2011 USATF Convention, Day 3: Meet me in St. Louis, by Elliott Denman, note by Larry Eder


Gateway Arch, St. Louis.jpg
The third day of the USATF Convention was all about the awards, and the Hall of Fame. There were continued meetings on the logo and sponsorship issues with the AAC. But, the Hall of Fame award evening was noted to be superb, here is how Elliott Denman, our man in St. Louis, saw day three:

  ST. LOUIS, MO. - Meet me in St. Louie, Louie - and many of the sport's brightest luminaries did just that.

Day Three of the USA Track and Field Annual Meeting brought out the best and brightest for the Jesse Owens Award / Hall of Fame banquet that always highlights the national governing body's year-end proceedings. 
  It was time for the thousand-plus delegates to take leave of the humdrum committee meetings and sessions on everything from law and legislation to organizational service projects, developmental plans to budget/audit considerations. It was time to honor the stalwarts who've brought honors on all levels to their hometowns, schools, clubs and nation.

"We Are The Best of 2011" was the theme of the banquet that packed the Grand Ballroom of the Hyatt Regency Hotel.
It was the National Track and Field Hall of Fame's six new inductees who grabbed much of the spotlight.
The Hall of Fame stories of sprint champion Maurice "Mo" Greene and sprinter/hurdler Gail Devers, elected in the modern-era athlete category; Olympic 400 and 4x400 relay champion Vincent Matthews and distance runner Craig Virgin, honored for their feats in an earlier decade; the later marathon superstar, Clarence DeMar,  voted in from the veterans cetegory, and Bob Timmons, an electee from the coaches' ranks, are legendary.
None of them had an easy path to the top:
+ Greene had been a Kansas City area football star. But, once  he recognized track as his athletic future, packed his bags, drove off to California and embarked on a training program under coach John Smith. By the time he'd called it a career, he'd amassed two Olympic golds, a silver and a bronze; five World Championships golds, and world records at 100 meters outdoors and 60 meters indoors.  Amazing but true: he broke 10 seconds for the 100 meters on 53 separate occasions.
+ Sprinter-hurdler-relay great Devers overcame a horrendous case of Graves Disease, a nerve ailment that once threatened amputation of both her feet. But her determination to succeed rallied her from this adversity to collect three Olympic golds, nine World outdoor and indoor golds, and American outdoor and indoor records as a hurdler.
+ For most of his early years, Virgin dealt with a life-threatening urological disorder, and a difficult uprbringing on an Illinois farm. He went on to take two world cross country titles (the first and last ones ever won by an American man), qualify for three Olympic teams as a 10,000-meter runner, and set seven American records on the road and track.
+ Matthews had excelled at New York City's Andrew Jackson High School but took the small-school path to collegiate stardom at Johnson C. Smith of North Carolina, winning his first gold emdal as leadoff man on the world record-setting 1968 4x400 relay team.  But out of college, back in New York and working full-time jobs, he was forced to climb fences at night to get onto a training track.  "Climbing over wasn't the hard part," he said. "Climbing back,out, when you're weary after a tough workout, now that was hard."  After placing third in the 400 at the 1972 Olympic Trials, he came on strong to win the Olympic gold at Munich.  But IOC disciplinary action - he'd asked silver-medal teammate Wayne Collett to join him atop the top rung of the podium - in a time of political turmoil was construed as offensive and both were banned from 4x400 relay participation.
+ The late Clarence DeMar's total of seven Boston Marathon victories is stll an unmatched achievement. But he'd overcome a difficult childhood, including a long stay in an orphan asylum, followed by tough years doing farmwork, before he could even start his running career. At one stage, doctors diagnosed a heart ailment and forbade him to run. He paid them no heed, and a year later took his first Boston title. Twelve years separated his two Olympic marathon appearances, in 1912 and 1924.
+ Timmons made his mark in the coaching ranks, first in both track and swimming at Wichita East High School, then in track and cross country at Kansas University.  At  both stops, his celebrated athlete was mile great Jim Ryun, first American schoolboy to break 4:00 for the mile, later a world mile record-breaker and Olympic 1500-meter silver medalist.  But his harsh training methods never met general approval; he paid no attention to his critics, and coninued to push his athletes above and beyond.
Loud rounds of applause, too, rang out for:

+ Jesse Owens Award winner Jesse Williams, winner of the high jump at the World Championships in Daegu, South Korea, who was named USA men's athlete of the year.  For the first time, the coveted "Jesse" award goes to an athlete named Jesse.

+ Carmelita Jeter, winner of two golds (100-meter dash and 4x100 relay) and one silver (200) at the Worlds, as women's Jesse Owens Award winner and America's female athlete of the year.

+ Bryan Clay, the reigning Olympic decathlon champion, as USATF's Humanitarian of the Year, in recognition of the work of his foundation, and its "Building Champions, Changing Lives" youth programs; his raising over $140,000 to benefit schools programs, and over $8,000 in scholarship funds.

+ Randa Reider, coach of such World Championships medalists as Dwight Phillips, Christian Taylor and Danielle Carruthers, as Coach of the Year.

+ Ajee Wilson, the Neptune (N.J.) High School senior who ran off with the gold medal in the women's 800 meters at the World Youth Championships in Lille, France, running 2:02.64 as America's first-ever medalist in the two-lap event at Youth Worlds, and bettering Track and Field Hall of Famer Joetta Clark Diggs' New Jersey state record.  Heavily recruited by major schools around the nation, she's already gone on official visits to Tennessee, Texas and LSU, with a Florida State trip coming soon.
+ Christine Kennedy, the Irish-born distance ace who overcame immense adversities to return to racing and run off with three gold medals at the 2011 World Masters Championships in Sacramento. Among them was a 3:00.48 marathon, amazing pace for a runner whose competitive outlook once looked dim, as she dealt with the surgery caused by disk degeneration and herniation.
+ Gary Westerfield, the Long Islander and former top-caliber 50K racewalker, who earned the Bob Giegengack Memorial Award (named for the late, great Yale coach) for his years of service to USATF on all levels. Among other things, he was a guiding light in the founding of the Long Island Association of USATF, once it determined to secede from the Metropolitan Association, and carve out its own new path in the sport.


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