A: Everything started back in Iowa, living out in the country around a small farming community. My closest neighbor was more than a mile away with nothing but cornfields in between. In grade school I was far from being the fastest kid on the playground; in fact, if I remember right, my athletic abilities were far from showing world-class material!
As the years went on, like everyone I started developing and my athletic abilities began showing more promise each year. By junior high, I was just as fast as everyone else. By my senior year of high school I was the state champion in both the 100-meter and 200-meter dashes.
On to college, I was recruited to play football for some Division-I schools, but football wasn't on my priority list; team sports didn't interest me. In track, I enjoy the responsibility of my own actions, success and even failure for that matter. For the most part if I screw up, there is no one to blame but myself and, hopefully, I can fix the problem and make sure it doesn't happen again! I like that pressure and responsibility.
I took a small track scholarship at the University of South Dakota, which is 60 miles north of where I grew up. Until my junior year, I never took track too seriously, at least not to the point at which I considered it a profession. Like most people in college, I partied and spent most of the time hanging out with friends. As a result of my commitment to this "social life," my performances on the track were mysteriously lacking. Live and learn! After a re-evaluation of what was important to me, my new and improved lifestyle enabled me to do things I had never done before.
By the time I graduated from USD with two degrees, I had become an 8-time All-American, Academic All-American and set many school and state records. I competed myself onto a couple of U.S. teams including the 2002 World Championship team in Madrid, Spain. I also earned a spot at the U.S. Olympic Training Center in San Diego, CA.
[ Q ] Tell us what it's like being at the Olympic Training Center!
A: Arriving at the Olympic Training Center for the first time was an awesome sight, especially after living my entire life in the Midwest. The OTC sits on 150 acres of flowing hills with perfectly manicured landscapes, overlooking small mountains and Otay Lake. The primary goal of the OTC is to prepare athletes for the Olympic Games.
There are a variety of sports here including: track and field, canoe/kayak, archery, softball, soccer, field hockey, cycling and judo to name a few.
The majority of athletes come here for camps or short-term training. Around 60-70 of us actually live at the center full time. There is a full-time medical staff that is amazing, a cafeteria that serves meals from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m., a weight room and athletic venues for each sport that's here.
[ Q ] Describe the process of making it to the Olympics. What does it take to qualify for the Olympic Trials, and to then actually get on the Olympic Team?
A: In the United States, track and field has an enormous number of talented athletes in each event. The sprints in particular are extremely deep with talent. And as most of you know, the U.S. has what's called the Olympic Trials that are held solely to determine who will represent the U.S in each event. Just to get into the Olympic Trials in the 100-meter dash, you must run an "A" standard time of 10.07 seconds or better to guarantee your chance to participate.
Anything above that time on up to 10.25 seconds is considered a "B" standard that will not guarantee you a spot. Assuming you have qualified for the trials, you must then get through prelims, quarterfinals, semi-finals and then finals. Each round eliminates athletes while a set number advance to the next round.
Each country is different, but for the U.S., making the Olympic team in an individual event is extremely difficult. You must place in the top three of the final, no exceptions. For relays, there are a predetermined number of athletes they will take for what's called a "relay pool". Usually 6-to-8 athletes will run the rounds at the Olympic Games and then a "final four" will be determined to run in the actual final. Who's on the final relay team is dependent on too many factors to address here.
If you qualify in your event at the U.S. Olympic Trials, you will be flying to Athens, Greece where this year's Games will be held in August. To medal here at the Olympic Games is ultimately what every track and field athlete strives for.
[ Q ] What are some of the opportunities that a track and field athlete can experience off the track?
A: Opportunities for a track and field athlete can be out of this world. Depending on how successful you are, the places you can go and things that you can experience are limitless. The countries that you will travel through, the sites and people you will meet are never ending. If you make a "team," USA Track and Field covers many of the meet travel expenses for the athletes.
And for any regular meets, once a track and field athlete becomes successful and well known, meet promoters will pay the athlete's travel and hotel expenses, along with "appearance fees."
[ Q ] Can a track and field athlete make a good living? How does it compare to the NFL for example?
A: Track and field athletes are usually at two spectrums of a pay scale: poverty or very well off! Income potential also depends on the event in which you compete. For example, world-class javelin throwers will earn considerably less than world-class sprinters. Whether or not that is fair, I'm not one to say; it's just the way it is. An income is earned in three main ways: endorsements, prize money and appearance fees.
In the U.S., prize money is minimal. For a good example, you can earn $4,000 by winning an event at the U.S. Olympic Trials (the Super Bowl of U.S. track and field)! However, in Europe last year, a single l00-meter dash was set up for the winner to take home $500,000! I believe second place earned approximately $175,000. A successful track and field athlete can make a good living on what's called the European circuit. And I can't wait to go over there! Europeans are avid fans of track and field. The atmosphere is crazy; the fans cheer everyone on no matter what, and the money can be big.
Some big-name sprinters can take in more than $100,000 just to SHOW UP at certain meets! That doesn't even include prize money plus bonuses if records are broken. Those are all extreme examples but the point is, if you're good the money's out there. If not, you'll need to find a part-time job that's flexible with your training schedules and meet/travel schedules. And that's difficult to come by.
Comparing it to the NFL, there are some huge differences. If we aren't competing and doing well, we aren't getting paid. So unfortunately if we get injured and are unable to run, checks will not keep rolling in every week. Unless someone has some big-time endorsements, this can break a track and field athlete, forcing them to retire early.
[ Q ] With all the traveling that's done on top of living at the Olympic Training Center, you must meet a lot of people. Though on the other hand, being so busy with training and focusing so much of your time on athletics, is it hard having a social life and sustaining much of a personal relationship with anyone?
A: Thanks to this sport, I have met many amazing people and built many close friendships on and off the track. If I worked a regular 9-5 job, there's probably no way I would have gotten to know such a wide variety of people in this short amount of time. Friends, family, significant others and
workout partners are all sources of support.
It's important to be surrounded by people that have your back and understand what's trying to be accomplished. However yes, this sport can be demanding of your time. When I do have free time, I often want to rest or just do nothing at all which may appear selfish and even make me seem cold and distant.
This can be difficult for personal relationships. But once you step on the start line and the gun goes off, everything is on you as an athlete. No one is going to be there holding your hand, pulling you to the finish line. When an athlete is so focused on specific goals, it's sometimes necessary to have minimal distractions in personal life. Generally speaking if all things are equal, but your head's not on straight during a competition, you're probably going to lose.
[ Q ] Speaking of having your head on straight, what type of mentality does it take for you to have gotten where you are today? Does being a track and field athlete require a certain state of mind?
A: It definitely takes a certain mentality to be a track and field athlete. The routine in our training can become very tedious at times so staying
motivated is important. The discipline it takes to constantly take care of all the little things is also critical. It's easy to get tired and tell yourself that doing one less set or rep will be OK. Or, it's all right to skip soaking your body in the ice bath every afternoon.
However, I'll be the first to say that when you line up in a big race, you'll be thankful you did those little things! We also need to have enormous amounts of patience and faith. We wake up every morning and go to bed every night praying that we're doing the right thing, that we are going to stay healthy, and that the amount of time and dedication we put forth will be worth it in the end. Our workouts every day are in a sense an investment paid with blood, sweat and tears. We hope it pays off big and that we avoid injury or mistake, which could leave us with nothing at all.
There's a quote has always stuck with me, one that can be applied to life in all kinds of ways. "Persistence and energy will conquer all things." I think this is true not only in this sport, but in everything we do. If we set our minds to accomplish something, we will.
[ Q ] In athletics, injuries are something that most people will probably face sometime in their career. As a track and field athlete, give us the reality of how an injury can affect you and your goals at this level.
A: The Olympic Games are held once every four years; any injury for a track and field athlete is a stressful and traumatic experience! An incredible amount of time, energy and training is put into preparing for the Olympics, and an injury can end the ability to compete in an instant. If you have read any of my other articles, you know I had a serious injury that kept me from competing last year. If that were to happen now, I would have to wait FOUR more years just to get the opportunity to try to make another Olympic team. This isn't something that one likes to think about, but this fear is definitely on the back of your mind!
Track and field is a fine-tuned sport; even the slightest injury can result in a disaster. When races are won by THOUSANDTHS of a second, you need to perform at your best at all times. Though honestly I don't know a single track and field athlete who is ever 100% and injury free! And like I mentioned, unless you have a big contract with a sponsor, an injury can obviously prevent you from competing and having the opportunity to earn an income. If injured, staying positive during this time is an important part of the recovery process.
[ Q ] To constantly perform at such high levels, what is your take on supplements? And do they play a role in your training?
Supplements in the track and field world are a controversial topic. However, the amount of physically demanding work, mental rigors, and expectations that we face as athletes every single day requires more than just meat and potatoes. A good balanced
diet is not enough nutrition simply because of the physical demands in our sport. Supplements aid in nutrition, injury prevention, and overall general health. Therefore, we need to take supplements and every supplement we take is "at our own risk."
It's difficult for athletes to know EVERY ingredient listed in a supplement, but because of the "banned list" of "performance enhancers", we need to be as informed as possible. Being misinformed or even making an honest mistake can lead to serious consequences in our sport. For example, someone can be taking a multivitamin and think what they're doing is perfectly harmless. Though if this multivitamin contains an ingredient that is considered banned, the athlete will be in a world of trouble for taking something they assumed was safe.
The consequences for taking a banned performance enhancer can be suspension or even being banned from track and field for life. As you can imagine, in fear of jeopardizing careers, many athletes have become frustrated with this important issue.
A: Genetics are a huge piece of the track and field puzzle. Everyone is put together differently, for all sorts of reasons. As my coach says, "It's all about the parents you've picked." In each track and field event, you'll notice people are shaped and built differently. I've often been mistaken for either a distance runner or a pole-vaulter for some reason. Though for the most part at the professional level, you won't see too many 6-foot-4, 300-pound sprinters ... or 5-foot-9, 175-pound shot putters!
There are limiting factors that each person must face; some people are born with slow-twitch fibers, some with fast twitch. I think a person needs to maximize what they have and go with it. I know that genetically some people are just fast without even working that hard at it. I see it all the time. However, if I don't bust my butt in the weight room and focus on performing real specific workouts that emphasize what I'm trying to accomplish, I won't get far in this sport.
About The Author
Name: Tom Green.
Residence: U.S. Olympic Training Center, San Diego, Ca.
Sport: Track and Field.
College: University of South Dakota (97'-02')
Events: 100 and 200-meter dashes.
Personal Best: 10.10/20.77.
Accomplishments: 8-time All-American, 7th in the 100m dash at the 2002 USA Outdoor Track and Field Championships, member of 02' World Cup 4x100, 02' NACAC U-25 gold and silver medallist, 02' Drake Relays 100m champion, both state and University of South Dakota athlete of the year titles, six school records (three all time state records).
Goals: Becoming a member of the 2004/2008 Olympic teams in the 100m dash and 4x100 relay. To threaten the current 100 meter world record.