ICONIC INFLUENCE – A NOD TO WILBUR ROSS AND ISRAEL “CACHAO” LOPEZ

It is amazing how quickly a coach like me can go from a complete ” know nothing” to being a near genius. The very same people who were seriously questioning my competence and coaching ability in 2008, now are  asking me for answers  and advice as a result of the success of one athlete with whom I work,…. David Oliver. Undefeated in all of his 15, 110 hurdle races this summer, and coming within two hundreths of a second of the world record, while tying and breaking the American record, David was a top candidate for ” IAAF Athlete Of The Year” until the 800 meter world record was broken  twice. For me, the 110 hurdles are the most technically demanding event in track and field . There are no other events in the sport where you have to be on your best technical game ten times at velocity. There may be events where you have to be highly technical for three or four revolutions ( hammer ), or two turns ( discus ) or three bounds ( triple jump ) at higher velocities than the hurdles, but the accumulative demands made over ten hurdles tops the other events. Bottom line, because of the qualitative and quantitative technical demands  required by the event, I take a great deal of pride in working with the #1 men’s hurdler, and arguably the #3 men’s hurdler ( Dwight Thomas ) for 2010. Despite this pride, I must admit that the credit for most of what was imparted to these athletes by me came from a people that only knowledgeable “old timers” are aware of. Below is my response to the many requests I have gotten as a result of my newly “elevated”  intellectual and technical competence as a coach, especially as it relates to the hurdles.

First of all there needs to exist a firm and well grounded idea and concept of just exactly what the the event in question happens to be, and what and how is the best way to address getting good results from it.  Simply and profoundly, the hurdles are merely a sprint interupted. Like all events in track and field, the basic challenge is to devise a methodology and approach that will allow the center of gravity of a person or object, to get from one point in time and space, to another point in time and space, in the Least Elapsed Time ( LET ).  The challenge is the very same for a competitive marathon,  javelin throw, triple jump, or sprints. LET being the ultimate objective in all track and field events, then we can apply certain LET centered rules and approach concepts to all events in track and field. The approach and methodology I employ is as follows:

The first thing that has to take place is the ATHLETIC component and positioning of the movement(s) under consideration. This is where biomechanics and physics are most critical. Sir Isaac Newton , and his basic laws of motion, are  a coach’s best friend at this point.

The second phase of teaching/coaching the event is the BALLETTIC aspect of the event. How can the athlete take the ATHLETIC demands and movements of the event  and turn them into creative and artistic activity based upon the gifts of that individual athlete. If the athlete is successful at combining both the ATHLETIC ( science ) and BALLETIC ( creative ) aspect of the event with her/his own individual gifts, then there will emerge a “style” that is based upon sound and productive principals. Too often we see athletes with “styles” that are shallow and cosmetic and offer no real contribution to ultimate success within the event,……but often go a long way to establish that person as “different” in a cheap way they find somewhat satisfying to an over-riding need for attention at all costs.

Once the ATHLETIC ( science ) and BALLETIC ( creative ) aspects of the event are in some acceptable and consistent order, then we need to consider how we can best bring about the BALLISTIC ( velocity/speed ) phase into productive play. Since we have already established that LET is the #1 prioirity in the sport, this is the final but most crucial element in the triad and trilogy of ATHLETIC – BALLETIC – BALLISTIC .

I hear the term “genius” thrown around much too loosely. When a wide receiver in football or a baseball player makes a tough catch, or some other impressive feat or  performance, announcers limited by vocabulary and command of the language, will call this effort “genius”. I prefer to limit the term to what THE RANDOM HOUSE DICTIONARY OF THE ENGLISH LANGUAGE offers: ” GENIUS – 1. an exceptional natural capacity of intellect, especially as shown in creative and  original work in art, music, etc.” 

It is obvious I have gone to considerable lengths to set up the fact that “genius” is not a word to be used lightly or flippantly. So when I describe Wilbur Ross as a genius, then it should mean something. For those people who really want to learn something about how and what to teach hurdlers, you will hasten on-line and get his book, HURDLERS’ BIBLE.  I have very little else to offer on this level than what is in that book. What I have been successful in doing , however, is taking Wilbur’s ideas and concepts, marry them with basic Newtonian laws of motion, and teach them to the people with whom I work.

Israel “Cachao” Lopez was a musical icon and genius,  at first for Cuban danzones and later for all carribean based, and later again, other latin music as well. Being a bass player who was well schooled as a classical musician, he had a technical command of his intrument and understood arcane and esoteric harmonies. But over and above that he felt and understood rhythmns and beats that originally came from Africa. As he wove these harmonies and beats together he was able to move from danzones to father Mambo, and later Cha-Cha-Cha.  He was a a seminal force as a performer, influence and innovator right up until his death at age  89 in 2007. ( listen to Carlos Santana’s “Oye Como Vai ” one of Cachao’s originals “contemporized”). In a story he relates how he and other Cuban musicians and percussionists would go up into the hills around Havana and just play non-stop for a weekend. He marveled at how some time each percussionist was playing a different rhythmn and accenting a different beat, yet they musicians were creative enough to make it all “come out right”.   One of the aspects of his genius was the ability to synthesize and integrate these various and myriad rhythmns and harmonies in such a fashion so it all ” came out right”. He relates that he could hear something similar when he stood on the flatform between cars of a speeding train. Every time the wheel rolled over the crack in the rails, there was an accent to the beat and rhythmn . At the very same time there were other rhythmns and sounds emantating from the train’s movement and they all came together and “came out right”. It is this phenomenon(a) that a good coach of the hurdles must master. That is to hear and feel different rhythmns with different accents and get the athlete to feel and employ these rhythmns as well. Often times I turn my back on the hurdles and listen to the rhythmn and time between each step to the hurdle and the pause and musical “rest” over the hurdle. I can “hear” what is good or bad, because I know what rhythmns  and accents to listen for .     

In something of an aside, I do not think it is totally a coincidence that some of the very best hurdlers and sprinters in the world come from the Carribbean, or have Carriribbean roots,  where the purest African rhythmn forms, outside of Africa, are synthesized with other creative forces brought about by the creative needs there to succeed. Before the pootbutts and “haters” get off on calling me racist or Carribbean-centric, let me hasten to say that the rhythmns are critical, but even more critical is the unique cultural and survival demands that require extra creative skills and  synthesizing. Any culture is capable of producing the above.  If you watch Stephan Holm in the high jump he had it.   The question and issue revolves around what cultures demand and expand it most  as a way of life and has it carried over into sport. Again, as in hurdling itself, the emphasis for success has to be made on what is accented and what is under-valued and omitted. Any culture  that produces the proper accent can produce the superior product.

I do not have time to proofread this ( have to pick up my son from school ). Even if I did have time, I still can not get the damned “spellcheck” to work.

Thanks.

Brooks T. Johnson

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