Batman To Fly Again
Irrepressible Bershawn Jackson Vows Full Recovery
October 6, 2013
Mention “Batman” and most people might think of Michael Keaton, Val Kilmer, George Clooney, or Christian Bales – all of whom have portrayed the Caped Crusader on the silver screen. And if you are an older geezer, you might even think of Adam West who played the fictional crime fighter in the “Batman” TV series back in the ’60’s. But if you are dyed-in-the-wool track & field fan, your thoughts turn to decorated 400 meter hurdler Bershawn “Batman” Jackson.
“When I was kid, they said I had big ears and I flew when I ran,” smiles Jackson as he explains how his nickname emerged. “Back then, of course, I hated it. I ain’t no bat,” chuckles Jackson. “It was so bad that after a while no one knew my real name!” he laughs. “It is ironic that the three people on my track club who were the cause of it – Tiffany Ross Williams, Sanya Richards Ross, and Walter Dix – would later become track professionals as I did.” Now a seasoned pro, Jackson, 30, has learned to enjoy his distinctive moniker. “I don’t hate it now. It is a blessing for someone to know you for something positive,” offers Jackson. “And it is catchy. And it is nothing I made up after I turned professional. It followed me as a kid up to now.” The hurdle star now embraces the dark theme, even confessing to purchasing a “Batmobile.” “It’s a Cadillac Escalade. All black,” he smiles. “I purchased it when I first turned pro.”
Bershawn Jackson can be playful with his Batman theme. But when he thinks where he has been, he thanks his lucky stars for track & field and his exposure to it at an early age. “My parents weren’t wealthy. I came from a nasty background. I grew up in the hood around drugs and crime,” Jackson candidly reveals. But the young Jackson soon discovered he had track & field talent. Running his first hurdle race on a lark at age 12, Jackson won. He was hooked. Before long a local benefactor noticed the rising star and provided him with the support to develop his skills and open doors of opportunity. “Jesse Holt took me under his wing and paid for all of my meets. He took me off the streets.”
Hurdling came easily for Jackson and so did success. After some earlier national high school victories and a bronze medal in the world junior 400H, in 2003 Jackson captured the USATF outdoor 400H title at the age of 20. “In my career, everything came so easy,” Jackson confides. And so it did. In 2005, Jackson – still only 22 – won the world championship gold medal in the 400H and was ranked #1 in the world. Batman now has a bushel full of additional championship medals including 3 world championship golds from the USA’s ’07, ’09, and ’11 4 x 400 relay wins, a 400H bronze from the ’09 world championships, and a 400H bronze from the ’08 Olympic Games. Citing his consistency, Jackson notes, “I’ve never really had a bad season.” He’s right. Over the past decade, Jackson has an unbroken string of annual top ten world rankings – twice topping the list [2005 and 2010].
It is difficult to name a track & field athlete who has never encountered adversity. And Batman is no exception. In the 2012 Olympic Trials 400H final, disaster struck as Jackson rounded the Bowerman curve just 100 meters from making his second Olympic team. “I was in third place coming down the homestretch. My 9th hurdle got crashed by Angelo Taylor. And when he crashed the hurdle, I went high over the 9th hurdle because the hurdle was rocking back up on me. It broke my momentum. So I over-strided to make the 10th hurdle and it took away from my speed. So I crashed the 10th hurdle because it was too far away from my takeoff. [Kerron] Clement caught me and I took 4th,” explains Jackson, who missed making the Olympic team by .05 seconds. “And that was one of the most down times of my career. I had never been so hurt in my life. And to this day, no one has ever explained to me why Angelo wasn’t DQ’d for crashing my hurdle.” Unacquainted with failure on the track, Jackson had difficulty coping. “I cried and I cried and I cried. I had worked hard for that one moment. I was in the best shape of my life. In the semis, I let up at the 8th hurdle, was absolutely jogging the last 100, and still ran 48.83.” Unable to overcome his despondency in missing the Olympic team, Jackson abandoned the European circuit and raced no more in 2012. Despite his self-imposed exile, Jackson still rang up his 10th consecutive top-ten 400H world ranking.
As 2013 opened, Jackson had channeled his disappointment into a personal quest for redemption. But further challenges emerged. At February’s indoor nationals, Jackson tore his right hamstring running the open 400 final. It would prove to be an injury that would plague him the entire year. “In my opinion, I tried to come back too fast. In not making the Olympic team last year, I felt like I had something to prove. Instead of just getting the hamstring back strong, I took off just about a month to rehab and then I started competing again outdoors.” Having aggravated the recovering hamstring again just weeks before the national championship meet where the world championship roster would be assembled, Jackson arrived in Des Moines undertrained, nursing a damaged trail leg, and lacking in confidence. Jackson’s coaching brain trust – George Williams and Curtis Frye – questioned whether their athlete – unprepared on so many levels – should even compete. Jackson would have none of it. Gingerly advancing through the rounds, Jackson once again found himself in the 400H final. As the final unfolded, Bershawn came off the final curve – like the OT Trials a year earlier – in the hunt for a team spot. “I was 5th coming off the final curve. In that last 100, the only thought going through my head was ‘I am not going to let this happen again.’ I took a deep breath and I dug in. I gave it everything I had. I quickly moved into 4th and then I caught Johnny Dutch going over the 10th hurdle. One of my advantages is my speed. If my momentum is going, my speed can carry me. My speed prevailed in Des Moines and I finished 3rd.”
After making the team, a rejuvenated Jackson was upbeat about his medal chances in Moscow. “I thought ‘If I can make this team with no training, I am going to be a power in Moscow.’ I just knew I had a good shot to get a gold medal. I had another six weeks to train, to get healthy, and get prepared mentally.” But Jackson’s weak and unhealed hamstring would not cooperate. Reinjured yet again shortly after Jackson’s arrival in Russia, his trail leg made it through the first round but gave out in the semis as Jackson collapsed after clearing two hurdles.
Now back home in Raleigh, North Carolina, Jackson has been hitting the weight room – devoted to strengthening that now-healed right hamstring. “This is my first year in the weight room,” admits the hurdler while acknowledging this blind spot in his prior training regimen. “So I’m finally going to the weight room and finally getting some strength. With this, I’ll have a lot more I can put out on the track.” Thoughtful weight work leading to a strong and reliable hamstring could be the difference between another season dotted with disappointment and injury and a season which heralds Batman’s return to pinnacle performances.
More than ev
er, Bershawn Jackson is committed to recover fully and reestablish himself as one of the world leaders in the 400 meter hurdles. “My vision for 2014 is to get back to where I was. The last two years have been a struggle big time. I never thought it would be hard for me to get into a race. My whole career I have never not been top 3 or 4 in the world – except last year when I stopped competing when I was hurt, heart-broken, and just stopped running. And this season, I got injured. This coming season  I just want to prove to myself that I am still relevant; I still can run 47s like I used to; and that a 5’7″ hurdler can still compete. This is my time to show everyone that the Batman Era is not over.”
While Jackson works diligently to get stronger and to craft his plan for next year’s redemption, he can be comforted in knowing his legion of fans – call them Batman Nation – are pulling for his full recovery. No need for them to send the Bat-Signal to illuminate the nighttime sky, to implore Jackson to return. Bershawn “Batman” Jackson – track & field’s Dark Knight – has already launched his mission: a quest to return in 2014 healed, fit, and ready to race the 400 meter hurdles better than ever.