Growing up in Plymouth, Massachusetts in the early 40s through the early 50s was a very special experience for a black male who had started life in the deep South ( Florida ). There are many things that experience that influenced and impacted my life, but the one thing I want to focus in on now is the fact that if you were black and could place one foot in front of the other without falling down, it was assumed that you were going to excel at sports. Being a black male that desperately wanted to “fit in” and “integrate” I allowed myself to be swept up in the demands and expectations of others. But there were even limits on the degree that I would totally comply and conform. I insisted on being the quarterback on the football team and the point guard on the basketball team. These positions were typically, and almost totally, reserved for white athletes who it was assumed were “smarter” than black athletes who were, of course, more “natural”. Refusing to give into the typecasting was my quiet method of rebellion and revolt and the cause of my not staying with football and basketball when I went off to college where the quarterback and point guard positions were strictly off limits for blacks. But this is really not a “race” piece it has to do with the fact that I centered and focused my energies on track and field because I had to deal with less prejudice and could/would deal more intimately with raw reality. At its core, track and field is very cold, objective, and real. You either ran 10 flat,…. or you didn’t. There is no room for excusing subpar results because of the failures of others who did not do their job. The line didn’t block, or the point guard didn’t get me the ball at the right time, are the kinds of excuses than can be offered in sports where we depend on others to make us look good. In track and field it is you against the science of the sport. The science of the sport is cold and without compassion. Sir Isaac Newton really does not care what your gender, color,  or heritage happens to be. You either effectively applied force ( mass x acceleration ) in the right amount, and at the right angle or you didn’t. There really is no in-the-middle, or “grey areas”. Reality and objectivity cuts to the bone,…. and excuses do not cut it at all. Lauryn Williams lost the 100 meters at the 2007 World Championships by one thousandth of a second. It gets down to something as finite and definite as that. Where is the wiggle room ?
Too many of us ( coaches and athletes ) get too deeply involved in chasing the ghosts in the sport. We are too prone to make allowances and excuses for not measuring up to expectations and demands for excellence. We create and generate “boogey men” and ghosts to medicate and sedate ourselves against the harsh reality of failure or less than satisfying success. What a grand waste !!! Too many of us make ourselves too comfortable and complacent,… wallowing and basking in the hot tub of mediocrity. Why so harsh an assessment and accusation ?  Because the reality involved in making excuses never leads to real excellence and total potential realization and accomplishment. Coaches and athletes both are often guilty of finding ways to deny themselves very attainable and doable deeds because they refuse to grasp and grapple with the difficulty that comes with accepting raw reality and the challenges that comes from this acceptance.
What is the justification and explanation for so harsh an accusation against the practitioners and participants of our sport ?  It is staring and glaring right at us. It is presented to us with startling clarity and consistency, yet most of us refuse to recognize this reality  for what it is. Up until 2008, anyone running 10 seconds for the 100 meters was considered to have “made the cut” for excellence. Anything under 9.8 seconds for the 100 meters was considered very fast. At least that was the case until Usain Bolt, bolted to 9.69 in his fourth race over a two day period at the 2008 Olympics in Beijing, China,… making it look like child’s play and ridiculously easy. This fell on the heels of Tyson Gay running 9.68 windy at the U.S. Olympic Trials. In 2009, Tyson was able to improve on his 9.68 windy despite the fact that he had a serious sports hernia. So what does Tyson’s and Bolt’s times indicate,… especially when we consider the circumstances under which they achieved them ?    They simply make the statement that what seems almost unattainable today ( the world record, for example ),….becomes ordinary tomorrow. It is just a question of time. The world record holder compresses time down and gets there before the rest of us. At some time in the future very ordinary people will equal what was considered unattainable and extra ordinary in the past. But only coaches and athletes that are willing to take on this reality will make that quantum leap NOW, rather than at some comfortable time in the future. Marilynn Neuville from Jamaica held the world record for 400 meters at the 1972 Olympics in Munich, Germany at 51 seconds flat. Novlene Williams, also from Jamaica, ran sub 50 seconds in her semi-final and final 400 at the 2009 World Championships in Berlin, Germany and finished 4th !!!
So the attraction of track and field for me is the cold hard, harsh, nasty reality that we do not have to “hold open” positions for certain people ( black people in certain events and whites in others ). What an insufferable insult to the science involved in what we do.  We do not have to hold back in our demands and expectations on the coaches and athletes that are participating within the sport. What we have to do is to “keep it real” and not compromise and accept mediocrity. We should not complain because the demands are so high for now. We have to realize that the pain of failure is not the same as defeat. Failure is food for success when properly seen and understood.  What we need to do is to embrace and celebrate what is yet out there to be accomplished and the accompanying difficulties and hurt that maybe involved in achieving it .
One of the people I admire most in the sport is Bobby Kersee. Bobby coaches his people to win. I have heard too many coaches and athletes talk about how great it would be to make the finals. Kersee has one goal, and one goal only and that is that the athletes he coaches be the best they can be. The high level of expectations and demands he makes on athletes he coaches was manifested in the results of the 2008 Olympic 100 meter hurdles for women. In 2008 Bobby was working with four female hurdlers:
Joanna Hayes – 2004 Olympic Champion
Michelle Perry – 2008 Olympic Champion
Virginia Powell – 2007 NCAA Champion and U.S. National Team member.
Dawn Harper – NCAA All-American from UCLA
Harper, who most considered the fourth hurdler in her training group, won the 2008 Olympic Games ! Why ? Because he only coaches athletes to win at the highest level no matter their standing and status within the training camp. All the athletes he coaches are treated equally in that they are all expected to perform at the highest levels no matter what. No compromises, no excuses, just the raw reality that it is out there to achieve.
Get out your performance telescope and squeeze the two ends together,…… and let reality take over.
Brooks T. Johnson
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