Track Olympians share the dream at Centre camp

What began four years ago with 38 campers at old Harrodsburg High School has blossomed — make that tripled — into a prestigious track and field camp at Centre College.

Maximum Velocity Track and Field Academy is in its third year at Centre, with about 120 campers.

Recent instructors include Tyson Gay, Jackie Joyner-Kersee, Francie Larrieu Smith and Dave Wottle.

The 2012 edition, which opened Wednesday and runs through Saturday, includes camp founder Sharrieffa Barksdale of Lexington. She competed in the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics and is the former American record-holder in the 400-meter hurdles.

Staff members back from last year include four-time Olympic sprinter Ato Bolden, two-time Olympic pole-vaulter Jeff Hartwig, Olympic gold-medalist and 400-meter hurdles world record-holder Kevin Young and former Southeastern Conference multi-event champion Ashley Trimble. Joyner-Kersee had a late schedule conflict and will miss the camp for the first time.

Also on staff are two-time Olympic triple-jumper Walter Davis, Olympic distance coach Rose Monday, two-time Olympic high-jumper Jamie Nieto and two-time Olympic Trials discus thrower Reedus Thurmond.

Barksdale will be coaching, of course, hurdlers.

“What we want to try to get across to the hurdlers is to ‘attack’ the hurdles. Don’t be afraid of the hurdle,” she said. “And it’s really good when you have someone that’s never ran the hurdles because then you can get them to alternate (lead legs), especially running the 300-meter hurdles. Getting them to alternate and getting them to use both legs.”

Barksdale is a case in point.

Competing for Harriman High School, she won a Tennessee state high school team championship by herself, winning the 100, 200, 100 hurdles, long jump and high jump.

When she arrived at the University of Tennessee, she had never attempted the 300-meter hurdles, nor even an open 400. Her coach convinced her to switch from the 100-meter hurdles.

“Terry Crawford told me ‘if you want to be that elite athlete and make the Olympic team, then you have to transition from the 100-meter hurdles to the 400-meter hurdles.’ Because Benita Fitzgerald was running the 100-meter hurdles and I couldn’t hold a light to Benita.”

Fitzgerald won the 100 hurdles Olympic gold at Los Angeles.

“And when (Crawford) explained to me that it would be a possibility I could make the Olympic team, it was a no-brainer for me to switch over to the 400-meter hurdles,” Barksdale said. “And that’s what I want to instill and tell these athletes is that if you have a great attitude and you listen to your coaches, they know what’s best for you because they can see you every day, the way you train. And if takes them to move you to a different event for you to be successful, then give it a try. But don’t have a bad attitude talking about ‘I want to quit; I want to leave school’ and stuff like that because it’s going to come.”

Hartwig, who made the Olympic team in 1996 and 2008, stresses to campers that everybody has to start somewhere. He started at just over 9 feet as a high school freshman, working up to 19-6 as an Olympian.

“When I was a freshman, I wrestled the 105-pound weight class, so I was a little bitty guy,” Hartwig said. “The whole thing was is I couldn’t jump up and grab the (basketball) rim or touch the rim, but I always thought it would be cool. That was kind of motivation for me. I thought ‘well, you know, if I have the help of a pole, I might be able to jump as high as the rim some day.’ And, of course, I went on and jumped almost twice as high.

“But the big thing that I look at with the kids is I grew up doing sports just because I loved doing sports. To be honest, I never dreamed of being an Olympian until very late in my career because it never seemed practical. I was doing it for the other reasons. The other reasons were it was fun and it was a challenge, and I crave knowledge. I just crave the help and the assistance and the coaching that I didn’t have when I was really young, and now this is a chance for me to kind of give back to these kids. It’s really fun.”

Read more at Mark Maloney on Kentucky sports