Olympic Gaming

The last couple of installments talked about instances of Olympic “gaming”, or the games people play that have direct impact on Olympic results. In many cases Olympic “gaming” can rival the actual Olympic Games in terms of humor, importance, and interest. But Olympic “gaming”, just like everything else in life, does not occur in a vacuum. All events, including “gaming”, take place in a sort of continuum and historical flow and never in total isolation. Here’s an example of a “gaming” experience that started in 1983, with direct impact on the Olympics of 1984, World Championships of 2007 and Olympics of 2008.
At the World Championships in Helsinki, Finland in 1983 I was approached by Bobby Kersee who advised me to take a couple of athletes he was coaching into the World Championships Village so they could have the experience of being there as part of the team, despite the fact that they had not made the team at the nationals. My sense of the situation was that I was being “gamed” by Bobby to take these athletes into the Village so he would not have to pay for them to stay in a local hotel on his dime.   He was irate and pressed on with, ” Brooks look, these two athletes will both win medals in L. A. next year. Valerie will win three medals all by herself. ” To which I replied, Bobby, for Christ sakes, she is only barely breaking 24 seconds in the 200 !” He confidently replied, “I am telling you that she will win the 200 and 400 at the Olympic Games in Los Angeles, California in 1984 and come back and win another medal on the relay.” ” Bobby get real ! You telling me she is going to win as many medals as Wilma Rudolph ? Listen, I do not know what the hell you on, but when they make it legal I want to make sure you get me some.” He retorted, ” You are just like all the other dumb asses in this sport. You can not see beyond your nose. Just wait and you’ll see what I’m telling you is true and I wonder what the hell your answer is going to be then.” I’m really hot now because he has challenged my intelligence, ” Bobby, first of all let me tell you that I am NOT a dumb ass, and the second thing I am telling you is these two athletes are NOT going to be allowed to stay in the Village. So I won’t miss these medalists in Los Angeles, other than Valerie Briscoe-Hooks, who is the other athlete ?” ” It’s Florence, she won the NCAA 400 last year (’82). Now you know what you can do with those rooms don’t you ?”.
As it turned out, Valerie won the 400 and 200 double at the 1984 Olympics, long before Michael Johnson became famous for doing the same thing at the Olympics 12 years later in 1996 at the Atlanta Olympic Games. Further, unlike Michael, she was able to come back and anchor the 4 x 400 relay for her third Olympic medal, matching Wilma Rudolph’s legendary total. Florence medaled in 1984 at 200 meters and became Flo-Jo in 1988 and as they say, “the rest is history .”. When Bobby and I next met after Valerie’s three medals he approached me with a self-satisfied smirk on his face. ” I told you what she was going to do, but you didn’t see it…..”. I cut him off before he went further, ” Look Bobby, you were right about her winning the three medals, but before you get any further, I still am NOT a dumb ass ! Only YOU could have seen what she see was capable of and was going to do. So leave it right there !” He broke into a broad condescending smile saying, ” I ain’t leaving nothing right there,….. you need to learn to trust what I tell you.”
Fast forward to the 2007 World Championships in Osaka, Japan. Dominique Arnold pulls out of the 110 meter hurdles two days before his race. Sandy Snow who is the Team Leader for the team, and in charge of all managerial and logistics support for the team approaches me, ” Brooks we just lost one of your hurdlers. What do you want to do ? “. I reply, ” Sandy David Payne missed the team by just one hundredth of a second. Get him over here.”. “Brooks he will barely have enough time to get over here before his race starts. Plus Jim Elias ( C.F.O. of USATF ) will complain about the cost of the ticket.”. With a mild tone of upsetment in my voice I respond, ” Sandy, it is not his call. We need to get this guy over here so he can go through the experience and benefit from just being here so if he makes the team for 2008 he will not be a first timer.”
Dear reader, do you hear echoes of 1983/84, with the “dumb ass” and Bobby Kersee resonating throughout all this ?
Later Sandy comes back and says, ” I just want to make sure you want to go ahead with this Payne thing. Here are the facts. He will get here the night before his event. It will cost us $3,800.00 and Jim is not pleased. As you know, the studies say he needs a day in country for each hour differential between here and the States. “. “Sandy, it is not Jim’s call. If he complains we can take it out of the High Performance Division budget.  I am sure I can it get approved later. For now, do it on my personal approval and I’ll take responsibility for any negative feedback.”. The following is the David Payne 2007 World Championships 110 meter hurdles saga:
He arrives at the American hotel and is checked in with temporary
credential at 11:00 PM the night before his race.
9:00 AM the next morning, the day of his race, he has to go to the processing center for a
permanent credential.
11:45 AM is the first round of the men’s 110 meter hurdles and he runs the
fastest time of all the heats.
A day or so later he finishes third in the finals, winning a bronze medal.
I silently walk around for several days, almost dislocating my right shoulder from patting myself on the back for being such a damned genius.. However,I can still see Bobby Kersee with that smug smirk on his face and sensing he would have commented, ” I told your dumb ass about this more than twenty years ago. Glad to see you finally caught on.”. But the like everything else, a good story and life’s lessons never stop, there is almost always an addendum. In this case I refer to the Olympic finals in the men’s 110 hurdles in Beijing. David Payne beats David Oliver by one hundredth of a second for the silver medal. I have the good fortune of coaching David Oliver. I wonder if that one hundredth of a second for David Payne might not have been there if I had left David Payne at home in 2007, and not allowed him to get the positive experience referred and subscribed to by Bobby Kersee in 1983,….. 25 years earlier. In the end, all this proves is that “dumb ass” or “genius”, the Olympics can and does “game” us all in the end.
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