KAREEM SERAGELDIN – TYSON GAY – Marion Jones – Etc.

Kareem Serageldin was in many ways the quintessential and classical case of a person living the “American Dream”. He is the son of immigrants from Egypt. He excelled in school and life, and made his family proud as he scaled the academic and achievement ladder of superior success. He graduated from Yale and then went on to do very well at the mega investment and banking firm, Credit Suisse. At 33 he was the global head of the Structure Credit Division of Credit Suisse and was earning millions of dollars in salary and bonuses while he ran the division from London.  Mr. Serageldin during the recent credit and banking crisis, according to the NEW YORK TIMES,  “masked the the true value of those assets to increase his bonus…..”. His attorney argued that Mr Serageldin was under great pressure during the recent recession and credit crisis and made a big mistake when he was confronted with failure for the first time.

The judge that heard the case, and before pronouncing sentencing, asked Mr Serageldin’s lawyer, “This is a deepening mystery in my work. Why do so many good people do bad things ? “.

You have to ask yourself, why would a person already making what most of us would accept and appreciate as a “good living”, and living ” high on the hog “, even feel the need to cheat,…. and even more importantly, take the ethical and economic  risk of cheating and losing everything ?

So why ? Indeed !

The judge’s question, ” Why do so many good people do bad things ?”, resonated and echoed around in my head and brought me straight back to Tyson Gay and Marion Jones.

In 2004 Craig Masback, then CEO of U.S. Track and Field, was very concerned because I had Marion Jones running second leg on the women’s 4 x 100 at the Olympics in Athens, Greece. He felt we were taking a risk by having her on the relay team due to the drug suspicions and rumors swirling around her. I advised him that she had never tested positive for drugs, had adamantly denied ever taking drugs, and I was willing to take her word for it. He pressed even harder,…. and knowing that he was a graduate of Yale Law School, I very pompously and and smugly self-righteously reminded him that a very basic and fundamental tenet of American jurisprudence and constitutional law,… is that a person is assumed innocent until proven guilty. He stilled pressed and I conceded and advised that we would directly confront Marion on the drug issue and report back to him. Sue Humphrey was the head coach of the women’s Olympic team in 2004, and after sharing with her my conversation with Craig, she decided that as head coach, it was her role and responsibility to handle the matter with Marion. After she had brought the issue of drugs up with Marion, she reported the following to me.

Sue, what happened when you spoke with Marion ?

She told me that she had never taken drugs ! She also said that she would never do anything, like drugs, that would put her teammates in jeopardy of losing their medals. She had great respect for them and the sport and would never taint either.

Do you believe her ?

Yes ! Do you ?

Yes I do, and we will keep her on the relay !

I contacted Craig and even more smugly related to him what had taken place and asserted that I was totally confident in her integrity and if it was good enough for me, it certainly should be good enough for him. After all, I was the relay coach and if anything went down, the onus would fall on me.

As it turns out Marion was correct in saying that she would not taint the medal because of drugs. She and Lauryn Williams missed the pass and dropped the baton on the exchange between the 2nd and 3rd leg on the 4 x 100, after running a preliminary time that would have won the event.

God and Fate,…… work in strange ways !

From 2002 until Beijing of 2008, Orin Richburg and I were responsible for the American relay teams. As far back 2002/2003 Orin was impressed with this junior sprinter named Tyson Gay. He described him this way.

Brooks, this real, real good kid. He’s not like a lot of those other guys. He is polite, well-mannered and doesn’t brag and show off.

C’mon Orin !

No man, I am serious, may God strike me dead, this is one good kid !

Okay,….I am going to take your word for it.

In 2005 Tyson was on the World Championship team in Helsinki, Finland. I found that everything that Richburg had said about him was true. He was a quiet, but highly motivated kid. He was a fierce competitor and warrior and I instantly took an in-depth liking to him. He was easy to communicate with and gave straight and plain responses to questions and situations. He never bragged, complained, or gratuitously did things to bring attention to himself. He was a total “team player”. In my eyes and perception, he was in many ways a model and a marvel.

At 17 years old Marion Jones, still in high school, made the U.S. Olympic Team ( 1992 ) by finishing 4th in 100 meters ( She did not go to Barcelona despite making the team ) . As an 18 years old freshman she was leading the University of North Carolina women’s basketball team to an NCAA championships as the starting point guard ! Here was a very talented and attractive athlete with a whole world of options from which to choose on her way to a destiny of  inevitable success at the very highest levels.    She was bright, gifted, articulate, with great people skills, and fast tracked. If there ever was an athlete that did not need drugs, it was Marion Jones.

I saw Tyson Gay in the spring of 2013 at a rack meet in Clermont, Florida where he trained. He ran something like 19.78. The time itself was impressive, but more so because of manner in which it was run. Tyson attacked the race and was very aggressive, but at the same time very ragged in terms of technique. I remember remarking to myself that his race was the raggediest 19.78 I had ever seen. Only remarkable strength would have allowed for anyone to run that inefficient and still run that kind of time, especially that early in the year. Later on I saw him close up and was impressed with just how much, ” junk in the trunk ” he was carrying. By that I mean his buttocks were larger than I ever remember them being ( not that I make a habit of checking out the asses of men as a rule ).  He was “gunned up” in the arms. Meaning his biceps were larger than I ever remembering them being. In the old days one of  the typical and unscientific indicators of drug use were braces for the teeth, or pustules on the neck and shoulders, or forehead slant, and/or tendon tears depending on which drug was involved. Since I had never seen Tyson look the way he looked last spring, I believe him when he says that he was clean for the years leading up to 2013.

I think what is part of the answer to the question is found in some research done by a consortium of researchers from the University of Washington, the London School of Business, Harvard, and the University of Pennsylvania. These people produced at study entitled, “THE CHEATERS HIGH: THE UNEXPECTED AFFECTIVE BENEFITS OF UNETHICAL BEHAVIOR “.  The study makes a case that cheating actually produces a good feeling in some people. Further, cheating is not as rare as we would like to think it is. Even among well educated and people not considered below the poverty line. In one experiment participants were given one dollar for every right answer they produced on a test. They were allowed to review their tests and provided with a key that would allow them to see the right answers. They were not supposed to change them.  41 percent of the takers cheated by changing the answers. In a follow up assessment of participant moods, the cheaters, on average, ” felt an emotional boost that the honest participants did not.”. In another test by these researchers and reported in the NEW YORK TIMES, the money incentive was removed and instead the participants were told that the new test and its results would correlate with intelligence and a likelihood of future success. 68 percent of the subjects cheated at least once on this test. Like the cheaters in the other test, the cheaters in this instance also experienced a rise is upbeat feelings afterwards. To cut to the core and get down with the nitty gritty, it was reported by NYT that “…those who cheated experienced thrill, self-satisfaction, and a sense of superiority. This is very heady and addictive stuff for a lot of elite athletes( and other people as well) who excel in many instances because they  have a need for ever greater thrill vehicles and many also suffer from low self-esteem and seek any number of ways to overcompensate – supercompensate – for  real and imagined inferiority and lack of recognition and respect. Some feel a lack of sufficient love, despite the fact they may have thousands, upon thousands of fans and admirers.

So we get right back to why would a good person do a bad thing ? Tyson’s shoe contact with Adidas has been rumored to be in the 1.5 – 1.6 million dollar range. His appearance fee per meet must have been in the upper 5 digit, low 6 digit range, with prize money and other income sources available to him. Why would a gifted and successful athlete be tempted to cross the line ? Tyson had the respect and acknowledgement from most of the sport as being a “clean” athlete and that brings with it a very special cache and level of respect and recognition. Something that most athletes sorely seek and he already had it.

CAN YOU DIG IT ? DO YOU GET IT ?

In the 50s, when I first became serious about jazz, there were many different forms and formats to the music. In addition, with so much emphasis on creativity and improvisation, there were always musicians that came up with different interpretations and approaches to the music as well. That being the case, there was always a question that loomed above, about, and around what was being performed. That question was, ” CAN YOU DIG IT ?”. What the question was actually posing was, did you understand and appreciate the texture, tone, or the ideas of the musician ? Did you get into the deepest essence and elements of what the musician was trying to convey ?  The verb “dig” was used, and apropos, because in many instances it required the listener to dig and plummet to depths of  understanding and appreciation that other forms of music did not necessarily require. The listener had, in many instances, to work as hard and as creatively as the musician to get the fullest understanding and appreciation of the possible genius, or fraud, that was being played out. The listener had to see the merit and beauty of what was being performed on his or her own. The listener had to go beyond listening and hearing. The listener had to bring their own level of creativity to a whole different place.

Skip Grant called me recently to congratulate me on the success that David Oliver enjoyed in coming back to the top of the 110 hurdles at the IAAF World Championships this past summer in Moscow, Russia. Skip Grant is one of the most unique and special people I have ever met. Skip, like me, was a product of the 50s. He grew up in Washington, D.C. during the time when it was one of the most racially segregated cities in America,…. despite being ” the epicenter” of world democracy. Skip never went to college, but became an icon and idol ( coach, teacher, athletic director, member of the board ) at the very academic centered and prestigious preparatory school, St Albans School for Boys . When you consider he was working among the greatest distillation of second generation power in the world ( the school was populated by the sons of business scions,  diplomats, politicians, senators, congressmen, and yes,….even Presidents ), for a black man to ascend to the heights that Skip did at St Albans is one of the most graphic examples of  a person blessed with the ability to “GET IT ” no matter how different and/or alien the environment or circumstances might be from what one might expect him to fully and comfortably grasp,…..and even exploit.

I often get questions and requests from coaches reading this blog about how to deal with issues and concerns involved in becoming a better coach. In many instances, especially after athletes that I have coached enjoy an impressive year, I am flooded with these questions in almost overwhelming numbers.  In too many instances what they are seeking is some sort of magic, quick fix insight or advice. I dismiss these with dispatch bordering on rudeness. What I am seeking are those coaches, who like Skip Grant, can “dig” what is really happening and who “get it” on a superior level,….even if it means going where they have not been before.

Superior coaching requires that the coach be able to see the craft as more than a single or double dimension challenge.  Superior coaching, like superior performances, occupies several dimensions,….some known and some unknown, and only sensed or felt. The pure science and math is not enough. When the inquirer starts to tell me about what she/he got from a lecture, clinic, or conversation that one of the assumed and self-proclaimed demigods of coaching shared with them, immediately warning bells go off in my head. When the principle piece of the exchange the inquirer came away with is the science and/or math, I immediately question whether the inquirer or the provider really “get it”. Do either or both really “dig it” ?

It has always been my position that coaching has to contain, and pertain to, art and beauty in the final analysis to really be validated and of sustainable  value. Hard science alone is not enough. At that, we are really only scratching the surface. The more we can intelligently delve and dive into the inner essence and substance of performance, seeking beauty and truth on several levels at the same time, just like John Coltrane did in  “A Love Supreme”, then we are beginning to move into the right depth and direction. Until we can attempt do what Piscasso did over his career,…… learn to turn ordinary and discarded objects into serious pieces of art, we are too fat with complacency and doomed to mediocrity.

Recently I have had a lot of the above thinking and concepts confirmed and expanded by reading certain articles in the NEW YORK TIMES. In response to an article entitled, “How to Fall in Love With Math” , Ken McAloon , the chief scientist of a software company in South Dennis, Massachusetts, who is responsible for mathematical optimization and algorithms, stated that he shared a” lament that more people aren’t  exposed to mathematical beauty.”. Further he states, ” ….in doing mathematics the most important thing is one’s aesthetic sense: everything is terribly abstract, and one’s ability to sense patterns, design and structure is all one can really rely on in pursuit of understanding,….”. In conclusion he states, ” That beauty is critical in this creative process is attested to by Godel and Einstein, who both believed that something mathematical must be beautiful to be true.”.  All too often we find the coaching “gurus” so caught up in the “science” and “mechanics” of the sport that they in fact do a disservice  to those who slavishly, and without question, follow their shallow lead in trying to separate athletics performance from art. This deficiency is addressed by Glen Miller, assistant professor of mathematics at City University of New York . He make a compelling point when he states, ” I believe that this distinction between the beauty of mathematical structures,…. and the usefulness of mathematics to model physical and social phenomena is a false dichotomy. “. In conclusion he offers, “So both aspects of mathematics are important: the alluring beauty draws one in, and the utility of it holds one’s interest enduringly.”.

Dr. Abraham Nemeth became blind as an infant. He later became a university mathematics professor. He developed a revolutionary Braille system called the Nemeth Code. He taught himself the piano as a child and later supplemented his salary by “playing  piano in Brooklyn bars.”.  He is credited with saying that he ” was increasingly drawn to what he later called the beauty of mathematics.”. It is obvious that even without “sight” he could still “see”. There are some among us that even with “sight” can NOT “see”.  Dr Nemeth stated that the more complicated the math became, the more limited Braille became. I would like to turn this idea on its head and reverse it by stating, ” The more complicated the task, the more limited the science becomes.”. It is true that Newtonian science is a base element of every physical movement in this universe, but it is also, and equally, abundantly clear that Newton in isolation is Newton in isolation,….. and when we are attempting to improve and/or execute a diverse, yet integrated movement we need to have the creativity to tap into other essential concepts and forms,….. abstract and otherwise.

At it very origins and source, track and field was “war games” for the ancients. Essentially, and at its beginnings, every event in track and field is about getting from one place in time and space, to another place in time and space as fast as possible in order to maim, wound, or kill an adversary. That being the case, a military attitude and discipline are at the core of success in war and in athletics as well. General Vo Nguyen Giap was the Vietnamese military strategist and genius that is credited with devising the tactics that allowed the Vietnamese  to defeat two major world powers( France and the United States ), despite the fact that both countries were far superior in terms of technical capacity and resources. In explaining the basis for his matchless success, he claims that he, ” had  the creative energy to achieve things its adversary can never expect o imagine.”.

It is hoped that the above has made the point that superior coaches are like Skip Grant. They “get it” because they have an  uncommon ability to “dig” down deep enough to see where all the relevant factors of success converge. This ability to “get it” is not based upon the “typical” education, knowledge or perspective . “Getting it” involves the ability to use good judgement and creative improvisation and sensitivity to attack and defeat a problem.  “Getting it”  requires transcending background and artificial limitations. It is fully accepted and understood that cold, hard science is a critical element in all athletic performance, but at the very pinnacle of performance, beauty, creativity, diversity and truth are all equal partners in the enterprise.

Thanks !

Brooks T. Johnson

( 407 ) 758 – 0755

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

MOSCOW MEMORIES

My very first real images and impressions of Moscow go back to the late 1940’s when Winston Churchill, Prime Minister of England, talked about the the evils that existed behind “The Iron Curtain”. There was the full realization of a “Cold War” between the Soviet Bloc and the West. The upshot was that school children were instructed in safety drills to crouch under their desks in the event of a nuclear attack from Russia. All of this evil and very sinister activity  and abject fear,was managed and controlled from,…..”Moscow”.

Fast forward 20 years later, to 1969 and the United States and Russia are having a duel meet indoors,….. in Moscow. This is still at a very heightened level of tension and terror between the two most powerful military powers in the world. Despite all of the geopolitical machinations and menace the two counties held for each other, and their respective citizenry, I was excited beyond words to finally have the opportunity to  go to “Moscow” as one of the coaches on the U.S. Team.

The Russians housed us at the National Hotel, which was situated on Red Square. We were told to be aware of the fact that our rooms were bugged and would no doubt be routinely searched. Further at the entrance to the elevator on each floor was a desk with a very dour and menacing person sitting there who took the key as you left, and from whom you retrieved the key upon your return to your room.  Downstairs off the lobby was a Dollar Store. Only American dollars were accepted in exchange for purchasing cheap watches made in the Czech Republic,  and wooden Russian dolls that shrunk into each other.  I do not remember who won the competition, but I do remember certain incidents that occurred during our stay there.

Our shot guy, Brian Oldfield, at one of the training sessions put on a real show of athleticism. With the high jump bar at 6 feet, 6 inches, he took a five step approach and cleared the bar with his 6 foot 4 inch, 265 pound body. Then with shots on each shoulder, from a stand, he threw one 60 feet and the other side 59 feet. Not satisfied with that, he went over to the sprinters and challenged them to starts and more than held his own for the fist 15 meters.

Peter Chen, who won the 1969 U.S. Indoor Championships in the pole vault, beating Bob Seagram( 1968 Olympic Champion and world record holder) and John Pennell ( Silver medalist in the pole vault at the 1968 Olympics ) in the process. He was the first black vaulter to ever win the title and I was the fist black coach to coach someone to that title. Despite being very proud of our ethnic exceptionalism, I can not remember how he did in the meet.

What I do remember is it was very cold, gray, and dour. The people were bundled up and seem to walk huddled up. There was full employment because there were three 8 hours shifts for just about every task. For example, the old ladies that swept the sidewalk in front of our hotel literally used twigs that were lashed together as brooms and every 8 hours a new shift would appear and sweep the exact same area that was just previously swept. The one bright highlight, and it was a very special one, was the visit to the Bolshoi Ballet. The production was Swan Lake and I was very much impressed with the combination of athleticism, grace and elegance possessed by the dancers. It was easy to see why the racist pronouncement that ” white men can’t jump” was/is not only stupid, but obviously fatally false.  There was a phenomenon that remains eternally etched in my mind’s eye. That is the fact that the very good jumpers in the ballet had a way of suspending time and gravity at the top of their jumps. There was an unexplainable extension of the pause at the top of the jump, where science and logic left off and pure performance genius dominated for a millisecond . This has been the touchstone and basis of my coaching approach every since. To assist athletes to get to that point where they transcend science and logic and for that elusive instant, defy the mundane and human limitation.

In 1973 I again went to Russia with the U.S. national team for a competition against the USSR. During that time, there were basically three makes of cars in Russia, all Russian made. They were the Volga, Lada, and Zils and the Russians  seemed to have adopted the Henry Ford promise for his Model – T, “You can get it in any color you want,….. as long as it is black.”.  That year I coached Steve Williams and as he was beating Valery Borzov in the 100 meters, he looked over at Borzov with disrespect and disdain. After the race I pulled Williams over to the side and verbally worked him over in the most scathing terms I could muster, reminding him that Borzov had won the 1972 Olympic 100 and 200 the year before and Olympic champions should always be respected for their achievements and if we were to continue to work together nothing even remotely resembling this was to take place again. He and I worked together through his retirement in 1984. That year ( 1973 ) we saw Sleeping Beauty at the Bolshoi and I was reminded of the magic these dancers could muster and how essential it was that I coach athletes, in their own way, to achieve the same level of arcane and esoteric excellence.

In 1980 the Olympics were held in Moscow. This was memorable to a lot of American athletes and coaches because President Jimmy Carter declared that we were going to boycott the Olympics Games in Russia because the Russians had just invaded Afghanistan. There was a great outcry of criticism and consternation, despite the fact that there was some sort of historical relevance to what he did. In the ancient Olympic games, nations at war could not attend. The Olympics, even then,… at its origins, had political implications and overtones outside of pure sport.  Those who objected to the boycott often played on the lie that the Olympics were above politics. After Tommie Smith and  John Carlos and their courageous black gloved protest in 1968, the International Olympic Committee has instituted restraints against any protest based upon race, religion, or politics . Yet we play the national anthem of the country of the winner, and raise the flags of the top three finishers and keep a medal count by nation.

Jimmy Carnes, the  coach at the University of Florida who gave me my first college coaching opportunity was the head coach of the 1980 U.S. Men’s Olympic Team. I very strongly doubt if there was/is ever a finer person in any branch of coaching. Jimmy was one of the most unique and rare people in a world,….. overflowing with just the opposite. He was a very ambitious and highly motivated, but totally without ego. He rarely talked in a first person singular vein. It was always about the team and what and how could we do to help the team. So I was very upset personally and professionally at the boycott of the 1980 Olympics. However, philosophically I found myself in support of what President Carter did and what it stood for. When I voiced this opinion and notion, I was soundly criticized and castigated by people from all points on the spectrum. Some 33 years later Afghanistan still has White House attention. We have American troops mired in an unwinnable war at a serious cost of men and money and international stability. If the U.S. Presidents who came after Carter had acted in a similar lofty, enlightened and justified manner, we would be significantly clear of  Afghanistan. Sports and politics are in fact kissing cousins.

August 10-18 of this year the IAAF World Championships were held in Moscow. I arrived in Moscow on the 6th of August and the fist shock was the traffic. I was still in a time warp and expected sparse traffic where  black Volgas, Zils, and Ladas took up most of the traffic. Instead what I saw was a Los Angeles rush hour type of  traffic made up of foreign cars. I saw type Mercedes Benz cars clogging the streets of Moscow that I never saw elsewhere,…not even Germany. It was literally bumper to bumper all the way from the airport to the U.S. Team hotel (Crowne Plaza ). In many ways this was symbolic of how much political and economic change can take place and was a lesson to me to never doubt the potential depth for change.

Only Olympic medalist had single rooms, so John Smith and  I were room mates. John and I are usually among the first people each day at the practice track, and each day among the last to leave. When asked why, my reply is simple and direct, “Where can you get this level of athletic and coaching talent training before your very eyes ? If you are trying to learn and stay current, then there is no better place to be !”.   Usually John and I engage in relaxed banter before the other coaches and athletes stream in.

John, Here it is 33 years later and we finally made it ! ( the World Championships were held in the 1980 Olympic Stadium).

Yeah, and I am happy as hell to be here !

Me too. I feel sorry for the people who were not allowed to come in “80.

Me too. But life can throw some tricky stuff at you and you just have to roll with it.

Yeah, I wonder what it was like here 33 years ago.

I don’t know, but I am betting it was nothing like this. Can you believe the cars over here ? I have seen every luxury car they make in just the 12 minute ride from our hotel to the track.

You are from Los Angeles. That is a car culture !

Right and I feel right at home too.

David Oliver and I have been working together in the 110 hurdles since January of 2005. From 2005 through 2010 he got every good break possible and took advantage of every one of them.  By 2010 had matriculated to being #1 in the world and the new American record holder at 12.89 . He had a bronze from Beijing in 2008, was injured in 2009 and could not get that  2010 “mojo” back in 2011 and 2012. So the 2013 World Championships represented a bigger than usual challenge for both athlete and coach. Before coming to Moscow on the 6th of August, we had a training camp at Malmo, Sweden, a mere 2 hours by plane form Moscow. The U.S. Team training camp was in Linz, Austria ( Adolf Hitler’s hometown).  We opted for Sweden because we did not want to experience the trauma and drama that would come from having that many tightly wound athletes, coaches, and agents in one place. David was joined by his training partner Dwight Thomas from Jamaica and Tahesia Scott from the British Virgin Islands. Tahesia’s husband and coach could not make it to Moscow, so had her travel and train with us.

It was evident from the very beginning that we had made the right decision. David and Dwight were both very fit and what was needed was some mechanical tweaking and mental sharpness. Being undistracted and undisturbed for more than a week, we were able to get the final pieces to fall into place for both of them. The last training session in Malmo was final testament to the fact that things were in order. It was a very simple session where we “race modeled”. This means a start to the first hurdle, change gears at #3 , change gears at #7, sprint off of #10 to the tape. This is to avoid what Wilbur Ross has identified as “hurdlers’ boredom”.  His point is that after a good start, hurdlers tend to try and simply maintain the same rhythm for the rest of the race. When this happens, “boredom” sets in and the adrenalin and effort level wanes. In order to overcome and avoid this phenomenon, we break the race into four separate “races”. The idea is to get a fast rhythm, and then work even more to increase that rhythm as you speed down the track. We term this, “getting progressively more aggressive”. Like every other event, the further you proceed, the more aggressively you must become to reduce “time drag” , “boredom”  and/or “rhythm lock”.  The last couple of “modeling” sessions went very well and I cut the rest of the training short because I felt confident that not only were they both fit, but both had the podium “mojo” in place.

Oliver’s fist race was very fast at a very high effort level. The “experts” and “pundits” immediately jumped on this as a tactical mistake.  Like Aries Merritt and Jason Richardson, David was working to get his timing and rhythm to sub-13 pace. It was pretty clear that 13 flat would probably win the race and being as fit as he was, it was more important to establish a fast tempo and rhythm and work down and faster from that,….. than run a slow time and try to make a quantum leap in the final. In the semi-final he hit #7 in an effort to regear and get “progressively more aggressive”, but knew without that mishap he was ready to capture his first wold championship title.  During the interim between the semi-finals and the finals, Star, David’s physio did some light neural relaxation to allow his muscles to relax and “settle” in. There was no massage or kneading of muscles.  This was the very fist time he had gone into a major championships feeling 100%.  His body language said he was ready to go, and my body language said, “Leave him the hell alone !”.

Later David told me that as he was laying down in the Call Room before the final, he looked up at the clock and it read 9 PM. He said to himself, “Dam, in 30 minutes I am going to be a world champion !”. When I heard this I was immediately reminded of what those good  ballet dancers do. They have the ability to go beyond and defy limitations. They suspend logic, time and space. In David’s case he had shaken off the mental disappointment of not making the U.S. Olympic Team of 2012 and had mentally found the “Swan Lake Syndrome”. He was mentally able to jump and suspend in air. For a fraction in time he was mentally without weight. When we can get him where he is physically ready for the “Sleeping Beauty Syndrome”, then there will be a new wold record.

I told John about the Bolshoi relevance on a ride back to the hotel from the track .

John, you got to look for the answers in all sorts of different places.

You are right. The answers are not hiding. They simply are in places that we are not smart enough to look.

Well I am here to tell you that I am looking my ass off !

ME TOO !

Brooks T. Johnson

( 407 ) 758 – 0755

TYSON GAY – “Beneath The Fold”

Monday morning, July 15, armed with the NEW YORK TIMES, USA TODAY, Peach Snapple and a sugar doughnut, I slide into my car and turn on WUCF ( 89.9 FM – jazz station ) and settle back to get caught up on all the latest printed news. As I turn over the front page of THE NEW YORK TIMES there is a picture of Tyson Gay – bottom right. In newspaper parlance and lore, the front page of a newspaper is divided into two halves, stories above where the paper is folded and stories below where the paper is folded. Stories that occupy space “below the fold” are not supposedly as critically important as those ” above the fold “. But no matter, there was Tyson Gay on the front page of THE NEW YORK TIMES. Not the front page of the sports section,….. but the front page of the paper itself ! So despite the fact that he is “below the fold “, it is still very big to be on the front page of the TIMES.

I had heard the gentle rumblings over the weekend through the gossip grapevine of track and field that Tyson had some drug test issues, but really did not want to have to seriously delve into it because I have such great respect for Tyson and the way he had carried himself all these years I have known him since 2005. When I think of Tyson I think of the World Championships of 2007 in Osaka, Japan. He won the 100 and 200, going four rounds in each event. That meant a total of eight races in five days. Morning afternoon of one day, afternoon and evening of the next day. One rest day and repeat a similar pattern. By the time we arrive at the 4 x 100 relay Tyson is beyond tired,…he is exhausted! Our conversation goes like this:

Tyson, how are you man ?

Coach I am really tired,….. but I will do whatever you want me to do.

Tyson, you have already won the 100 and 200. You beat Powell in the 100 and Bolt in the 200. You do not owe any one anything !

Coach, I’ll do whatever you want me to do !

O.K. let me think about it.

As head of the High Performance Program for U.S. Track and Field, I also had responsibility for the relay programs. My most trusted associate is Orin Richburg, former head coach at the University of Washington, and now at New Mexico State. I know I am going to get the most honest and objective input from him. I also meet with John Smith and Jon Drummond . Drummond is working with Tyson and John is coaching the other two relay candidates Leroy Dixon and Rodney Martin. Curtis Frye, who had coached both Dixon and Martin at the University of South Carolina came over to offer some advice.

Brooks, If you are thinking of anchoring Martin, he can have quick feet and leave too early under pressure. I suggest you lead him off.

Curtis, thanks for the input. I’ll keep that uppermost in the decisions we make.

Richburg reminds me that Tyson and Wallace Spearmon worked together in 2006 when we ran the 5th fastest time ever with Spearmon at second leg and Tyson as third leg. They had also ran together at the University of Arkansas, so the amount of time needed to work on passes was greatly reduced. I had already decided that if we used Tyson it would be at third leg. I did not want to risk him on anchor and chance getting him dramatically run down by Powell,…. and diminish his money making leverage later in the year. It is both amusing and annoying to hear, or read, about all the critics and “experts”, and their vomit about the relays. Basically the relays self-select. What seems like a wide array of choices and alternatives at our nationals fades into the mist when it comes time for the relays.  At the end of eight days of sprinting and running, it is very difficult to find four fit and healthy sprinters. I think back to 2003 at the World Championships in Paris. By the time the 4 x 100 came around, we had the world’s fastest relay team sitting on the sidelines. Maurice Greene,  the former world record holder at 100 meters, Tim Montgomery, the current world record holder, along with Jon Drummond, the best lead off leg in the world, and Cobey Miller, fourth at the American nationals, were all sidelined and unavailable. So our winning team was made up of three guys who had run the finals of the 200 the night before the qualification rounds, who had to come back the very next morning to qualify and went ahead and won the 4 x 100 finals over a good British team.

In 2007 we decided that we would go with Martin as lead off ( thanks Curtis ), Spearmon as second leg, Tyson on third leg and anchor Dixon. Dixon was nervous about having to anchor against Powell. In trying to address his anxiety I stated:

Leroy,….all we want from your ass is a 9.20 leg on the anchor. That is what the AVERAGE college anchor leg runs. By the time you get the stick the outcome will have already been decided and all you have to do is stay calm and exe-damned- cute !!

John Smith, sensing my approach was only making Dixon more anxious, came over and took Dixon’s arm and said:

Leroy, let me show you what he’s talking about.

He took him over to the warm up track and set him up in his position and slowly rehearsed him as to what he was supposed to do. In the mean time I talk again with Tyson.

Tyson,…you have had a great meet and no relay race is going to add or detract from that. I do not want you to feel you have to take the weight of the team. We expect Spearmon to bust it wide open.  All we need from you is a smooth exchange between you and him and you and Dixon.

Coach, I am gonna give it what I have.

Tyson, young brother, I know this. You are a quiet warrior and they are the most dangerous !

The race went off as scripted and we won. The U.S. won all four relay golds that year, which was promptly, politically and conveniently forgotten the following year. Later, too tired to run the open 100 at Zurich for mega-bucks, Tyson ran the 4 x 100 again in order for the other three guys to get a big paycheck. That’s the Tyson I am familiar with !

So there is Tyson “below the fold” on the front page of THE NEW YORK TIMES ! Busted and busted up. I had just talked with him a scant 11 days earlier in Lausanne, Switzerland. I was sitting in the warm up area mentally running a list of check points for David Oliver before his 110 meter hurdle race. Tyson walked by with his coach and agent:

Coach, I need to holler at you some time.

Tyson, I am sitting right here. You can holler at me right now.

O.K., I’ll be right back.

He walked over to his coach and agent, dropped his bag and returned to have a very intense and brief conversation with me. NO,…it was not about any problem he was having, he just wanted to make sure that I conveyed to a not- to- be mentioned third party that  he, Tyson, was very concerned about the person and really cared that things worked out well for them. I told him I would deliver the message and was impressed that he again showed that kind of depth and concern for some one else in this overly “first – person – singular” centered world.

It seems to me that there is one big, and very significant, thing that is being lost in all the sensationalism and media mangling that is going on. Back in the early 1980’s a scientist from Hewlett-Packard ( they made the gas spectrometer used for drug testing in those days ) Advised me:

There is nothing you can put in your body that does not have a foot print or identifying mark. We can detect down to one part in a billion and soon it will be be one part in a trillion. We can detect the chemical and atomic structure of things in space. Do you really think we can not detect stuff in the human body literally right under our eyes ? The only thing missing is motivation and money !

What is essentially taking place before our very eyes is the fact that the USADAs, WADAs, and testers of the world are winning the war on performance enhancement drugs. There is enough money, motivation and incentive present in the testing business for the testers to get out ahead,… and stay ahead of the cheaters. And just as the Hewlett-Packard scientist stated, the degree of sophistication of the testers is getting more and more advanced, making successful evasion less likely. The testers have reverse engineering capacity that they are on the brink of fully utilizing. They are gathering a reservoir and pool of  relevant information and data across several areas of substance abuse and science, and as they more and more cross reference this data, they will come up with even more sophisticated detection models, procedures and processes. Bottom line, they now have the money,  resources, knowledge, and equipment to “outscience” the cheaters ! Further, they have a greater capacity to predict the areas where cheaters may go, than the cheaters themselves, simply because they have won the “science arms race” of performance enhancement drug cheating.

There is one other very interesting parallel for me. The first instance of street drug use requires a small amount of the drug to attain the desired result and outcome. As adjustment, adaptation and dependency takes place, an ever increasing amount is necessary to get the very same result. The very same process is at work with the testers. To a great extent their existence and relevancy depends on their ever increasing need to make bigger and more bombastic busts. After Ben, Marion, and Lance, they now have to “stack” names in order to get the same bang as in the past. So now they couple and bundle both Tyson and Powell, despite the fact that they were tested and detected six weeks apart, they are announced at the same time in order to guarantee the biggest possible media splash. This need alone will drive them to an ever increasing drive to make the kind of busts necessary to create the necessary headlines they need in order to continue their existence. So like the addict and cheaters, they are caught up in an ever more demanding need for a bigger and better bust to address their own addictive behavior. This need is going to drive these people to greater effort and efficiency in what they are doing. So the cheaters are basically a very endangered species. They are going to be overwhelmed and outgunned at just about every juncture.  But arising from this is a  very basic and most serious concern. What about the abuses the testers will inevitably engage in as they pursue their own addictive drive to catch the cheaters ?

Thanks.

Brooks T. Johnson

( 407 ) 758 -0755

ARE YOU KIDDING ME ?

Ray Brown recently texted me, asking if I had read Doug ( former CEO of USA Track and Field ) Logan’s suggestion that the ban on performance enhancing drugs be lifted. Ray Brown won the national indoor 800 meter championship at least five times in a row and was a fixture on the international circuit for almost a decade. During some of that time I was his coach, and knowing my strong anti sentiments both for Doug and drugs, he knew this would get some sort of heated response from me. So here I go !

One of the very few accurate and honest statements to ever come out of Doug Logan’s mouth was made the Thursday night when he spoke by phone to the Board of Directors of USA Track and Field and said , ” …..I do not know much about track and field.” This admission was made during the ” job interview”  as part of a severely flawed selection process that Bill Roe, the then president of USA Track and Field, had engineered . Later, after several serious gaffs and performance pratfalls, Clyde Hart was overheard saying , ” Doug has already admitted he doesn’t know anything about the sport,……and every time he opens his mouth he confirms it.”. Here we are, three years later after Logan was forced out of the job, and he is still demonstrating some of the very same self-serving ignorance that cost him the CEO job at USA Track and Field. What follows are several comments that Doug made recently in SpeedEndurance.COM about which I take serious issue.

During my two year tenure as CEO of USA Track and Field, one of my priorities was to vigorously promote drug- free competition.

Athletes are beneficiaries of many technological innovations that enhance performance. “…..train at altitude….. hyperbaric chamber.” ” If you have a great coach, benefits of stipends……assisted by nutritionists, physios, and sports psychologists:”.( the above being the extra and enhanced benefits, why don’t we just let everyone use what other performance enhancing things they want and sit back and see who wins)

We now live in a society where there are medical solutions to just about any physical problem.

Most importantly, let;s stop making a morality play out of the issue.

To those whom I excoriated for drug use while I was in a position of authority I can only say I did my duty to defend and protect the sport to the best of my ability.

I have changed my views based upon my re-examination of all the factors involved.

I was Head Coach for the U.S. Women’s Olympic Team for 1984. I knew then, and the same is true now,…. the U.S. Olympic  medal count automatically and directly goes up as  drug use  goes down. One of the basic and original motivations for the institutionalizing  of drug use,…. by those outside the U.S., was to close the superiority gap held by America. We had better facilities, better coaches, better athletes, and better development competitions than the rest of the world. We still do ! In 1982, knowing this, and being the Director of Track and Field/Cross Country at Stanford University, which is within throwing distance of Hewlett-Packard, the makers of the most sophisticated testing equipment at the time, I approached and talked with some Hewlett-Packard testing personnel. What follows is a paraphrased version of the exchange I had with them as far back as 1982.

You guys are the developers of the gas-spectrometer devices used in testing for drugs. I have been told that athletes and rogue scientists will always be ahead of the game as far as drugs are concerned.

That is definitely is not true ! Every thing that exists in this universe has either a fingerprint and/or foot print that we can detect. We can get down to one part in a billion, and as time and interest dictate, we can get even better than that. There is literally nothing you can put in your body that we can not detect !

Then what do you see as the issue for more effective and efficient drug testing ?

There has to exist a real will to catch these people, backed up by the real money necessary to fund the testing. Given the will and the funding, drugs can basically be counted out as being undetectable.

Now fast forward two decades to 2003. As Chair of the High Performance Division of USA Track and Field, it was my responsibility to develop programs and processes to increase the U.S. medal count from the lowly 14/15 level we had after the drug reductions of 2000,….. to the over 20 count by 2004. The U.S.O.C. was putting a lot of pressure on USA Track and Field to increase its medal count.  That being my mission and mandate, I knew the fastest way to increase the medal count for the U.S. was to get involved in activity that would lead to better and more stringent drug testing protocols. In 2003 I was introduced to Dr John Donnelly who was doing cutting edge work with DNA and genetic genome work at Baylor Medical Center in Dallas, Texas.   Now it is pretty much understood and accepted that DNA, genetic genome processes are the new miracle break through for the detection and treatment   for all sorts of  previously unfathomable things body and health issues. Dr Donnelly advised me that he could use his genetic genome processes to test and detect any drug or other performance enhancing elements introduced into the body. We had a committee with Dr Harmon Brown who was the Medical Committee Head for USA Track and Field, Dr Robert Vaughan who also worked at the Tom Landry Center in Dallas who has  a doctorate in exercise physiology and was a very successful track and field coach, Sue Humphrey who was chair then of women’s development for USATF  was also part of that group. We had already provided Dr Donnelly with some funding to further look into a protocol that would allow us to exploit his science and research to test and detect performance enhancing elements introduced into the body of athletes.

In 2008 and 2009, Doug Logan and I met at least twice face-to-face and also exchanged several e-mails where I pointed out that the best way to increase the medal count for the U.S. was to eliminate drugs. I shared with him the Donnelly genome research and what the Hewlett-Packarrd people had shared with me, and the impact it would have on the detection and deterrence of drug use. I did the same with the person who is essentially the High Performance person for USATF and neither one of them seriously pursued the most promising and advanced avenue for drug detection and elimination. So when Logan states one of his priorities was to promote drug free competition, the answer is clear,…..the most pressing promotion priority he had then, and now,…. is self-promotion  !

His comment that athletes already have certain technical and other advantages like superior training conditions, coaches and facilities, so why not allow them to use steroids as well ? The research and investigations that followed the East German drug use on athletes pointed out that 10% or more suffered life threatening consequences, and in some instances premature death. Additionally, a lot of women  had some serious health and gender issues  in addition to the heart, kidney and liver issues that were pursuant to steroid and drug use by them. His contention that altitude training and having a superior training environment reaches the same level as drug use, with its health and death consequences, is egregiously ignorant and is ample manifestation of the veracity of what Clyde says, which is essentially every time this guy opens his mouth he demonstrates in the most graphic way how little he knows about the sport of track and field.

So for me, unlike Logan, drug use IS a moral issue ! As a coach, it  plays on my mind on an almost daily basis as we get reports of athletes either suspected of drug use,….or are actually busted. It is my perception that even with the less than perfect current system in place, we have more drug deterrence and detection than in the past. Those of us in the sport , who know and love the sport, have to take drugs as a drop dead moral issue,…….because that is exactly what it is ! Instead of cowardly excoriating athletes, and later apologizing for it, he should have used his position to pursue the hard science that would have made the excoriating less necessary.  The very information and advice given to Doug Logan about drugs, was also shared with the current USATF administration and management team.

Thanks.

Brooks T. Johnson

( 407 ) 758 – 0755

DARK MATTER – DARK MATTERS

The more I learn about the virtually unlimited vastness of the computer, the more intimidated I become. An example on a mini-micro level is the number and diversity of coaching inquiries I get via the internet. For example, last week there were questions from Germany, Turkey, Norway, Italy, Jamaica, and California ( Yeah,…California is a foreign country. ). From the questions and comments I get, it is obvious that there exists out there more national and international podium level athletic talent than there is podium level coaching talent and ability. The fact that the simple ramblings I sporadically share on this blog can reach so many people, in such a widespread area,  in a matter of minutes,…. simply stresses my comprehension levels. But the confusion that I see when it comes to coaching track and field is even more startling. It is amazing to me how we coaches can take such simple factors of barnyard science and  physics and twist it into such confusing and counter-productive knots.

The following is a quote from the NEW YORK TIMES , April 4, 2013, ” The dark side of the universe is whispering, but scientists are not sure what it is saying. “.  There is a certain aspect and area of coaching the sport of track and field that exists on the dark side. For many the “dark side” of track and field was the drug and illegal performance enhancing elements embedded in the sport. That is NOT what I am referring to here. What I am referring to is the core coaching issues of the sport that ” are whispering, but coaches, are not sure what it is saying.”. That is basically what I am gathering from much and many of the inquiries and questions I get on a daily basis from all over the wold. On one hand I am flabbergasted because of the mixture and magnitude of the queries. On another level I am certainly flattered to be seen as a person who might have some answers. On the other hand, I am totally humbled because of the lack of satisfactory answers I have to many of the questions.

In the 1930s, according to the NYT,  Fritz Zwicky, an astronomer from Cal Tech, posited, that some invisible “missing mass” was required to supply the gravitational glue to hold the clusters of galaxies together. This “missing mass” was dubbed DARK MATTER. Quoting directly from the NYT, ” According to recent measurements by the Planck spacecraft, about 27 per cent of the universe, by mass, is composed of some unknown form of matter unlike the atoms that make up us and everything we can see. Astronomers can not see it, but they can detect its gravitational tug pulling the galaxies and stars around.”. It is in our own area of DARK MATTER that the most successful coaches in the sport have the upper hand.

I generally, for the purposes of analysis and evaluation, break down the track and field coaching cadre into three categories: Level I, Teachers. Level II, Trainers, Level III Coaches.

Teachers are people with a basic knowledge and approach who layout the basic stuff they want athletes to access and apply. They are generally good lecturers and presenters of material. If they have good athletes who have an innate ability to apply what they are being taught, then these people will enjoy a limited amount of success, even up to the “one-off” Olympic or World Championships podium. But the ability to produce a succession of successful athletes is greatly limited.

Trainers are people who have the ability to work out physical, and even mental methodologies, necessary to apply the given science and expertise required for ultimate success. Usually their approach  heavily involves drills and exercises as coaching aids . Like some teachers, they are good lecturers and presenters. They can quote verbatim long tracks of science and pseudo-science supporting their approach and often convince talented athletes, and others,  that they are “gurus” and have the real answers. Each case of success, however limited, serves to support their claims, but the failures are laid off to “extraneous” factors and do not seem to count in the eventual equation to determine who is really good or not.

Coaches are people who are aware that DARK MATTER exists out there and have the courage and character to pursue it, even when and where there is no absolute certainty. They have much of the best of teachers and trainers in their make up, but have a creativity and drive to delve and dive beyond what is presented and given. They do not need absolute certainty before they boldly bolt forward. They are not surface feeders. They are not adverse to taking risks ( risk is a calculated action, unlike gambling which is compulsive in nature ). What distinguishes them from teachers and trainers is the ability to see what is really not there. They are aware that some invisible element ( DARK MATTER ) is in play, and despite not fully understanding it, they are willing to venture and vie to go to a level above and beyond where the rest of us are comfortable in going.  But the most differentiating factor between a coach, a teacher, and a trainer is the fact that the coach can convince the athlete to take the “leap of faith” necessary to stay the course and pursue true greatness. The people I place in this hallowed category of COACH are all people who have the ability generate the DARK MATTER glue that holds the athlete with them even in times of disaster and disappointment. Michael Johnson was Olympic level in 1988. He suffered a stress fracture in his foot and did not make the U.S. Olympic team. In 1992 he did not make it to the finals in the 200 in Barcelona. It was not until 1993 when he finally broke out and established himself as a dominant internationalist,….five years after he was obviously internationally elite, he finally manifested it. All that time Clyde Hart was able to create and generate the DARK MATTER glue to hold the relationship together. In 1982 Jackie Joyner fouled three times at the NCAA Championships in the long jump. In 1984 she fouled her first two jumps in the heptathlon and had to take a “safe” 3rd jump and this cost her the gold medal at the L.A. Olympics. Within a few of years she was the world record holder in both the long jump and the heptathlon. Bobby Kersee never waived in his faith and belief in himself and Jackie. The DARK MATTER glue is what John Smith has, and in a very different way, Tom Tellez also. Tom Tellez should be credited with what he did for Carl Lewis over almost two decades, but Carl was not the only Olympic medalist Tom coached. The sheer weight of their respective records and body of work, at and around the wold record,  make John Smith and Tom Tellez track and field coaches.

DARK MATTER has been defined as being, ” WIMPS – weakly interacting massive particles – left over from the Big Bang.”. In our sport, the WIMPS are not the ones we identify most with the DARK MATTER phenomena.

Brooks T. Johnson

( 407 ) 758 – 0755

THE HOLLYWOOD CONNECTION,………..50 years later

There is was ! Right there on the first page of the ARTS Section of the New York Times,… yesterday,…. Thursday, May 9, 2013. I had finished the sugar doughnut as I read the NEWS and BUSINESS/SPORTS sections of the TIMES, and was half way through the Peach Snapple I was drinking. This is my daily ritual at the “library” ( parking lot of 7-11 convenience store ) where each morning after dropping my youngest off  to school I go to buy the NEW YORK TIMES and USA TODAY newspapers. I read the sport section of USA TODAY and Monday through Friday do the crossword puzzle in it . The same applies for the NEW YORK TIMES, except by Thursday it is too hard for me to complete, so I skip it. I can remember back to the days at Tufts College ( 1952-1956 ) when the Sunday edition of the NEW YORK TIMES crossword puzzle was the project of the whole Phi Epsilon Pi ( I was the first black member ) fraternity house. The Phi Eps usually won the Jumbo Award as the house with the highest academic average,…. and it took all of us. most of the day, to complete it. That is how difficult it becomes as the days of the week pass.  But yesterday I “felt lucky”, and went to the ARTS section where the crossword puzzle sits as a big fat challenge and ego shrinker for me. Before I could get to the page with the puzzle, there was  a book review by Janet Maslin of an autobiography by Wiliam Friedkin called the FRIEDKIN CONNECTION.

After I got kicked out of the University of Chicago Law after my second year( why I got kicked out is a very interesting and disturbing story, reflective of the times and trials during the 1950s for niggers that did not know how to – or refused to,… “go along, in order to get along” )  Anyway, after my premature departure from the U.C. Law School, I fell into writing book reviews for the NEGRO DIGEST. The NEGRO DIGEST was the black response to the white READERS’ DIGEST, just as JET and EBONY Magazines paralleled white publications of a like ilk. One of the few positive, but clearly unintended results of the segregation and racism of that time, was the fact that black people developed their own culture and economy in many ways parallel to the mainstream. Blacks owned and ran national insurance companies ( Supreme Life Insurance Company ), newspapers, funeral homes, restaurants,  dry cleaning and record shops to name a paltry few. We even originated and ran the very lucrative “numbers game” until the mafia came in and strong armed blacks out.  So there I was being mentored by Hoyt Fuller the editor of NEGRO DIGEST. My compensation was getting to keep the books I reviewed. Turns out in the long run  this was worth more than any fee, as I now get great enjoyment  looking at these friends and volumes on the shelves of my bookcases from more than 50 years ago.

Lois Solomon edited and published an independent and avant garde newspaper, called THE PAPER. Somehow she came across some of my reviews and liked them. She contacted me and I was flattered to death that someone found what I wrote even remotely interesting. To have someone with a publication like hers interested in what I was doing was totally off the graph for me. So when she invited me to a gathering at her Near Northside Chicago home, I could not get there fast enough. The gathering was everything I hoped it would be and more. There were so many “bright young things”, all with very liberal and progressive viewpoints. When I say “bright young things”, that is what I mean. They were all very smart, and almost all white. A young guy with glasses came up to me and struck up a conversation. He told me how he had done a documentary chronicling the plight of Hispanics in the Chicago area. I think it was titled, ” A Walk Through The Valley”.  The work had won him some awards and recognition which he parlayed into more funding for  his next project, “The People Versus Paul Crump “. Paul Crump had been convicted of murder. In the course of exhausting all his appeal rights he had been on Illinois’ death row for what was the either longest or second longest time in history.     Bill asked me if I would like to observe him making the film and serve as something of technical adviser when it came to certain black issues that may crop up. Man,….talking about hitting it big ! Lois wanted me to write for her newspaper and Friedkin wanted me to informally assist with his new project . It just did not get any better than that.

Bill’s approach was to show how Paul had been railroaded because he was black. And having exhausted all of his appellate rights, Bill decided that he would show that Crump, during all those many years on deathrow, had totally rehabilitated himself and was a new person and this “new” person did not deserve to die. No one had ever won a death case on the basis that the killer had been morally reclaimed and rehabilitated, and thus their life deserved to be spared.

The first night of shooting we had all gathered at the location Bill had selected on the Southside of Chicago for the start of the cameras rolling. It turns out, that not ALL of the people who were supposed to be there turned up. The actor that was to play Paul Crump did not show up. Bill very quietly and calmly turned to me and said:

“Brooks we are on a tight budget and time line. We have everyone here except “Paul Crump”. So you will have to be “Paul Crmp”.

Me ?

Yes, you !

Man, I ain’t no actor.

Don’t worry, I’ll help you. Trust me, I can get you to evoke the proper feeling and emotion for the part.

Trust my ass !!!

Look, we are trying to save a black man’s life here. This is no time for petty concerns. I guarantee you I can get the depth of reality and feeling necessary for you to sell the “Paul Crump” part. If black people can boycott and take Freedom Rides, you sure as hell can do this part. Paul Crump’s  life depends on you helping me out here.

Bullshit !! Paul Crump’s life depends on YOU having that nigger that didn’t show up,….show up !

Brooks,.. neither one of us has a choice !

We somehow got over my extreme case of stage fright and starting the shooting. The script called for us tracking Paul Crump’s movements the night he was supposed to have committed the murder. The murder was supposed to have been in the course of a robbery gone bad . It was Bill’s plan to show that Crump could not have been involved because he was no where near the scene of the crime. I remember several scenes very well. There was one with Crump at nightclub dancing the night away and having a great time miles away from the scene of the crime. That was very easy because it involved one of things I mostly enjoyed doing and mistakenly felt I was very good at doing. The other very memorable scene was the night when the police broke into Crump’s bedroom and took him to jail. Friedkin was a stickler for reality, so we shot the scene in a filthy tenement room. I was having trouble getting into the proper “mood” for the scene emotionally because I was pissed at the smelly and funky bed covers and just knew that bedbugs were going to have a feast on my ass. I was supposed to be showing abject fear at the prospect that the police who were loudly and forcefully  busting down the door to the room. What I was able to muster on my own was mostly disgust and impatience. The next thing I knew Bill took a doubled up electrical cord and starting to beating down on my legs with all his might . Through the covers there was not that much pain, but the fact that he went off like that all of a sudden apparently generated the depth of fear and surprise  he wanted and it was captured in one take. He was true to his word. He was able to me to evoke the necessary emotion and feeling for the part.

The film was very widely shown and got great reviews. It won the Golden Gate Award at the San Francisco Film Festival for the best documentary of 1963. The governor of Illinois, impressed and pressured by the outcry the film generated, spared Paul Crump’s life. It marked the first time that a convict was saved from the electric chair on the basis of “rehabilitation”.

Bill Friedkin went on to Hollywood and became a very successful and famous director. Among his films are: THE EXORCIST – the Oscar winning, FRENCH CONNECTION – THE BOYS IN THE BAND – SORCERER – GOOD TIMES – THE NIGHT THEY RAIDED MINSKYS. At one of the events celebrating the success of the film he  asked me if I wanted to go to California with him. I have often wondered if he could have done for me what he did for Gene Hackman as “Popeye Doyle” in the FRENCH CONNECTION. The answer is almost always no, because there is no way I could ever –  again –  allow  a white man beat me with a whip in order to get the proper emotionand feeling from me.

1963 was a banner year for me. I was a member of the U.S.  record breaking 4 x100 at the Pan American Games in Sao Paulo, Brazil. I moved to Washington, D.C. to take a new job at the Governmental Affairs Institute and continued my track and field career.

Here we are, exactly 50 years later, and Bill Friedkin and I are vicariously ( we have not spoken in 50 years ) connected after half a century. He is still in Hollywood,….and I am still in track and field !

Brooks T. Johnson

( 407 ) 758 – 0755

SYNCOPATION – JIMMY SMITH AND ASTHON EATON

Jeff Atkinson won the men’s 1500 meters at the U.S. Olympic Trials in 1988, with a closing 400 meter kick of 52.89. When he left high school his coach there told him he would never break 55 seconds in the 400,…….fresh !  I told him he had to run 53 seconds in debt, with a lap to go to win the Olympic Trials. He went on to be a finalist in the 1500 at the Seoul Olympics, and later became the American record holder at the indoor 1500 meter distance. Yet despite these rather impressive  achievements ( especially when viewed against the U.S. middle distance scene of the late 80’s ) he never fully bought into how he was being coached. One day he voiced his reservations by stating:

You do not coach me like an athlete, you coach me like a jazz musician !

You dumb ass,…. you think you are insulting me, but you just paid me the highest praise possible without even knowing it. That says volume about how much you know about how you got to be an Olympic finalist !

Last week I was driving home from practice when Nancy Wilson was doing her jazz appreciation show on National Public Radio. Before there was a Dionne Warwick, Whitney Houston, or even Alecia Keys, more than a half century earlier, there was Nancy Wilson. I was living in Chicago at the time and at midnight Sid McCoy, the local jazz disc jockey, would come on and with his deep, resonant baritone he would introduce her as “Sweet Nancy, the Baby”.  And that is just what she was! Well last week, Sweet Nancy the Baby, was narrating a hour on the work of Jimmy Smith, the premier jazz organist. Various guests would share their impressions and input about the things that made Jimmy Smith the unrivaled master of the jazz organ. A lot of it was pretty mundane and well known rhetoric about his fabulous playing and skill on the instrument. But one of his former sideman’s comment really summed up part of what Jimmy Smith was all about. He pointed out that  Jimmy at times during the middle of a number had to pull out the “stops” on the organ to change the sound, tone and timbre  the organ produced. Doing this he would get ever so slightly behind the beat and in order to get back on the beat he had to rush to catch up. This produced a heavy syncopation that characterized his playing and allowed him to ever so soulfully swing . Most of Jimmy Smith’s solos were prefaced with a very tight elaborate and virtuoso effort, from which he would release and launch into the most soulful and syncopated rendition possible of the piece. I liken Jimmy Smith’s introductions to the concept often used in track and field called Post Tetanus Potentiation . The concept is based upon the fact that if you aggressively contract muscles prior to performance you can theoretically get up to a 10% increase in contraction. This is most often seen with baseball hitters swinging weighted bats and track and field jumpers, aggressively bounding at the outset of their approach. It was most definitely the case with Jimmy Smith, following the introduction he would take everything to a higher level of excellence and soulfulness.

As I was driving I thought about track and field athletes in relationship to certain jazz artists. For example, one of my favorite musicians is Gene Ammons, He was the master of a big, masculine sound that came right at you without apology, hesitation or reservation. David Oliver is very much like Ammons. Ammons would work to get the very deepest and pure sound out of his horn. David works very hard to get the most technical efficieny out of his body. Both David and Ammons share physical size and a dedication to what they value most,…. in its purest form. Aries Merritt reminds me of Paul Desmond, of the Dave Brubeck days. Light, airy, shy, with a certain creativeness tinged with humor.

But this is not about Aries or David,.. the track and field athlete I likened to Jimmy Smith is Asthon Eaton. The reason being that organists have to be fluid and  multitask with both arms and both legs. The same, to some extent, can be said of drummers. But organists not only keep time with the left foot on the bass pedals, they also have to do a melodic thing with the bass pedals based on the chord changes, while at the same time doing something creative with their other three limbs. So for me, organists are the ultimate multitask people of jazz, thus, they are decathletes or hepthathletes( Shirley Scott ) of their art form .

Asthon Eaton is blessed in many ways, but one of the most important is the person who coaches him. Harry Marra graduated from Mount Saint Mary’s College more than 50 years ago. When Vin Linnana, Director of Track and Field/Cross Country at Oregon called me up, and we  discussed the pros and cons of hiring Harry Marrra , here is what I shared with him:

Vinnie, first of all Harry came from a college that specialized in the decathlon . Jim Deagan, the coach there, always had good multiple event people. So Harry was part of a rich tradition at his school. After graduating he joined our track club in Washington, D.C. We were loaded with talent and Harry fit right in and was a big asset to the team because of the very intense competitive nature he brought to the club. But the most important thing you need to take into consideration is the fact that Harry was a very small guy for the decathlon.

So why should I consider his size when he was an athlete then ? I am considering him for a coaching job NOW.

Vinnie, when I want to get  insight and intuition into the very best way to physically execute something in track and field, I look at women who are good in the event and I look at small guys in the event. For example, if I were looking for efficiency in the high jump, I would immediately look at Stefon Holm of Sweden because he was so small, he had to be doing things right in order to do so well. When we wanted to get the best conversion from horizontal to vertical at take off  for Oliver in the hurdles, we modeled his take off technique after Blanka Vlasic.  Harry was successful as a little guy in the decathlon because he was efficient and effective despite his size, so he knows things about biomechanical efficiency that other coaches simply do not have. Further the same principal applies to other things related to the sport. Harry had to find the best and most efficient way to handle these things.

So I think I am hearing that if I bring him here he will have the feel and intuition about what is the best and most efficient way to get things done.

Bingo !

Now lets get to Eaton, Jimmy Smith, jazz and syncopation.  Keeping a steady time means that you are on the beat,… and that is rhythm. On the surface that is acceptable,and  perhaps to some, even desirable. However, when you lag behind the beat and have to really accelerate to catch up,……….. that is syncopation. In track and field the basic objective for success is strategic force application. The formula for Force is Mass times Acceleration. When Jimmy Smith lags behind when he is adjusting the “stops”, he has to accelerate to catch up and swings harder and sounds better because he is syncopating more. When Eaton slightly lowers his center of gravity – and slows – in the field events and hurdles before the delivery point, and has to accelerate and explode in order to catch back up to, and even exceed, the previous tempo and beat, he is syncopating, thus applying greater force. With Harry knowing instinctively and intuitively how to strategic exploit that greater force creation , we have the ultimate marriage between a basic jazz principal (creative syncopation) and biomechanics.  Because Harry has experienced a lot of what is going on in a first-person-singular fashion, he is better positioned to get the very most out of Eaton.

The next time I see either one, I am going to suggest they become Jimmy Smith fans.

Atkinson turned 50 years old today. Wonder if he is any jazzier now than 25 years ago ?

Brooks T. Johnson

( 407 ) 758 – 0755

ZOMBIE ZONE SYNDROME

This might take a while.

Cubie Seegobin called me early this morning ( Sunday – February, 17 ). Cubie is the manager/agent for Johan Blake, Glen Mills, Blake’s coach, and most of the young sprinters in that training group except Usain Bolt. He was on his way from L.A. where he lives to, Kingston, Jamaica where he works. Coming and going he has a stopover in Miami and usually takes that time to call me so we can talk track. It is always good because we have known each other since he was a student at Adelphi University working with Ron Basil. This was in the 70s . From there he  went on to be an executive with PUMA shoes and later into athletic management. I respect him because he has an M.B.A. and is very honest and prompt in his business dealings. But even more of a source of respect is his strict adherence to his own code of ethics. He once took on the most powerful meet director in the sport, Andreas Brugger from the very prestigious and powerful Zurich  Meet, over the appearance fee for Renaldo Nehemiah and won. This past summer he publicly  called out another prominent meet director, Ian Stewart of the U.K., over what he thought was an insulting appearance fee for Blake. A few months later Stewart was out of that job. Anyway, we were talking about stuff and I told him I had started a blog piece on the Oscar Pistorius thing, but my computer dropped the piece in the middle of the effort and I got very angry and intimidated and signed off. He goaded  me into starting it all over again.

Brooks, man, you are not known for quitting !

You jive ( expletive ). You just pushed the right button.

Look,…. I got to run and board my flight to Kingston.

Yeah !

February 14, was Valentine’s Day. At 3:00 pm that day, David Oliver and I were walking and talking our way to the track at ESPN’S Wide World Of Sports Complex to train.

Brooks, did you hear about your boy ?

What boy ?

Oscar Pistorius.

Yeah,…I heard, I can not believe it.

Man,…you always tell us that we ALL have a screw loose.

Yeah, you’re right. But Jesus, killing that woman ! On a scale of 10 she was at least a 15. Women like that are scarce as hell.  He must really be crazy !

Just goes to prove your point.

Yeah, maybe.

Friday, February 15, Paul Krugman, the internationally renowned and respected economist and columnist for the NEW YORK TIMES wrote the following in critique of the response Senator Marco Rubio made to President Obama’s State Of  The Union address. “For  Mr. Rubio is a rising star, to such an extent that TIME magazine put him on the its cover, calling him “the Republican(party) Savior”. What we learned Tuesday, however, was that zombie economic ideas have eaten his brain. In case you are wondering, a zombie idea is a proposition that has been thoroughly refuted by analysis and evidence and should be dead – but won’t stay dead because it serves a political purpose, appeals to prejudices, or both.”.

In 1968 John Carlos and Tommie Smith, and to a lesser extent, Peter Norman, took the scab of innocence off the Olympics and to some extent athletics at large.  They made a very brave( they had every reason to fear assassination – President Kennedy,  Dr. King , Robert Kennedy and Malcolm X  were all killed within that decade for supporting much of the same values that Carlos and Smith were demonstrating for and against ) dramatic and vivid statement . The killing of innocent Israeli athletes at the Munich Olympics of 1972 made it perfectly clear that there was no going back to the “good old days” of sports for sports sake. It became clear that there was something kind of sick and sordid with the hypocrisy we  sought to cloak and hide the dark insides of elite athletics.

The day after the killings in Munich, many of us wandered around the Olympic village trying to sort out what had happened and the meaning of it all. Quite a few of us ended up in the stands at the practice track inside the village and we clustered together hoping that somehow by coming together we could arrive at some sort of sense and answer to what had just happened the night before. The shock was of it all was very thick and at first smothered much of the tenor and temper of the random and rambling among those there. After a while the tone of the talk took on a turn that was surprising and revealing all at the same time.

Do you think they are going to cancel the Olympics ?

Are you kidding ? Do you think  Samaranch ( head of the International Olympic Committee ) is going to cancel his big show ? No way man !

Dam it man,…..all those people are DEAD. DEAD, DEAD, DEAD !

Don’t be stupid ! Samaranch was a Nazi sympathizer during the Spanish Civil War. Do you really think he gives a dam about a few Jews getting killed ? There is just too much at stake here between him and the organizers. Take my word,….. the ( expletive ) Olympics will continue !

Then there was a voice I recognized because it was one of the 10 athletes I coached who were there in Munich. I was brimming with pompous pride, to the point of overflow,  because I had worked with so many athletes who were in Munich. I was personally conflicted, but favored that the right thing to do was to cancel the “games” in respect and deference to people who lost their lives. The recognizable voice floated above the conversation and said.

I am very sorry for anyone who got hurt( I noticed the substituted word, “hurt” instead of killed ) in all this stuff. But I worked my ass of for the last four years . I want my chance to compete. I did not come all the way over here, just to turn around and go back home. I do not care what they do. But I want my chance to run !

I was roiling and boiling inside because this was one of the real kind and generous people of our training group. She was the first to offer help and guidance to the young kids in our group. If there was ever an unattractive task to get done, she would volunteer to do it. She often showed great compassion and empathy, and a helping hand for those struggling to get better.  Yet here she was making the case that what REALLY mattered was her opportunity race no matter what happened to those other people. I was so upset that I got up and left the group. Here was a person I thought I was helping to develop lofty goals and values. Here was a person who outwardly manifested all the high values and sensibilities I thought I had. As proud as I was of having athletes in Munich, I was more pleased with the idea that I stood for the “right” thing and somehow I was inculcating them with the same value sets. When she caught up with me she asked.

Are you going to coach me ?

Yeah, I’ll coach you.

I know what I said upset you. I’m sorry. I just want to get what I worked so hard for. You know no one has worked as hard in our group as I have to get here.

Yeah, I’ll coach you !

Good, I won’t let you down.

Yeah.

That was the day I loss my conceptual and idealogical virginity and virtue  as far as what elite athletes and coaches are made of. People who are willing to go to extreme ends to achieve extreme objectives  have to have extreme needs they need to compensate and overcompensate for. This has been a constant fact of life as I have empirically observed elite athletes and elite athletics.

When I made this point earlier in the conversation to Cubie, he said.

Yeah,…I know. But I keep hoping that I will find that one exception.

Yeah, like the quest for the holy grail.

Yeah, something like that. I really got to go and get this plane.

I had encountered Oscar Pistorius at the training track within the village at the World Championships in Daegu, Korea in 2011. I watched him train and work on baton exchanges with his relay team. I feel that at some point “disabled” athletes with prosthesis will exceed the exploits of so-call “able” athletes in certain types of events because the science involved in tuning and developing the force return through the prosthesis is more exact than the science of doing the same with flesh and muscle. So I observed his every move and came away with the feeling that if a guy like him did it, I would not regret or rue it as much because he seemed like a real team centered guy and it was obvious that he worked hard enough to earn it.

I have always had a preference and  prejudice for the underdog. And like Dr. Krugman points out, I was engaging in the ZOMBIE ZONE SYNDROME when it came to Pistorius  because despite, ” analysis and evidence” refuting what I was thinking, I allowed myself to get caught up in personal prejudices and bias and buying into zombie ideals. I have no trouble at all being critical of Ray Lewis and his cheap antics and pious rants before, during, and after the Super Bowl. This was a guy who had blood on his clothing from a double murder. He was found guilty of “obstruction of justice” and fined $250,000.00 in connection with the same murders. So it was not much of a stretch to find fault with him as a person and athlete.  But at the bottom of all the layers of  it all, he and Pistorius may share more in common than we ( I ) are ready to admit and accept.

Thanks.

Brooks T. Johnson

( 407 ) 758 -0755