HONOR – WHERE ART THOU ?

John Smith and I have a friendly competition that we engage in at virtually every major track and field competition. The objective is to be the first person at the competition warm-up venue and the last one to leave.. It is our way of paying respect and honor to the sport that we both love so much,….. and has provided both of us with a very good living over the years. It is a silly thing on one level and so small a gesture that many would dismiss it as frivolous. But that is just the point. By making this statement about our feelings for what we do in such an almost unnoticed manner, in fact magnifies the meaning and signifcance because of the fact that it is not a grand and grandiose, attention generating gesture. But this is not about John and me, what it is about is a couple of people in the sport that most recently were not properly recognized and honored.
I beat John to the warm-up track the first day of the World Championships in Berlin, Germany. As I smugly basked in my small victory over him I watched the athletes disembark off the shuttle buses from the hotels that served as the athletes’ villages. For no special reason my attention wandered to an attractive young lady that I had difficulty matching her up with an event. I  decided that she must be an 800 meter runner because of her physical build. She had on Great Britain gear and slowly walked past where I was sitting  as I frantically tried to place and identify her with an event. John Smith showed up and in my ribbing him about being late, I lost contact with the thoughts about the attractive 800 meter runner from Britain.
Later that morning, glued to the big video board in the warm-up area,  I saw the “800 meter runner” winning her heat of the 100 hurdles of the women’s heptathlon. Her time was the fastest of the day. I watched further as she high jumped, threw the shot and ran  23 and some very small change for the 200. She threw over 14 meters in the shot put in a pressure situation, and looked very sharp in the high jump. The next day Jessica Ennis came out and did a great job in the long jump, javelin, and gutted out the 800 meters. What I saw in her seven events was one of the most impressive performances, individually and collectively, that I have watched in many years. Over that same two day period Usain Bolt and the sprinters were in full swing and virtually all eyes and attention were on them. In the mean time I am marveling to myself about how well this slight young thing was doing in all of those heptathlon events.. I had already seen the USAIN BOLT SHOW and had been duly impressed in Beijing. I was now captivated by what Jessica Ennis was doing.  I was greatly impressed by two things. First of all, I was impressed with how well coached this athlete happened to be. To be able to execute these seven events with such biomechanical and technical superiority, as a coach, was totally mind blowing for me. I was envious as hell of the coach who was able to provide and impart that kind of support to an athlete. Secondly, I was impressed with the competitive composure and poise she displayed as she went about setting a new PB in winning the event. Here was the complete coach and athlete package, coming to fruition at the right time, on the biggest stage of the year.
Wow !!!!
The Brits and the U.S. shared the same village hotel. Tony Lester is one of Britain’s best coaches, if medal count on the international level counts for anything. It doesn’t seem to register that high with his federation’s leadership, but that is another story. I approached Tony and said:
Tony, I want to talk to Jessica Ennis’ coach. Can you arrange it ?
What do you want to speak to him about ?
I want to tell him how impressed I am with the job he has done with Jessica. Her performance was absolutely off the
chart. When you see small people do well, it is usually because they are technically superior to the competition and that
usually is the results of superior coaching. I just want him to know that not everyone was totally caught up with Bolt and
her performance in my eyes was not eclipsed by Bolt. I want him to know that someone out here appreciates
what he has been able to get done.
You know Brooks, he would really appreciate hearing that from someone  like you. He gets a lot of s–t from the federation
people. They see him as a renegade and maverick because he does not march to their beat all the time. He has been her
coach for a very long time and they still think they can tell him how to handle her.
Tony, I really want congratulate him. I am embarassed because I do not even know his name.
He’s not the type that seeks the spotlight so I am not surprised you do not know him. He just does his job and wants to be
left alone to do just that. His name is Tony Minichello.
Later that day Tony brings Jessica’s coach over to meet me in the lobby of the village hotel. After the introductions I said:
Tony, I just want you to know that some of us are aware and appreciate what a great coaching job was reflected in
Jessica’s performance . I, for one, was really caught up in how well she performed and how technically sound she was. To
me that means outstanding coaching. In many ways her performance, and what it says about a coach, rivals what Bolt’s
performance says about a coach. I am perhaps holding a minority view,… but that’s normal for me anyway. Bottom line, it
was one hell of a job and I am pissed and jealous that it was not me.
Brooks, I am a bit embarassed to hear that coming from you, but I am also very pleased to hear it. We work hard and do
not always get supported the way we should. I am not all that popular in some circles, so it really means something when
other coaches comment positively on the work I do.
Tony Minichello and I continued the conversation for a brief period. I was totally impressed with his dedication and commitment to the sport. Like so many others, in all walks of life, he was not getting the recognition and honor in his own house, that he was getting from people on the outside. This is an unfortunate thing, but not unusual. I remember having Coach Ed Temple of Tennessee State come out to lecture at a track and field clinic we were hosting at Stanford University. Coach Temple has coached athletes that have won more than 30 Olympic medals. This is more than any other coach ever,…. in any country. When we were driving back from the airport on the way to Palo Alto, California, in an effort to make samll talk I said:
Coach Temple, I bet you get called on all the time to do clinics and share with people how you have been so successful in
producing Olympic medals.
He let out a small chuckle and I thought he was gently chastising me for inquiring about the obvious. I was struck when he said:
You know Brooks, this is the first clinic I have ever been invited to in the United States. I have been asked to speak in
foreign countries, but never in my olwn country.
Coach, we have track and field “gurus” that speak all over the country at track and field clinics. You have the most
impressive record of success ever i
n the sport. How can it be this is the first time you have ever done a clinic in the U.S. ?
Brooks, sometimes a man cannot count on being honored in his own house.
Brooks T. Johnson
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