MORE MOSCOW MEMORIES

Bill Thomson and I once drove his Volkswagen mini-bus from Newark, Delaware to Chicago, Illinois and back,… some of it through an Indiana/Ohio snow storm, loaded with athletes that we were taking to the University of Chicago Track Club pre-Christmas track meet. In those days ( late 60s ) there were not that many opportunities to run on 220 yard tracks, and despite the drive, we did not want to miss the chance to see the athletes really open up on a good surface. Bill was also on the 1973 U.S. vs Russia team that competed in Russia, reading the last blog caused certain memories about that Moscow trip to come back to him. For example, he recalled the lines on the outdoor track being painted by hand by women on their hands and knees with very small brushes. He recalled the fact that despite the very adversarial and frigid relationships between the two countries, the Russians were willing to pay exorbitant prices for American Levi Jeans ( in the U.S. the jeans were $9.90 a pair and they would pay well over the equivalent of $100.00 ) . They also had an insatiable desire for American chewing gum. Moscow, like Russia, was a study in contrasts and surface contradictions.

Fast forward by exactly 40 years and the changes are too dramatic to be fully understood and appreciated. Russians wearing jeans now were in designer jeans, still well over $100.00 a pair,….. Levis were no where to be seen. The American team was in the Crowne Plaza, a four/five star hotel, that was light years away from the National Hotel we occupied in 1969. Every possible comfort and decadent capitalist amenity was present and available in the hotel. When I say “every”, I mean EVERY ! It becomes clearer and clearer to me everyday that change is the only real absolute certainty in the world. Not that it is always either good, or bad, but it is always constant, and for a track coach, that is a very critical phenomenon to understand and appreciate.

John Smith, Bobby Kersee and I were sitting in the warm-up area after the last event in Moscow, and everyone was leaving the facility as we sat there “getting ready to exhale”. Like depicted in the cartoon of  the three black crows, there we were cackling to each other about  what had just taken place over the last 9 days. Bobby seemed, on the surface, to be the most relieved of all.

Jesus, I am glad that Tarmoh came through on that 4 x 100. I was looking at not getting a medal at the a World Championships for more than 10 years.

John and I knew that within what he was saying was an oblique , unutterred, reference to the fact that Allison Felix pulled up in the 200 and was not able to get her typical 3 medals in the 200, 4 x 100, and 4 x 400. Respecting his reticence to speak about it, neither John nor I brought it up. That is what makes this particular triangle work. The fact that we can share and say stuff without saying a word.  John did, however, say.

You know this was another 10.65 year for Jet . She was so ready and fit way back in April, that I could see it then. Just like in ’09 when she dropped them 10.60 numbers. Then this stupid thigh thing developed and we couldn’t get it straightened out. I was going to scratch her, but you know she was not having any of that ! The doctor said that despite the seriousness of the injury, running on it would not necessarily make it worse. That’s all she had to hear. She got that medal on one and one half legs !

I responded: She is a stone cold warrior !

Bobby reacted: I hear THAT !

There we were, the three ravens, within a Poe ambiance and mindset ( Moscow being the perfect backdrop ) ) that we could only share with each other, because it is so difficult to find people that really understand and respect what is really going on at this level of hyper-competitive satisfaction and disappointment. The secret is to try and accept both with some equal level of grace and elan. This is so much easier to do when you have first unloaded the weight with people who “know”. Then you can more easily assume the thespian mask for others you encounter along the way back.

I knew Bobby was hurting because both Allison in the 200, and Dawn Harper in the 100 meter hurdles had bad meets. John, despite Jeter’s courageous race, was still bothered because Jason Richardson, who won the 110 hurdles at the World Championships in 2011, and got silver at the 2012 Olympics, hit the last hurdle and did not medal in Moscow. I, on the other hand, was feeling good because David Oliver, after two “down” ( he was never ranked lower than #3 ) years, reclaimed the #1 position he held in 2010, by winning the Moscow hurdles. What has to be understood and appreciated here is the fact that as much intensity goes into trying to prepare athletes to beat athletes coached by other people,….. the intensity involved in trying to prepare athletes to beat athletes  prepared by one of the three of us is at an even higher level. However, the most profound and revealing aspect of our association and relationships, is despite the fact we are super intense competitors when it comes to each other,…… we have never fallen into the trap of becoming rivals. Bobby is seriously thinking about having Allison prepare to get the American record in the 400, and suggested he would bring her down to work with us in November and April if that project comes to fruition. He used to bring Jackie Joyner-Kersee up to Stanford so I could help with her  heptathlon 800.  John and I talk and gossip and exchange coaching issues on an average of once/twice a week.   That being the case, I vicariously was hurting  for both of them. I have walked in their shoes, and change being what it is, I know I will be there again. But it is the uncertainty that pushes, motivates and drives us . It is the fact that we know perfection is not possible, that pushes us to accept the challenge  to  assist athletes to  attain it. Frustration and disappointment are part of the landscape and totally inescapable. This is fully acknowledged and accepted. But, the one thing we will not accede to, or accept,…….is defeat !

Brooks T. Johnson

( 407 ) 758 – 0755

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