David Hunter represented RunBlogRun at Sacramento for the USATF Presser. I love those pressers, as they nearly always have gem athletes who understand that the track media needs their insights to help build the sport. Tianna Bartoletta, Clayton Murphy, Emma Coburn and Ronnie Baker are four wonderful athletes who add to the sport of athletics. Here’s David’s feature on this fabulous four!
June 21st, 2017
On the eve of the 2017 USATF outdoor championships, a pre-meet press conference was held at the Sacramento Grand Hotel. It was an opportunity for 4 of the nation’s most accomplished track & field athletes to offer insights on their upcoming competitions and to field questions from a packed conference room of journalists. Here is what each had to say:
Tianna Bartoletta / 3-time Olympic Gold medalist / 2-time world championship gold medalist / Lead off runner of USA’s Olympic gold medal winning and world-record setting 4x100m relay.
- How she views these upcoming national championships and a possible berth on yet another world championship team: “The preparation I follow will be my usual thing. My advantage in the long jump is my speed. I typically am just a sprinter. If you were to come to one of my practices, you would just see a sprinter. You would rarely ever catch me in a jumps workout. So the preparation is the same. I just make sure I am fit in the body and for the rounds. The most important thing ahead of a meet like this is to be mentally prepared. And that is everything from the scheduling, how am I am going to feel, rehydration, and making sure my body recovers well. Other than that, I need to be busy and to compete in every single day of the championships. And I look forward to it. And I do have that automatic bye [into the world championships.] and the pressure is a little less. But that doesn’t mean I’m not interested in winning.”
- On her first-ever recognition as the USATF Athlete of the Week: “Super psyched! Also this is the first time I have ever been featured on a [USATF event] poster. Winning life this week!
- How she views this 2017 season to date: This is my 12th year as a professional. I think you have kind of learned that I tend to meander through the season until I get to a championship meet or the Trials. And then I drop the hammer because it is time to go to work. So to win a Diamond League [her LJ win in Oslo] earlier than typical, I was very excited about it. I demonstrated a fitness and a consistency in the rounds that I didn’t really have last year. So I am excited and encouraged – not just by that Diamond League victory, but also by the progress I have been showing ahead of London because it is not going to be easy to defend the title. That is the hardest thing in the world to do. I know because I have lost the world title and it is not a good thing. And it is not something that I am interested in doing again. So I need to make sure I am ready.”
- Her response when asked if she could outline her pre-race mental preparation: “No I cannot – because people can use it against me. And I am determined to make this team. The most important thing is you honestly have to believe in it – it is really crucial. You just have to believe. You to have to enter every meet believing this is your one opportunity to make it happen and that you can make it happen. And no matter how many teams you make, this team is here, and this is the hardest team to make. Once you get this, London will feel like a breeze because you’ve made it. You have to just to be willing to take a shot and to find a way to get rid of self-doubt.”
- How she views the oppressive heat: “The hottest meet I’ve ever been in was in Doha, Qatar. In dangerous times with temperatures like this one, I am the one who has to make sure I stay hydrated. And it is difficult because you don’t really want 16 to 32 ounces of water sloshing around in your stomach when you are trying to prepare for a race. But it is necessary. And it is necessary to consume some electrolyte because cramping is a real issue. And when you finally get to 60 meters and you need to hit a new gear, that’s when you have to pay the piper if you do not do the proper hydration. You have to be a little more deliberate. You’re here for a job. Everyone is in the same position. And if that is what you are worried about when you get on the line, you are defeated already. There is not much you can do [about the dangerously high temperatures]. You control what you can control.”
Clayton Murphy / 800 meter Olympic bronze medalist / Reigning 800 meter Pan-American Games gold medalist / Anchored USA’s winning 4×800 relay to gold medal performance at 2017 World Relay Championships / world leading time [1:43.60] in 800 meters:
- His thoughts on his announced plan to race in both the 800m and 1500m: “It’s been almost like high school again – an event every day. Logistic-wise, it is scheduling out messages, hydration, when you are going to the track and when you’re coming back from the track. It is the little things that you have to control. You can’t control the outcome, but you can control what you put into it. It’s all about setting myself up for success this weekend.
- Looking ahead to the 800 meter competition: “”It’s going to fun to race Donovan [Brazier] hopefully in the final this week. It would be nice to be on the team with Donovan. But we’ll see what it comes down to in Sunday’s race. There a lot of guys who have run the standard. There are Isaiah [Harris] and Joe [White] – the young guns, Drew Windle, Erik Sowinski, and Cas [Loxsom] – a sincerely talented 800m group. I think it [the 800m] is the hardest event in track to make the final in. It’s the only event that is not run in lanes and yet only 8 guys make the final. To make the final is tough enough, let alone to make the team. So you take it round by round and just go through it and try to win each round. It’s an open ball game really. In Rio, if someone at a press conference there was asked if I was competitive for a medal, no one would have mentioned my name. So I am not going to mention anyone as non-competitive to make this team because you never know.”
- His skills in both the 800m and the 1500m: “Ever since I came to school [University of Akron] with coach Labadie, we started out with the mile and kind of did the 800 as a type of training for the mile. It [the 800m] became successful. But we never really put full focus on the 8. We always trained like a 15 guy. And that’s what I think gives me the aerobic strength to get through this week. I almost train more like a 5K/15 guy than a 8/15. It kind of gives me the aerobic strength to get through the rounds and the 5 races don’t scare me at that point. I’ve done workouts that are way tougher than tomorrow’s races.
- How he plans to deal with the punishing weather conditions: “I think you have to approach it knowing every athlete has to run it. It doesn’t matter if you’re long jumping, running the 100, or running the 10,000; you’re still running in the heat. You have to prepare for it however you have prepared for it the last month: mentally, physically. My preparations have to try to get adjusted to it, work out around the race times, and try to stay adjusted to the heat. I’m going to use the cooling vest to try and stay cool, keep layered up, stay out of the sun, show up on race day, and as soon as the race is over get out of the sun, and get back to the hotel. There’s not a whole lot you can do, so you have to just deal with it. So just go with the flow and when it’s time to race – just race and get out.”
Emma Coburn / Steeplechase Olympic bronze medalist / 2-time Olympian / 5-time USA champion / Steeplechase American record holder
- Her approach to this championship season: “I usually open up at Pre or even USA’s some years. I feel like I am the fittest I’ve ever been. At this point of the year, I feel like I still have good upside if I do make the team. I still have some upside for the summer still. So I’m excited. And I’m just trying to get out there and do what I have done in the past and hopefully come away with title #6 – and at a minimum just be top 3.”
- Her pre-race mindset before competition: “Diamond League races are different that USA champs for sure because at the Diamond League [Pre] with Kenyans way ahead of me, I was just trying to grind away. And once someone wins they stop the finishing clock at their time so I had no idea the last 100 I was that close. So that race is more of just grinding it out, often alone. And the USA championships are always about finding the right tactic for the people I’m racing against, the conditions that day, and then executing that plan exactly as you had intended. And especially when we are running in weather like this, we have to be a little bit more careful how you choose to do it. I’m looking forward to it.”
- Is over-confidence an issue given her domestic domination in the steeplechase? The steeplechase is a wonderful event and a horrible event because with the barriers anything can happen on any given day. I hope that doesn’t happen. But that keeps me guarded and really focused on the task at hand. I’m never over-confident because the nature of the event keeps you on guard the whole time. I feel I am ready, but I am not over-confident or taking it easy.”
- Her views on the elevated temperatures here: “I hate the heat. I love 60 degrees. If I can be in shorts and a long sleeve, that’s my favorite type of training weather. But the reality is that people train often in the middle of the day at USA championships and Diamond League. So I’ve had many experiences racing in the heat. I’ve been doing it for a while so I know the preparations that I need to take. And as long as I prepare well and take all of those precautions, I can do pretty well. In Rio, I ran at noon in 92 degrees. I was told later the hottest hour in Rio for the whole month of August [was during my final]. I’m used to it and I think I can do well in [the hot conditions].
Ronnie Baker / 2017 Indoor 60 Meter Champion / Member of USA winning 4x100m relay team at 2017 World Relay Championships / WL 9.82 in winning Pre Meet 100 meters
- His thoughts on attempting to make his first USA world team: “With the season I’ve had, it’s been surprising to me – especially winning Pre. As far as coming into this meet wanting to make the world team, it’s kind of a dream for me, really – being my first year out of college, and the things that I’ve done so far. I’m trying to keep everything kind of the same. The things I did in college seem to work. Me and my coach have been doing the same exact thing we’ve been doing over the past four years. Just staying consistent is my biggest thing for this week.”
- What he expects of himself this coming weekend: “”I know I know what I can run. I’ve talked with my coach and seen the numbers. For myself, I want to be in the top 3. We can’t come here and not expect to be in the top 3. There’s no way you can be in the top 3 in the nation and not expect to do that. The beauty about these championships is that anything can happen. The way we choose this team, on any given day anyone can show up. That’s why you can’t be too confident about it. I just need stay focused and come to do what I’ve done all season.”
Given the sobering threat this weekend’s weather poses for these athletes, perhaps a light-hearted closing anecdote is in order. In 2004, Sacramento – notorious for its sweltering summers – hosted the USA Olympic Track & Field Trials. Each day, hearty track & field fans braved the oven-like conditions and packed roofless Hornet Stadium to witness the spirited competition. On one particularly brutal afternoon, a most unusual and somewhat humorous incident occurred. A blimp – captained by a mischievous pilot – was making repeated aerial crossings above the stadium, casting a moving shadow upon the seated throng below. Audible gasps and momentary sighs of relief could be heard as the blimp’s ambulatory shadow grazed the unsuspecting crowd, offering temporary relief to suffering fans and creating a sort of “audio wave” as the shadow moved across the stadium. Given the dry and broiling weather forecast for the coming weekend with temperatures well into the 100’s, a return of similar aerial hijinks would likely be welcomed once again. Dave Hunter