First off, what were your overall impressions of the IAAF World Championships in Beijing, and how the meet went?
My overall impression with the World Championships is that it delivered on all its expectations. The high drama behind the build up to the Champs in regard to the key match ups and epic battles did not disappoint. This champs had some of the best finals that I had ever seen at a global champs. The great past champions showed that they still have what it takes while a lot of the new heroes finally hit the gold that was expected of them. Add into the mix a few surprise victories in major events and it was easy to see that this meet had everything that a track fan could have asked for in a top event. The anticipation for what would happen when the gun went off was felt by each and everyone in the stadium. The Bird’s Nest held some mighty roars that will be remembered for a long time. It was not an easy feat to replicate the great performances that took place in 2008, but Beijing 2015 was definitely the place to be.
You began the championships journey at the Team USA Training Camp in Japan. Can you talk a bit about that, and how the training camp went?
If you have never been to Japan it is hard to understand the quality of the hospitality that this country prides itself on. It is truly second to none. The Team USA training camp in Narita, Japan was an awesome experience. It was by far my best experience at a Team USA camp. The training sites that we were able to use were top rate and the personnel that their local organizing committee assembled to help us each day were always on hand to assist us with anything that we needed. After travelling across the globe to reach our destination it was tremendous to put all of our athletes at ease when it came to setting up shop and getting in their final preparations for Beijing.
Aside from the daily runs along the canal that was just a five minute jog from the hotel we also had three different training sites at our disposal. The first was at the Narita Sports Complex. This community sports center houses a local baseball team, soccer team and gym along with the newly built 400m track. This was the main site that we used for all of our endurance athletes when they needed to get in their track intervals. With a nearby bike path network that allowed us to run from the track and follow the signs we could be assured that nobody would get lost while out on a run. The second training site was at Junetendo University. This is one of the top sports universities in Japan. It is home to some great research for many of their endurance sports. This is where they study the effects of altitude living and training for endurance sports. We used this facility mainly for our throwers and jumpers as it housed a truly top notch gym. This was also the site for our pre-Worlds mini meet where athletes were able to get in a low key competition before heading to China for their main events. The final training site we used was at the Iwana Athletic Park. This sports complex was a 30 minute drive from our hotel, but it offered some of the greatest places to train for our long distance runners and race walkers. The Iwana park is home to the great Naoko Takahashi. Takahashi was the 2000 Olympic Marathon champion and first woman to break the 2:20 barrier. It was great to have our athletes be able to train on the same roads and trails of such a phenomenal runner.
All in all this was a great training camp. It gave our athletes a chance to focus in on the tasks ahead while still giving them some time to explore some of the traditional Japanese culture. I hope to be back here in 2020 in the build up to the Tokyo Olympics.
This was your fourth time coaching an IAAF World Championship meet for Team USA. What did you learn or take away from this meet that may be different from your past World Championships experiences?
I think what I appreciated most from this World Champs is what happens behind the scenes. This is in regard to both putting on the event and in managing a team. Our US team consisted of 130 athletes along with an additional 30-40 staff members. That is a lot of bodies to move from point A to point B and a lot of training schedules to coordinate. We have an excellent management group at USATF that have worked endless hours in making this all go as seamless as possible. It can equally be said for our organizing committee in Japan for our training camp as well as the organizing committee for the World Champs. To manage this giant circus takes some logistical genius and for the most part it was handled with great skill.
After having served on three US teams prior to this one I have realized that to be an effective staff member I must be a great listener. My major role in helping our athletes is to reduce their stress levels. So the more that I could listen to them and hear out their worries then the sooner I could work to find a solution. As a former athlete myself and a coach of athletes at this level I have a bit of a head start in anticipating what will happen out on the track and what each athlete will need to make them feel more at ease. With each team I learn a little more and I feel I can help a little better. It is an honor to be on the USATF staff and I hope to be able to do it again in the future.
What was the best part about being coach of Team USA? Can you describe the atmosphere inside the Bird’s Nest stadium, and what parts of Beijing culture you got to experience? Do you have a favorite moment from the trip?
The great part of being a coach for Team USA is that I get to spend all of my time out at the warm up track. This is the place where all the action happens before the athletes head into the Bird’s Nest for their competitions. This is where athletes warm up, get in their drills and sprints and possibly any last minute sports therapy that they may need before they enter the Call Room that begins the procession to the competition. It is my job to make sure that all of our athletes get their warm ups in and get to the Call Room on time. Along with this comes some last minute tips on what to expect and a final check to make sure they have their shoes, uniforms and everything else that they may need. I spent every morning and every afternoon at the warm up track – so I pretty much saw every athlete that was competing at the World Champs. That is a pretty cool job. The only downside was that I didn’t see much of Beijing other than the track. I did get up to the Adidas hospitality house, which was located just outside the warm up track, and it is there where I could see all of the Olympic Park from its seven story high glass building. That is about as much sightseeing that I did, but I would not change it for anything in the world. As a Team USA coach I am there to help the team. If I want to see the sites then I will take a vacation. And as for the Bird’s Nest… it is truly one of the greatest stadiums that I have ever been to. It is an architectural marvel and is a beauty just to look at every day. Every athlete I met loved competing in there. The support from the crowds was awe inspiring and it rose many to even greater heights. It was the home of fast times, long jumps and exceptionally far throws.
Will coaching Team USA and observing the World Championships impact or enhance how you coach the B.A.A. High Performance team? Will you take any lessons you learned from the Championships and implement them when working with the B.A.A. High Performance Team?
One of the highlights about being on a Team USA staff is that it gives one the opportunity to be amongst the greatest minds in the sport. Morning breakfasts and afternoon lunches turned into some great coaching roundtables. The same could be said for the practice sessions. I would spend hours watching coaches and athletes do their thing. It was great in that it helps to bring home a few key messages. One, to be successful you have to train very hard. Two, at this level the little things matter – a lot! Daily ice baths, stretching, weights and eating well are all a part of the game. When medals are won and lost by inches you can’t give anything away. And three, the greatest athletes and coaches are the ones that can continue to be motivated and excited to do better year after year. Complacency will not get you far in the sport. This is not to say that the fundamentals are not a priority – as they are still the most important thing, but as performances and athletes change we all need to keep up with how to think bigger and believe that greater things are possible.
On my flight home to Boston I was going over in my mind all that I talked about and saw over the past three weeks. It affirmed most of what I believed to be the best about our coaching principles here at the B.A.A. and it also gave me a few more tricks up my sleeve to try when we get stuck in a rut. I am a firm believer that if you are not getting smarter in your field then you are getting left behind. I never want our program left behind and so I continue to push to learn more. My trip to Beijing served as another step to becoming the best coach that I can be.
Going forward, what can we anticipate during the fall from the B.A.A. High Performance Team?
Up next for our B.A.A. High Performance team is a series of U.S. Road Championships. It starts off with the 20K Championships in New Haven, CT, on Labor Day. After that it will be the 5K Championships in Providence on September 20 and shortly after that will be the US 10K Championships for Women here in Boston. Following the road races we are going to do an altitude training camp out west before finishing up the year with the 12K Road Championships in Virginia and then the U.S. Club Cross Country Champs in San Francisco that take place in December. It has been a busy year for us on the roads, track and cross country. It is all leading to what will hopefully be a great 2016.