Thursday, June 14, 2012

Track & Field: Olympian Kevin Young looks back on 400-meter hurdles record that still stands after 20 years

From Left to Right: Kevin Young, Jeff Hartwig, Erin Gilreath, and Dave Wottle

10:02 a.m. EDT, June 14, 2012
No one could have imagined 20 years ago when Kevin Young won the 400-meter hurdles at the 1992 Summer Olympics in Barcelona that his winning time of 46.78 seconds would remain the world record 20 years later, but that’s exactly what has happened.
Young, who won the 1993 World Championship in 47.18 seconds, had an unusual hurdling technique of switching between 12 and 13 strides between hurdles — a departure from the 13-stride technique used by Edwin Moses that remains the standard for hurdlers.
His record is even more unbelievable considering he failed to clear the last hurdle cleanly but he was so far ahead of the field that he slowed down to raise his arm in celebration as he crossed the finish line.
This week Young, 45, is in Danville working as a clinician at the Maximum Velocity Track & Field Academy at Centre College. Young, who was inducted into the National Track & Field Hall of Fame in 2006 and once won 25 straight races, shared these insights Wednesday night as campers were arriving for the camp that features even former Olympians on the staff:

Question: How much do you still think back to that 1992 Olympic race and get asked about it?
Young: “With this being the 20-year anniversary of the race, I¿have been thinking about it a lot. I am planning on trying to take a trip to London (site of the 2012 Olympics) this summer to do something. Even living in Georgia now, I am around a lot of youngsters now who were not even born when I¿ran that particular race or know about it. Especially in Georgia because that is (Olympic hurdler) Edwin Moses country. I¿am constantly reminded that I hold the world record and having been holding it for almost 20 years. The cool thing with YouTube and everything now is that you can go back and check the race out.
“I am also visiting a lot of schools in the area where I¿live and a lot of those youngsters go back and see the race and get excited. I still constantly get a kick out of it, especially still being the world record holder.”

Question: What made that such a magical race for you and did you have any idea then just how spectacular that time was?
Young: “First of all, I¿think the expectations for a lot of people other than myself were that the 47-second barrier would never be broken. I was very confident I¿had the ability to do just that. Even setting my goal leading up to the games, I¿kind of predicted I¿would be able to run as fast as I did and then to exceed what my own expectations were was real cool. I shocked a lot of folks and all the naysayers that were out there had a chance to see the race and it just kind of blew them away. I still think even to this day a lot of folks still haven’t truly acknowledged that I¿have been the world record holder for almost 20 years?

Question: Do you ever wonder how much faster you might have gone that day if you had not nicked the last hurdle or raised your arm at the end?
Young: “I am sure it could have been faster, but the fact I was in the Olympic Games four years prior to that and took fourth place, my priority there was to get a medal. Even the World Championships the previous year in Tokyo, I¿took fourth place. My thing always was to get that fourth-place monkey off my back. When I was coming down the stretch, the only thing I¿knew was that I was going to win that medal. Even prior to that walking onto the field and getting to the lanes, I had flashbacks to 1988 and was shaking this was my year to medal.”

Question: Is it true that you put pieces of paper with 46.89 in each running spike during the 1992 season because you expected to break the 47-second barrier?
Young: “I had 47.89 seconds written on a couple of pieces of paper and rolled it up in each shoe and had stuffed it in my running spikes. I¿actually had that after the 1988 Olympics. I had walked around with that number for a few years and would take it out at practice time and look at it. I became real familiar in my head with the number 46.89 seconds. Even in the Olympic Village, I was caught writing on the wall in real small numbers by one of teammates and he busted in on me and I freaked out. I told him I was writing 46.89 on the wall and he told me I¿had to write it bigger than that to achieve my goal. After that I¿took the pencil and was writing 46.89 all over the walls because we were in apartments in Barcelona and they were going to go through there after we left and paint everything. Sure enough I went out there and ran 46.78 seconds.”

Question: Considering all the advances in technology and training, how do you explain that you have held this record for 20 years?
Young: “The talent level in the 400 hurdles has been there. It’s just a matter of the small things as a hurdler that they have to perfect. The talent level is there. They are running low 47’s. It’s just a tick faster to my time. It all has to be date, time and awareness. An event like the Olympics puts everything together and brings out the extra element that pushes athletes to a whole different level. Maybe that is it. Hopefully they won’t figure it out.
“I think my approach to the race itself made my performance easier. When I ran my race,¿I figured I would be consistent and constant. A lot of hurdlers now are playing hit and miss with their approach to the hurdles. I¿am going to say as long as they keep running that way, they will not break my world record.”

Question: What impact did Edwin Moses’ career have on you?
Young: “Not as much as (1988 Olympic gold medalist) Andre Phillips. He was a fellow (UCLA) Bruin and an individual who was constantly on the track with me and training. He gave me advice, so I could go to different levels of competition. Over the years I was able to consistently lean on him. He provided great information to me and that is what pushed my career.
“But just the fact that Edwin ran at such a high level, he set the bar. If not for him setting the bar, I would not have had a particular goal to go after, so he gets some credit there. But ultimately I would say Andre Phillips gets the majority of the credit for helping me.”

Question: What is going on with Kevin Young these days?
Young: “I have been married almost two years. Moved from New York back to Georgia. I am training with younger athletes. I am the advisory chair for USA Track and Field Georgia, our local association.¿I connect with our athletes, elite athletes, journey athletes trying to go to a new level. I help provide information and training and sponsoring advice for them to make transition and pursue a professional career in track and field.”

Question: What did it mean to you to be the first ever ESPY award winner in track?
Young: “ The biggest thing about the ESPY when I¿got that award was Jimmy Valvano. We were in New York doing the show and he was really the topic of the ESPYs. Me and other athletes knew his history and he was battling cancer but he was so upbeat and chipper. It was incredible.
“The ESPYs were not the big rock star event on ESPN that they are now. I do like to say I have the very first track and field ESPY. Think about it. You have this red carpet event now, but the first one was not like that. It is such a media event now with more coverage and more sports involved. ESPN and ABC have taken that awards show and mold it to what they want. I am hoping to show back up.¿I have not been to the ESPY awards since I¿won. Maybe next year I¿will be invited back. It will be an anniversary year.”

Question: Any chance the Olympians here at Centre College providing the instruction are going to enjoy this camp more than the kids attending?
Young: “My roommate here at the camp is (1972 Olympic gold medalist) Dave Wottle. He is one of the my childhood heroes. I just knew of him. When I found out we were going to be rooming together I was like, ‘Wow. I don’t believe this.’ I have a cap (Wottle was famous for running in a golf hat) that I¿am going to get him to sign and I¿am going to frame it. I had my camera phone out taking video of all these former Olympians talking and I have these nice 30-second segments of him talking about Munich Olympics and whole terrorist thing. I am having a good time already.”