By LARRY VAUGHT
One of my favorite events every year is the Maximum Velocity Track & Field Academy at Centre College in Danville where former Olympians, Olympic coaches and world champions serve as camp clinicians.
It’s no different this year and I thoroughly enjoyed just watching about 130 middle school and high school athletes Wednesday listening to the camp clinicians.
Here’s a quick look at who is in Danville this week:
— Pole vaulter Mark Hollis, the oldest jumper ever to jump 19 feet for the first time. He’s at the camp for the fourth time.
— High jumper Gwen Mikinsi, a 13-time USA national champion, is here for the fourth time. She was the 2012 women’s Olympic high jump and heptathlon coach.
“Things you learn here when you interact with these clinicians can make a real difference if you apply the training techniques you learn,” she told the campers. “This is one of my favorite places to come back to. It’s not just a coaching experience, it is like a family experience.”
— Rose Monday is at the camp for the sixth time. She was the 2012 and 2016 Olympic distance coach and is the current women’s USA Track & Field chairman.
“I never made the Olympic team but I competed in three Olympic Trials and in all the biggest meets in the world,” she said. “But everything I have done should not be discounted because I did not make the Olympics. The disappointments I had made me the coach I am. Appreciate the moment. The ugly is important, too, because we learn from our mistakes.”
— Wallace Spearmon, a two-time Olympian, still has the eighth-fastest 200-meter time ever (19.65 seconds). It’s his first time at the camp as he was a late replacement for the injured Justin Gatlin.
He told the young athletes how he failed to make his high school track team twice and had to walk on the team at Arkansas. He won a national title as a freshman.
“If you pursue a career in track and field, you are competing against the clock and against the world. I had to work and carry that attitude on the track and in the classroom,” Spearmon, who went to school with Lexington sprint standout Tyson Gay, said. “All corporate people like track and field athletes because we are so disciplined. I have been all across the world and learned things I want to share with you.”
— Hurdler Terrence Trammell is a three-time Olympian and won two silver medals and took silver three times in the world’s championships. He’s been at the camp four years.
“The words can’t, don’t and couldn’t should never be in your vocabulary. Always try to be the best you can be in anything you do. Take the limits off yourself,” he told the participants. “When I was younger, track and field was not in my vision. I ran track and field because my middle school basketball coach didn’t play me and I wanted to show him I was a better athlete than he thought. I started off not hurdling. I was that utility guy you just stuck in a relay or something.”
— Kenny Harrison won the triple jump at the 1996 Olympics and still holds the Olympic record of 59 feet, 4 inches.
“This is my favorite camp in the whole world,” Harrison said. “I enjoy it because it is so well organized. We have an amazing staff and athletes. I was always told I was too short to do my event you never give up.”
— Hurdler Kevin Young won the gold medal at the 1992 Olympics in the 400-meter hurdles with a time of 46.79 seconds. He was the first one to go under 47 seconds — and no one else has in the last 26 years.
“I truly enjoy myself when I get here. You have to have a lot of tenacity and perseverance to succeed. I was a walk-on at college. Coaches discussed that I should redshirt. I put in my head that I had no options of not making that team,” Young, who has worked here five previous times, said. “Being at UCLA was a dream come true for me. I wanted to be an astrophysicist but track worked out okay.”
— Shot putter Reese Hoffa is at the camp for the first time. He’s a three-time Olympian and won the bronze medal in 2012. He started track and field as a junior after thinking he could be a star athlete in other sports.
Sprinter Justin Gatlin had to pull out of the camp to rehab an injury. However, Gatlin recorded a special video message to inspire the campers and even sent an autographed picture for each one.
Clinician director Sharieffa Barksdale, another former Olympic hurdler, says the staff makes the camp special.
“All the clinicians come because they want to help kids,” Barksdale said. “They love coming here.
“(Centre College coach) Lisa Owens does a great job putting all this together. Centre College is great to us and the campers. Lisa’s athletes do a tremendous job helping with the camp, too. Everyone just has a great time and also manages to really learn a lot.”