Interviews with Michael Rodgers, David Oliver

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Michael Rodgers and David Oliver are indicative of young stars rising in our sport. They are also indicative of the talent in North America, and the opportunities now for young athletes to be professional and take a longer approach to track and field competition.

Rodgers is the sprinter and Oliver is the hurdler. The interview is well done and gives you a view of two of the upcoming stars in our sport. I would not be surprised with both Rodgers and Oliver winning medals this weekend in Valencia, Spain during the World Indoors.

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

Rodgers, Oliver teleconference excerpts

The U.S. Olympic Committee and USA Track & Field on Tuesday hosted a teleconference with U.S. indoor champions Michael Rodgers and David Oliver. Both men are in Valencia, Spain, where they will compete this weekend at the 12th IAAF World Indoor Track & Field Championships.

Rodgers and Oliver are stars on the rise on the international track and field scene. Previously unknown in the professional track world, Rodgers has made a name for himself during the 2008 indoor season. The two-time NAIA Indoor 60m and 200m champion claimed his first national title at the 2008 AT&T USA Indoor Track & Field Championships, winning the AT&T men's 60m in 6.54 seconds, the fastest time by an American and the third fastest time in the world so far this year. Rodgers currently owns five of the top seven times by an American in the 60m. A product of St. Louis, Mo., he won the 2006 NAIA Outdoor 200 and 2007 NAIA Outdoor 100 titles and owns the NAIA Indoor record in the 60 meters.

At age 25, Oliver also won his first national title at the 2008 AT&T USA Indoor Championships, where he won the 60m hurdles over three-time World Indoor champion Allen Johnson. A 2004 graduate of Howard University, Oliver first made a name for himself in 2006, when he won the 110m hurdles at the Berlin ISTAF Golden League meet. He was the 2007 USA Indoor runner-up in the 60m hurdles and was third outdoors in the 110m hurdles. He ended the year ranked #9 in the world outdoors, posting a personal-best time outdoors of 13.14.

Below are excerpts from Tuesday's teleconference.

Q. Michael, this year is the first time many people have heard of you. Bring us up to speed on your last couple of years and where you are now.

MR. The last couple of years I went to Oklahoma Baptist. I was training there for a while but wasn't really concentrating on my event, running the 100, 200 and 400. Now I'm concentrating on my event and this is the first time I'm really training for it, the 100. Hopefully I'll go sub-20 in the 200. I'm in Austin, Texas, and my coach is Darryl Woodson. He used to be a DI coach at Jackson State. He coached Bianca Knight. Basically we have a small group in Texas, but our group is going to get bigger.

Q: How did you choose him?

RODGERS: Actually I was at USAs (AT&T 2007 USA Outdoor Track & Field Championships in Indianapolis) and I was going to quit track. I couldn't get anybody to talk to me or pick me up (with a contract). I met him at the hot dog stand and he asked what I was going to do after USAs. I told him I was going to go to work, working 9-5 at Champ's sports.

Q: What are your goals this weekend?

RODGERS: The goal is 6.44 and get on the medal stand. Hopefully get in the top 2. I want to PR again. I've PR'd every race this year.

Q: David, you got your first win at US Indoors in Boston. How do you feel entering competition at Valencia.

OLIVER: This [USA Indoors] was the first race I was able to win. I have a couple of bronze medals at nationals so I was hoping to upgrade those to gold. Going into Boston I was feeling I could get the win there. Nobody had really separated themselves among Americans as clear-cut favorite. I figured somebody's got to win, so why not me? Coming into Valencia, not much has changed. My competence level is very high. The 60 hurdles in the United States is premier event. Last year I was ranked sixth among Americans and ninth in the world so that shows you how strong the hurdles are. The win definitely elevated me into one of the top tier athletes.

Q: Michael, as of winning the national championship, is it correct that you didn't have a professional contract?

RODGERS: It hasn't changed yet. I'm weighing my options now and hopefully it will get resolved soon.

Q: We've read your fairly candid comments about Dwain Chambers.

RODGERS: I guess he and his country had an agreement that he can participate [at World Indoors]. He's getting a second chance, so may the best man win this Friday. Hopefully I can come out on top. It's going to be something new for me because I'm kind of new on the scene, so I don't know too much about anybody.

Q: David, the star of your event this winter has been Dayron Robles. He's run a lot of races already. Can a guy stay sharp in a 2-3 month season racing that often?

OLIVER: I think so. The best way to perfect your race strategy is to race. He's challenged the world record and has already run faster than any American has ever run. So I think he can maintain his race sharpness and his results are pointing toward big things. It's a challenge for me to possibly overcome Robles and his performances. I never really have done much indoors. I haven't had a chance to become as race sharp as he has.

Q: Michael, were you a star in high school, in St. Louis?

RODGERS: I was at Berkeley High School in St. Louis, Missouri. My senior year I won the 100, 200, 400 and 4x400 at the state meet.

Q: Your sisters are going to go to Florida as sprinters? Are they half-sisters? You have different last names.

RODGERS: Those are my real, biological sisters. We just have different last names. They have my stepfather's last name, I have my mother's maiden name.

Q: How close have you been to them?

RODGERS: We all ran for the same summer track club (St. Louis Blues Track Club), so when I got old enough I coached their age group. So I've been helping them out. When I went to college they were on their own. They're good kids, they train hard.

Q: has there been a big turning point for you in your career?

RODGERS: I actually got on the weights this year and started working harder, got more technical with my race. I used to be out there street racing. It's worked out well for me.

Q: The European meet promoters are saying they're going to ban all people who have been suspended for two years or more. Do you think Dwain Chambers should be running and what do you think about the banning of athletes?

David Oliver: I believe if Dwain Chambers has served his time, if they are willing to let him back in, then go for it. As far as European promoters, it's their meets and they should be able to do whatever they would like to do. I'm not too mad at them [meet promoters] because before they [athletes] were banned they were messing up other people's money, finishing ahead of other people who may have placed 4th at the Olympic Trials. If meet promoters don't want to let them in, they can pick and choose. I agree with that. If Dwain Chambers is able to participate and they allow him, that's fine with me as well.

Michael Rodgers: They are the ones giving out the money, so it's their decision. He served his time, they're allowing him to compete, the show must go on. I don't have any problems running against anybody. Anybody can beat anybody else on a given day. May the best man win on Friday.

Q: What are some of the technical things you've been working on?

RODGERS: I've been doing a lot of strength and resistance training, and technical work on my arms and drive phase. I've always had good leg speed. I'm trying to increase my power. Last year I ran 10.07 wind-aided. I started building myself back up. I ran 10.10 at U.S. nationals, so I knew it would just be a matter of time.

Q: David, Are you surprised to see Allen Johnson make the team?

OLIVER: I'm not surprised at all to see Allen a member of the indoor championships. Every time he's in a race, he's definitely going to be a factor in the race. Even though he hasn't been competing indoors the last couple of years, he went to Europe and showed a high level of commitment to competing this year. He put together some good races and I expected him to be a part of this team with me, just with reputation alone he's going to come with high intensity.

Q: Are there any advantages for you being on the team with someone with veteran status?

OLIVER: It's an advantage to me to pick his brain a little bit. At this competition we run all three rounds on Saturday, so I can ask him a few questions about that. He knows the schedule and has his game plan down pat. If he can help me, it's great to have that veteran leadership on the team.

Q: Did you watch Allen compete when you were younger?

OLIVER: The first professional meet I had seen was the 2001 world championships in Canada. I still have it on tape somewhere I'm sure, but I really didn't pay that much attention to track and field until I got to college. I liked Terrence Trammell a little better because he was an Olympic silver medalist in college. I thought that's the kind of career I'd like to have, too.

Q: When you were in high school, you were more focused on football. Did your mom influence you to go into track?

OLIVER: My mom has a background in track, the 400 hurdles. She went to the University of Colorado and had a couple records up there. Mainly I was the one catching the bus back home by myself in the spring because all my friends were on the track team. So I joined track. I did the long and triple jump and was pretty sorry. I was always missing the board so my friends called me DJ Scratch. I needed to find a different event. I did a shuttle hurdle relay and was three-stepping between hurdles, so that was my event. I always wanted to go to Howard University, so I sent the coach three or four letters asking for a scholarship. The coach said he'd come out for our regional track meet and he said if I like what I see I'll offer you a full scholarship. So I told my mom, "I'm going to Howard!"

Q: What were your goals coming out of Denver East High School?

OLIVER: I didn't really have too many track goals. I just wanted to go to school for free to take the burden off my mom, a single mom raising three kids working three jobs. I wanted a degree from an outstanding university and to get a good job. I didn't have any aspirations for professional track & field because I didn't know it existed. But things work themselves off in the long run.

Q: Who are the contenders in your event?

RODGERS: Everybody is a major contender. After this weekend we'll know who's bringing their A game and who's bringing their B game. I'm bringing my A game. I've raced the majority of the top 5 sprinters on the circuit in Europe. I know I have a fair chance at beating everybody.

Q: Since you haven't competed at Worlds before, do you have any concerns?

RODGERS: I treat this as any other race. I've been in a lot of big races in Europe before. I'm going to concentrate on my race, not change anything and hopefully come on top this weekend.

Q: What are your goals for later this year, and why run the indoor season?

Oliver: I decided to run indoors just to break the monotony of practicing. I'm a professional track & field athlete and this is part of my job, to run indoors. It's not my birthright to run track & field. The weakest part of my race is my first five (hurdles) so I got the chance to work on that this indoor season. It's going to be very tough (to make the Olympic Team). Last year, 13.26 got you sixth or seventh place at USA Outdoors. You have to ratchet up your training and mental preparedness and everything. I always thrive in those types of situations. I'm looking forward to it.

Rodgers: I decided to run indoors because the first part of the 100 is the weakest part of my race. I'm concentrating on getting my first part faster, and it's working out well for me. My previous best was 6.64. For the 200, it depends what I run heading into the Olympic Trials. If I run under 20 I might consider running the 200, because the 200 is very stacked.

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