Wilbur – We hear you NOW

Wilbur Ross was probably one of the greatest coaches of track and field of all time. However, at most he will be passed over as a foot note .  Ed Temple at Tennessee State University, with his more than 30 Olympic medals by his Tiger Belles ( Wilma Rudolph, Wyomia Tysus, Willye White, Edith Maguire, Barbara Jones, Eleanor Montgomery, et al ), is probably the greatest in terms of medal production, but in terms of knowledge of the sport and how to coach it, Wilbur Ross stands almost on equal footing. Wilbur will remain in relative obscurity because he had the very unique and special capacity to attract and alienate, almost at the same time, and often in the same sentence and breath.  Wilbur was gifted with a great mind and ego of equal proportions. His obvious and often brilliance,  was accompanied with an obsessive drive to be known, recognized and respected for just how exceptional he was. This,… then and now…., was just not going to happen given his race and rage,….. and brutal candor. Wilbur’s book, THE HURDLER’S BIBLE, was the very first serious book written on the hurdles. It is no coincidence that he designated it as a “bible”, because deep down he felt himself as something of a deity in the sport. Given his personality and grand pronouncements about himself, and caustic criticisms of just about everyone else, the popular response to Wilbur was to simply shut out what he was saying as just so much grandiose grandstanding and self-aggrandizing .

On September 7, 2012 there was an echo of one of  Wilbur’s grandest pronouncements , that was literally “heard around the world” . Aries Merritt ran 12.80 for the 110 meter hurdles in Brussels, Belgium. It is not an easy task to upstage Usain Bolt at the same meet, but Aries accomplished the unthinkable that night, and in doing so affirmed something that Wilbur Ross preached and pronounced to anyone willing to listen more than 30 yeas ago. You see,…. Wilbur, way back then, claimed that the wold record for the 110 hurdles should be 12.75 !!!!!   The time seemed so unattainable to the rest of us, at the time, that it was easy to again dismiss this as just another  one of Wilbur’s ridiculous rants.  Genius is often treated this way by mere mortals and lesser men.

Merritt’s race, for me, does what Bolt”s times in the 100 and 200 should do for everyone, it opens up a reality that has been staring up squarely in the face for decades . That reality is simply that “wold records” are essentially  illusions. What we so willingly accept as the objective measurement of human limits and  performance – “world record” – is essentially not a destination or final stop,….. but rather a signpost pointing in the direction the pathway to progress should be realized and pursued.

David Oliver’s best race segments for the 110 hudles in 2010, when he was undefeated and established a new American record,….. when his best race  segments were combined, they added up to 12.81, so as far back as 2010 it was obvious to both of us that Wilbur was right about the 12.75 mark. So the result of Aries’ race should be something we take special note of. But it should also be an awakening alarm going off as to what is ahead in this event. In many ways we should see a “Back To The Future” phenomenon. We should see us going back to Wilbur Ross and taking what he said seriously and build upon the fact that Aries so dramatically did what was long overdue and more in line with the prediction of a true sage and scholar of the sport. It will not be so easy for the rest of us to dismiss the gift that a long ago genius bestowed and challenged us about.

Brooks T. Johnson

( 407 ) 758 – 0755

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