By ELLIOTT DENMAN
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
"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,
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
+ 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
+ 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.