JON DRUMMOND STORY
By ELLIOTT DENMAN
DAYTONA BEACH, FLA. – Jon Drummond deserves a huge raise.Then again, his salary
as Team USA relays coach at London’s Games of the XXX Olympiad, was zero, nada, zilch.
So that raise – the one he often laughs about – is impossible.
Maybe the next best thing he deserved was the commendation – and standing
ovation – given him at the gala Opening Ceremony of USA Track and Field’s annual
meeting at the Daytona Hilton.
It was the recognition of his peers – always the best kind – that made it so noteworthy.
Sure it would have been magnificent if Team USA’s men’s and women’s 4×100 and
4×400, all of them, had collected gold medals – as they once did routinely at the Games –
but in this increasingly competitive world they still did themselves incredibly
proud with standout performances in each of their baton tests.
America’s women struck gold twice and the American men came home
with silvers. Along the way, they claimed one world record (the women’s 40.82 4×100)
and two American best-evers (the men’s 37.04 4×100 plus the women ‘s 40.82.)
Thus,for the first time since 1996, all four USA units reached the podium.
And most importantly, there were no major breakdowns in the baton-passing department.
They got the stick around the track, they performed brilliantly, they ran
their hearts out. And that’s about all anyone can ever ask.
“It wasn’t like all these athletes hadn’t run relays before,” said Drummond,
in a sit-down interview. “They all had run on
teams, with one another, at some point. What I wanted to do was take out the
politics and distractions that had inadvertently
caused some of the problems in the past.
“We’ve had some great coaching and great programs under coach Brooks Johnson
in the past. One of the problems was that there was always some tug-tug-of-war,
some conflict from one athlete to another, or between agents and athletes, and
agents and coaches, whatever.
“Having been around the process for a while, and been mentored by Brooks
and Orin (Richburg) and those who came before me, I just took the great things they
had done and added my own my own little elements, and communicated that to the team.
” Instead of being a dictator to the athletes, I gave them the opportunity to
“We had several meetings where we just talked among ourselves
and got rid of the things that would cause tensions or problems.
“We know that our teams always self-select, meaning that things happen until
that very last day.
“I don’t care how you think it’s going to be, some things can change by
the time you get to the track.
“So I put it to all of them. I told them what we were looking for, what would
qualify you, what would disqualify you; things like poor practice skills,
poor attitude, not being able to handle the stick, not showing fitness
either giving the stick or passing the stick.
“Or maybe just panicking under pressure. Even discussing what happened during
relay practice after relay practice.
“Absolutely, honestly, it all factored in.
“This had to be our secret. I didn’t want to leak the order (of running)
until the day before, or the day of(the race), so no one else (opposing teams)
could make their own changes.”
Drummond drummed his message into all his runners: “Really, this is a war.”
“I told them ‘no tweeting, no facebooking, any of this information.,
“I looked at everything. We showed athletes their shortcomings, so now athletes
couldn’t say I was making
political decisions. I could show them why they did poorly one day, and if
they didn’t correct it the next day then
we had to move on to the next person. We didn’t have time to teach.
They had to know what to do.”
Pre-Olympic relay work at the Florida Relays, Texas Relays, Mount San Antonio
(Mount Sac) College and Penn Relays, involving many of the leading candidates,
got much of the preliminary work done.
Following the Trials in Eugene, a pre-Olympic training camp in Monaco, followed
by action in the Herculis meet, prepped the runners for London.
And that was the scenario heading into late July.
Some past critics had said U.S. teams (especially the 4x100s) should
run the same personnel in both semifinals and finals, rather
than risk potential botch-ups.
“I didn’t agree with that, not at all,” said Drummond.
“We had six people in the pool (for each race.)
” I felt that all six should have the opportunity to win a medal.
I had my confidence, if some others didn’t.
“They knew what they had to do. They knew what it would mean
if they didn’t get it done . They had seen what had happened before.
They had seen the mistakes people had made. They weren’t going to repeat any
“They had the utmost confidence in themselves, I helped put it there, and they gave
me the confidence it could get done.”
And so they did.
Tianna Madison, Allyson Felix, Bianca Knight and Carmelita Jeter blazed
to their 40.82 WR in the women’ 4×100,
the long-standing WR by East Germany (41.37 in 1983) by a huge 55/100ths of
a second, with Jamaica a not-close second in 41.41. All after a 41.64 USA semifinal
And it was Deedee Trotter, Felix, Francena McCorory and Sanya Richards-Ross
racing off with the 4×400 crown
In 3:16.87, absolutely routing Russia (3:20.23) and Jamaica (3:20.95.)
Sure the U.S. 4×100 men couldn’t hold off Jamaica (which cut the WR to 36.84)
but they got into the books anyway.
All Trell Kimmons-Justin Gatlin-Tyson Gay-Ryan Bailey did was smash the AR down to
37.04. That after a 37.38
With ultimate difficulty – LaShawn Merritt and Jeremy Wariner both injured and out –
the U.S. cobbled together a men’s 4×400 that did run a solid 2:57.05.
But Bryson Nellum-Josh Mance-Tony McQuay-Angelo Taylor
just couldn’t fight off an inspired Bahamas team that got to the wire in 2:56.72.
Really, though, it was the heroic performance of Manteo Mitchell in the semis that
put the silvers in the U.S. column a day later.
All Mitchell did was run the opening leg of the semis on a broken left fibula.
“LaShawn (Merritt) was already down and Jeremy (Wariner) had this weird accident in
practice,” said Drummond.
“Then Manteo broke his leg in the (semifinal) round. Yet he still finished.
“The funny thing about it is he texted me after the race, he said ‘coach I’m fine,
it was just a cramp.’
“Then I got the call from the doctor telling me Manteo’s leg was fractured.
“Well, stuff like that happens at the Olympics. I just hope everybody appreciates
what Manteo did.
“So then we had to be ready to change it up one more time.”
Drummond lined up his 4×400 team this way: Nellum-Nance-McQuay-Taylor,
basically three rising talents and one superstar vet.
The critics emerged again after this one. They didn’t like the idea of Taylor
(the 2000 and 2008 Olympic 400 hurdles king who hadn’t medaled in his individual
race this time) getting anchor responsibility. They thought that, with everything
on the line, younger legs might better serve the nation.
“Baloney,” was Drummond’s basic response.
“Angelo was the most seasoned veteran on the team. We always thought
he was strong enough, fast enough, experienced enough.
“And he was. Only thing was that the Bahamas kids ran the race of their lives.
“I know you can’t win ’em all, but I hated being the first American coach
(since the boycott year of 1980, anyway) not to win the 4×4.”
When the final relay was run, when the Games at last reached their own finish line,
Drummond said “it was an awe-inspiring moment, it was very fulfilling. I had to say
I had fulfilled my destiny,I had gone to the Olympics as an athlete, I had coached
athletes who’d gone to the Olympics (notably Gay in 2008.)
And now I’d coached athletes to (relay) medals and records.”
“I would say, yes I was fulfilled.”
“It was a grandiose moment, not so much for me but for these guys, the athletes.”
Never shy about expressing an opinion – remember his refusal to leave the track
after his still-argued false-start DQ at the 2003 World Championships? – Drummond
” Having the weight of the lack of (4×100) success that we had had in the past,
we wanted to change things and we definitely did.
“We needed to change the dynamic. They (the athletes) needed it,
the country needed it.
“But so many people were critics, not realizing what it would take.
“Sure, it was easy to say ‘anybody can do it, anybody can do it,’
“But you know what? Anybody couldn’t do it, because it wasn’t getting done.
“The reality was that I told them they could do it, and they were going to do it.
“We worked to fix a lot of things. We upgraded the things that needed upgrading.
And we adjusted the things that needed adjustment.
“We told the athletes to check their egos at the door. I told them I’d rather run four
slow(er) people with great attitude.
“As an American, I know that failure is not part of the genetic makeup of the United
States. We like to win.
“We like to be victorious in any battle we go into.
“I can’t say what happened in the past. You just must know you can’t take
anything for granted
“If you’re running a relay, and you’re wearing a USA uniform, you have
to face the reality,
that you’re not running for yourself, that you’re really running this
for everyone at home, for everybody
in the United States of America. When we fail, we’e failing the country.
“We are America’s team.
“We weren’t going to let the things that happened in the past happen again.
“They finally brought down that thing that was hanging over their heads.
“They were very courageous and an exceptional group of athletes.”
Drummond would like to continue his work with U.S. relay teams at future editions
of the world’s biggest meets.
“Sure I’ll do it,” he said.
“That is, if they want me.”
Beyond his relay coaching duties, Drummond, a graduate of Philadelphia’s
Overbrook High School and TCU,
juggles dual careers.
In the Dallas-Fort Worth area, he directs a high-performance training program for
And he commutes back to Philadelphia every two weeks to serve as pastor of
the Noville Memorial Church.
That’s Jon Drummond for you – forever on call in some of life’s fastest lanes.