of Kentucky, you should have every kid here, trying to get them to learn from the best,” she said. “You can’t get no better than this.”
Barksdale has a believer in Rockcastle County Coach Mark Brummett, who was on hand to soak up as much knowledge as possible. His state-champion discus thrower, Amy Johnson, was among the camp participants, and he’s hoping to bring “a whole lot more” next year.
“I love it. I wish we had more Kentucky athletes here,” he said. “I think it’s a great opportunity. The Olympians are amazing. I don’t think our kids realize having Jackie Joyner-Kersee at our camp is the equivalent of having Michael Jordan for a basketball camp. … They work on so many different facets of everything. I spent just a few minutes with Ato Bolden and learned a whole lot that my program needs to work on for starting blocks and things. Just the fact that they’ll come and do a camp here — there’s nothing like it in the United States that I’ve seen. I’ve looked at some other camps and you might see a couple of Olympians, but the level and degree, the magnitude of these Olympians is amazing.”
We caught up with several of the Olympians.
The former American record-holder in the pole vault, indoors and outdoors, Hartwig competed in the 1996 Atlanta Olympic Games.
He made his first tour at Centre in 2011, so he knew what he was in for this week.
“Last year, when I came down … you just don’t know what to expect,” he said. “And, to be honest, I’d never really heard of Centre College. Boy, I’ll tell you, the campus is beautiful, the facilities are outstanding and Lisa Owens — the coach here — just did an outstanding job of taking care of all the details for us, the camp staff, to make sure that we can contribute our knowledge to the young athletes in a positive way.
“I was really impressed with how good the kids were last year and how well the camp is run, so I had looked forward to coming back.”
So what can an Olympic athlete get across to a teen athlete in just a few days?
“When I was a young athlete, I didn’t have the benefit of getting the chance to work with anybody who had either competed at a high level or had a high level of knowledge,” Hartwig said. “Probably the biggest frustration for me when I got into college was having to ‘un-learn’ all the things that I learned incorrectly from the beginning.
“I always thought as I started to become a student of the event, as my career progressed, ‘one day I want to give back to kids because if I can get them started in a better direction right from the beginning, they have a much better chance of success.’ Because it’s hard enough to learn how to do it correctly, but then when you have to un-learn all the things that you do incorrectly before you can work on those things to move you forward, it makes it twice as hard.”
A U.S. Track & Field Hall of Famer, Young ran a still-standing world-record 46.78 seconds to win gold at the 1992 Barcelona Olympic Games.
Not that he’ll ever forget the time — the first to break the 47-second barrier — but he has a constant reminder thanks to a necklace that was presented to him by a friend.
Young, 45, has agreed to participate July 7 in an all-day hurdles festival in France — commemorating 25 years of the festival and 20 years since his world-record race.
Young, who lives in Kennesaw, Ga., near Atlanta, has his eye set on eventually getting the masters (age 40-over) world record of 55.18.
“I believe that if I train consistently, I should be able to break it,” Young said. “I wanted to do it this year. But I had these injuries — I have a lingering Achilles’ soreness, which was a lot worse a few weeks ago, and I’ve got a little nagging hamstring injury with scar tissue. But I feel I can get out there and finish the race and have a good time, and have fun.”
Young said he made debut on the international scene in the 1986 Goodwill Games, held in Moscow. Barring injuring setbacks, his dream is to qualify for the 2013 World Championships, which will be held in Moscow.
“I think I can get an ‘A’ qualifier,” he said. “I’m not necessarily trying to set the world on the fire, but I would like to get an ‘A’ standard qualifier. At least a ‘B’ standard qualifier, which is like … 49.5. If I get into that range, it will be a masters record, plus I can scare a lot of these young hurdlers. Like ‘the old man can still do it.’”
He says his experience at Centre helped him in his training. But that was an added benefit to the joy of being a mentor.
“The beauty of being here at the camp is the fact that you see them come out here as raw as they possibly can be, you give them a few instructions, show them some drills, give them some encouragement, let them know that the word ‘can’t’ isn’t used out here and, within five-10 minutes, a totally different person,” Young said. “They’re handling it. And they’re knocking things out of the park.
“I just pat myself on the back each and every time it happens. I’ve got a number of kids that are doing that, making me look good as a coach. And they can take home with them that they trained with the world record-holder, literally hung out, had lunch at the table with him. We went through what you need to do to prepare yourself for college, prepare for all the different changes in your routines from high school to college.”
A U.S. Track & Field Hall of Fame member and the 1972 Olympic gold-medalist at 800 meters, Wottle will turn 62 in August. He lives in Germantown, Tenn., and retired June 1 after 29 years at Rhodes College, where he was dean of admissions and financial aid.
At Munich, his roommate was marathoner Frank Shorter. As it happened, Wottle and Shorter were the last two Americans to win track gold medals at the 1972 Games.
Wottle won his medal three days before Palestinian terrorists infiltrated the Athletes Village, an event that would lead to the death of 11 Israeli athletes and coaches. Shorter, though, had not yet run.
“You couldn’t really focus that much on what was going on. I always say that was kind of a surreal feeling,” Wottle said. “Because very shortly after (International Olympic Committee president) Avery Brundage announced the Games would continue. Well, as soon as they said that, the athletes had to in a sense blank that out of their mind and focus on their events.
“Frank’s event was after the incident, so he had the marathon he had to run. You just can’t be thinking about two things. So we kind of said, ‘well, we’ll park it in the back of our mind and we’ll reflect on it after the Games.’ It sounds kind of cold and hard-hearted, but that’s really what you had to do. And that’s what most of us were able to do.”
Although Shorter was bewildered when he entered the Olympic Stadium. Unbeknownst to him, an imposter had slipped in ahead, pretending to be the marathon winner. The crowd quickly realized that the runner was a fake and responded with “Boooooo!”
“I think those German guys beat the crap out of that guy,” Wottle said, half-seriously, of the imposter. “They should have.”
Another Wottle-Shorter story from Munich involved a pair of shorts.
Wottle, married shortly before the Games, was among the last to pick up his uniform.
“Of course, no one takes the uniform they signed up for, so they had a pair of extra-extra-large shot put pants for my Olympic uniform,” Wottle said. “I go ‘I can’t wear these.’ I did not have any other shorts.
“Frank ran for the Florida Track Club, which had some light blue pants. He goes, ‘well, you can wear these; these are close enough. And if you win, you can have them.’ He’s like ‘I’ll get these back in a couple days.’”
Of course, Wottle won. Wearing his golf cap and Shorter’s shorts. Both clothing items were displayed in the U.S. Track and Field Hall of Fame before either athlete was inducted.
Said Wottle: “I always tell people the hat beat me into the Hall of Fame and Frank Shorter’s shorts beat him into the Hall of Fame.”
See kentucky.com and The Herald-Leader for some more of Wottle’s tales from the Munich Olympic Games.