‘It’s only as big as you make it.’ Kevin Young – Olympic athletes interviewed Episode 104
Kevin Young, Olympic Champion, World Champion, World-record holder, the first man to run the 400-meter hurdles in under 47 seconds outlines how he grew up in a neighborhood gang proliferation and drug activities, and how athletics has helped him to stay his course.
Kevin shares how he developed his unique hurdling style, the importance of creating routines for yourself, and how he managed to control his nerves in the 1992 Olympic final to claim the gold medal in world record time.
Kevin shares how to identify mental barriers and overcome them, and why he wants to give back to the world and aspires to be a role model for the younger generations.
Furthermore, we discuss
- How he got into track and field
- His your darkest moment
- His best moment
- His experience of racing against his role models
- The sweeter experience, the Olympic gold medal or the world record
- His advice to a younger Kevin Young
- The importance of having a mentor
- His success habits
- Why he always had to prove something to himself
- His morning routine
- How to prepare for important moments
- His preparation for the Olympic final where he won in world record time
- How to overcome setbacks
- His role model
- The best advice he has received
- A typical training day in the life of a 400-meter hurdler
- Will his world record that is standing for 28 years be broken soon
- His interview nomination
- Where can you find Kevin Young
Part 1 of the interview with Kevin Young
Part 2 of the interview with Kevin Young
Christian: In this interview, I’m joined by Kevin Young. Kevin has been nominated by Allison Wagner in a previous interview.
Kevin has a long and impressive track record of achievement, Olympic Champion, 1992, World Champion, 1993, Men’s Track and Field Athlete of the Year, 1992, first Track and Field ESPN Award winner in 1993, inducted in USATF Hall of Fame in 2006, the first man to run the 400-meter hurdles in under 47 seconds. And last but certainly not least, his world record is still standing today [at the time of this interview].
Kevin: Thank you very much. Good afternoon. How do you do?
Christian: Good afternoon, Kevin, I’m doing fine. I am excited to get the chance to speak to you.
How he got into track and field
Christian: Kevin, for most of us mere mortals, running 400 meters is a challenge in itself. Did you want to make it more difficult for yourself and put some hurdles in the way?
Kevin: What happened in that case, I got duped into doing and becoming a 400-meter hurdler. I was a jumper doing both the triple jump and long jump. When it came to the 400-meter hurdles, I only wanted to run the 110 meters.
I got duped into doing and becoming a 400-meter hurdler.
I had a cousin that was a 110-meter hurdler that I looked up to. We were actually having a track meet in which we didn’t have enough 300-meter hurdler racers in the event, so the coach kind of asked me to run. I jumped in the race and won it and then the saga began.
Christian: The funny thing is, you wanted to become a 110-meter hurdler, and I actually interviewed person who won the gold medal in the 110-meter hurdles at the Barcelona Olympic Games, the same Olympic Games, where you won the 400-meter hurdles event.
Kevin: Mark McKoy?
Christian: Yes, he has been on. He’s an intense guy and it was a really nice interview.
- Check out the interview ‘It’s the little choices you make every single day.’ With Mark McKoy
His darkest moment
Christian: In your life as an athlete, what was your darkest moment as an athlete?
Kevin: That’s a good question. I’ve certainly had a few. I never really thought this was too dark, but I would say as an athlete though, the darkest moment I had was that one time when I was in high school.
I was the best 110-meter hurdler in my section and we were in a meeting. I remember settling in the blocks and the gun going off and I took off and I knew I didn’t jump the gun. However, there was a second gunfire and I got disqualified out of that race and I had really prepared myself for that particular race.
I got disqualified and so when that happened, that was one of the most crushing moments of my track and field career. From that point on, I have always just settled in the blocks and just waited for the gun.
I got disqualified, that was one of the most crushing moments of my track and field career.
I’ve seen athletes where they’ve been in World Championship competitions, Olympic Games and all that stuff, and have a false start. It just distracts from all the hard work and preparation that you did to get yourself there only for something like that to happen.
Therefore, I wanted to be the last person out of the blocks than really being the first person out of the blocks, just to know that I got the race started. That was pretty hard. Anything other than that has been fun.
It’s all been a journey. There haven’t been any darkest moments, I would say. Put it this way, I wished there were certain people alive to the day in which I set big world record that could have appreciated my performance. Other than that, that’s pretty much it.
Christian: How did you recover from that moment when you got disqualified?
Kevin: I walked off the field. I went somewhere behind the bleachers or off the field and I cried. I started to cry once the person stood in my lane with the flag to indicate that I was the one that they disqualified. I was just so crushed and I walked away, I cried it off and then I came back.
I just told myself that that would be one event that I wouldn’t be able to participate in at that particular meeting. I had participated in so many other events – 110, 300 meter hurdles, long jump, triple jump and high jump.
I had enough disciplines in there, which could keep me busy, but on that particular day, I just wanted to run the 110 meters and it didn’t happen for me. But I learned the big lesson that sometimes you don’t want others to be at liberty to make decisions for you in those situations, so you just learn from it.
His best moment
Christian: What was your best moment?
Kevin: I’ve shared this with a good friend of mine the other day. It was 1986, NCAA Championships in Indianapolis, Indiana. I was racing against the California 300/400-hundred-meter hurdle legend, the great Danny Harris, and I was a sophomore UCLA.
I grew up in LA, and I was glued to the television during the Los Angeles Olympics in 1984, where Danny Harris gave the great Edwin Moses a run for his money and to win the silver medal.
I would say that Danny Harris has always been one of my hero-peer-hero-peer-heroes. When we had the 1986 meters with his last collegiate race and I got in that race, he made me do something that proceeded to what I ended up doing at the Barcelona Olympics in 1992.
That particular race, I was so hyped up racing against Danny, that I flew out of the blocks and got to the very first hurdle. I stepped into the first hurdle with my left leg lead and got to the very first hurdle with my right leg. I was supposed to have gotten there in 20 steps with the left leg lead.
However, I ended up getting to the hurdle in 19 steps with the right leg leading, throwing my cadence off. So I ended up going to the second hurdle with my left leg, the third hurdle with my right leg, and the fourth hurdle with my left leg.
Then the fifth hurdle, I was approaching it again with my right leg, being on a 12 stride pattern. I remember as I approached the hurdle, I was trying to figure out in my head how to calculate the distance visually.
As I approached the fifth hurdle in that collegiate meet, I just took a leap of faith and took off and I ended up clearing that hurdle. Instead of obviously 12, I went 11 steps and stepped over that particular hurdle, got over it, and proceeded on and got back on track to a rhythm of 13 steps and I finished the race.
Danny caught me around the eighth hurdle and passed me by. He ended up winning his second or third National Championship, but I was so happy that I was able to get through that race. At that point, I realized that I had the natural talent to be able to alternate my legs between the hurdles like that.
At that point, I realized that I had the natural talent to be able to alternate my legs between the hurdles.
It took me a number of years to find out that I actually had 11 steps between the hurdles. They wrote about it in Track and Field News, in one of the copies when it was a paper copy. I remember reading about it in one of the little sections that they would have for the student-athletes.
But it wasn’t until between 2002 and 2004, a friend of mine, who worked for CBS News, which is a broadcast station in the US, would televise the NCAA Championships. He actually got me a copy of that race, and I hadn’t seen that race ever, just being a participant in it.
I remember getting a copy of the race and checking it out and I’m thinking that I actually did go 11 steps and this is the buildup into it. I’ve actually put it on a YouTube channel, slowing it down and showing the stride pattern which I took.
That day I went 11 steps. That was the biggest mind-blowing and greatest thing I’ve ever accomplished at that time. It wasn’t until the first round in Barcelona in 1992 that I actually went 11 steps again.
It’s one of those situations where you’re just in phenomenal shape and you just acquiesced to the feeling in the moment that you happen to be in. You just free flow and go with it and it happened. That was like the greatest moment, obviously, winning the gold medal in 1992 and setting the world record was right up there.
Being honest with you, it was really cool that I had the opportunity to race against some really great athletes because I was a person who said, as a spectator, I was more of a fan than a performer.
When I got my opportunity to perform, I learned a lot being in a lot of races. I came in second, third, and fourth place being in the B races. I also did C races bouncing around Europe, just being a student of the event. I really enjoy just running. I could talk all day about it, you know that right?
His experience of racing against his role models
Christian: How did you make sure you stay calm when you’re racing your role model or hero?
Kevin: How do I stay calm? I come from very humble beginnings, I was the kid holding the door for all the other athletes. My first love was basketball. I thought I was going to be in the NBA, but my body type and my skillset weren’t really recognized in basketball.
- Also check out the interview ‘The world has smiled upon me.’ With Olympic champion and former world record holder Donovan Bailey, who also outlines his love for basketball before he got started with track and field.
Plus, what ended up happening was I found that I was better in athletics. Whatever attention that I was giving to basketball definitely went towards athletic, especially when you had the other disciplines involved with, the high jump, triple jump, and long jump. I was pretty spread out.
When I had started having success in high school, that’s when I went into the direction of the athletics. And then, when you have the Olympic Games come into your hometown, you see these great athletes. Then I just started reminiscing on the individuals that meant a lot to me while I was growing up in Los Angeles.
They were competent and I was watching and reading about a lot of the great athletes of the sixties such as Tommy Smith, John Carlos, Male Pender, Mighty Burner, and Larry Freeman. These were basically the gentlemen from the 1968 Olympic team in Mexico City.
I remember as a youngster reading up on those guys and looking at all the photographs that were taken over the years. Then as I became slowly involved into this Olympic family, how actually we went from a fan of those individuals, in awe watching these great athletes, to becoming fellow Olympians.
That meant so much to me when I was a young one. I basically had that connection with them as I grew up. When I was in rooms with Willie Davenport, I would just want to pinch myself because back then, you read about these great athletes.
Now you’re at a track and field symposium or a conference and you sit next to them, and they come right off the page or the silver screen right there in front of you and you’re in awe thinking that you’re actually there. They’re looking at me telling me that I am the awe-inspiring one and the world record holder. I tell them that they are the ones who are my childhood heroes.
They’re looking at me telling me that I am the awe-inspiring one and the world record holder. I tell them that they are the ones who are my childhood heroes.
It makes everything come full circle, how important it is to have superheroes as role models. Where I grew up in LA in Compton, you have two things going on for you. Either you’ve got to go to class and be stuck there, be an athlete or try your best to be an athlete.
I was one of those dudes where I loved going to class and I love participating in sports. I had to find a nice little wiggle room because I enjoyed my teachers and the information that they provided for me. However, I actually enjoyed my coaches just as well because of the discipline they provided for me.
It gave me an opportunity to do things both in the classroom and outside the classroom. So I think I’ve got a good package of good learning. But yes, I got a chance to hang out with my Olympic heroes, talk to them, chill out with them, and have cocktails with them and it’s a great experience because a lot of athletes nowadays, don’t have that experience.
I can literally say I looked up to a lot of those guys, like Tommy and John. I got a chance to go to their homes and hang out and be in their backyard and eat dinner with them and share all kinds of cool things. I remember as a kid, when I was four and five years old, reading about these guys in the history books.
I always thought that it’d be great to meet these individuals. Now, years later, I’m actually a family member with John Carlos. His wife is one of my distant cousins. I’m a distant cousin of John Carlos, so we hang out like he’s my big brother.
That’s one of the sweetest relationships that I do have is to be able to just have a follow-up in there with these great Olympians, and not just the ones from the US, but also individuals from other places. I remember just being a fan when [Sebastian] Coe and [Steve] Ovett were running and I mentioned Mark McKoy with you earlier.
Watching those guys, because when I came on in 1986, my very first international meeting was the 1986 Goodwill Games that we had in Moscow. This was a big year for me. That’s when I became this international athlete.
It all belonged to me and it was like the best thing that ever happened because I realized two things. I’d have to go back to watch in the summertime. I’d spend my summers in Europe, but then I would come back home from time to time between the periods of where we did have meetings, and come back to LA.
Being honest with you, all my friends or individuals in the neighborhoods that I grew up in, in and out, they were out there in the streets with drugs and gangs and all that. I would come home, maneuver through all that stuff, getting back and forth between the West Side, UCLA, where I live in the Valley, and coming back to watch where I grew up.
It was just an experience in and of itself and to be able to survive that, but having that opportunity to be in Europe in the summertime and going to all these different places. I’ll be honest with you, my track and field career, it was pretty much a storybook career. I ran for Santa Monica Track Club.
You couldn’t get any better than that running with SMTC in the eighties. That was really cool.
What was the sweeter experience, the Olympic gold medal, or the world record
Christian: And that Olympic final in 1992, you won the title, meaning the gold medal and you set a new world record. What’s the sweeter experience? The gold medal or the world record?
Kevin: It’s like ice cream with the sprinkles. I’m just going to give it to you like that. It’s the extra bonus that you get. It is that extra prize you get in the bag when you don’t expect it or you get the gift card with the money in it.
The card is great. You flip it open and it’s like, 20 or 100 Euro in there. You’re thinking that that’s even better. I would say the gold medal. The record came because I prepped myself because I wanted to win a medal.
It wouldn’t have mattered had I won the gold, silver, or the bronze. I wanted to be an Olympic medalist because I’ve missed out at the 1988 Olympics in Seoul with that fourth-place finish. So, I got four years of thinking about becoming a medalist.
I’ve missed out at the 1988 Olympics in Seoul with that fourth-place finish. So, I got four years of thinking about becoming a medalist.
I remember running down the straightaway coming home, trying to figure out which finger I was going to put up to go across the finish line and not only did I get a medal, but obviously winning the gold medal. Then when the world record was mentioned, I was happy that I did it in style and in fashion. I did it the K Young way.
I think that was important because I had talked about that record. All these conversations that I had with myself and prepping myself and wondering what it would be like to break the world record.
The crazy thing about the questions that you asked me is that even during the course of my training, I would practice waving at the crowd, just to take my mind off the exhausting work I used to do at UCLA. Of course, when you run, one of the first things your coaches will always tell you when you start to lean over and put your hands over your knees is to stand up, get up and walk it off. They will tell you to get off your knees and get off the track.
One of the mechanisms of which I utilize was I would finish a race after running and I breathe in and out of my nose as opposed to breathing out of my mouth. I regulate my heartbeat and my rhythm, breathing through my nose. And while doing that, I would obviously have to stay mobile and walk along and recover.
One of my recovery stages was just breathing more. While I was doing that, in my head I would imagine waving at the crowd and I could hear the cheers. I’d be breathing through my nose, I’d be shaking, trying to shake the fatigue out of my arms, but I’m waving at the crowd.
I was happy that I did it in style and in fashion. I did it the K Young way.
I remember my teammates looking at me and asking if I was all right or if I was crazy. We would all laugh about me doing that stuff.
When I broke the world record, it was something that was natural to me. I could hear the crowd and I was waving at them. So I didn’t really freak out, to be honest with you. I was just so happy that I actually won that gold medal.
Christian: Really cool.
Check out Kevin’s world record run at the 1992 Barcelona Olympic Games
His advice to a younger Kevin Young
Christian: If you could go back in time, 10, 15, 20 years, what advice would you give a younger Kevin?
Kevin: To be honest with you, it would be to spend more time with my mother and invest in my family which would be my nieces and nephews. I don’t have any children personally, but I have a bunch of nieces and nephews.
I think that if I were to go back in time, I would incorporate more of them into my track and field career, as opposed to having a track career. I would not necessarily keep them out, by just being solely dominated by what I was doing.
I would really get them more involved and enlighten them about what track and field were all about. Commercially, I would say try to create a KEN empire back then, as opposed to nowadays, with t-shirts and caps and hoodies.
But I would involve them a bit more than 20 years after the fact because I think my nieces and nephews really don’t even know what their uncle actually accomplished. A lot of them, I really had to track.
I think my nieces and nephews really don’t even know what their uncle actually accomplished.
They hear this or that, but I realized over the years, I’ve actually made history. Just as I flipped the pages and what Tommy Smith and John Carlos meant to me when I was four or five years old at the barbershop. I was looking into Emmy in a Jet magazine, seeing their pictures and reading about them and hearing the conversations in which they heard about those great athletes.
It’s interesting when I meet other people, they ask me if I know who I am. I also had to ask myself because sometimes I don’t. I don’t realize the impact that I’ve made on the sport.
The importance of having a mentor
Christian: I saw an interview with you and Oto Bolton that you were a mentor to him. Did you have a mentor when you were younger and how do you see the importance of having a mentor for young aspiring athletes?
Kevin: The role of mentors is important for anybody, whether you’re the athlete or a person in business. You just need somebody who you can lean up against to ponder questions with and get advice from.
The role of mentors is important for anybody, whether you’re the athlete or a person in business.
When I was younger I would have to say, inadvertently my mentor would be my mother. I love my mom so I have always listened to her. Outside of the home, I would say I had a number of individuals who, while I had to excuse their shortcomings, I took a lot of advice from them from the big things that they’ve taught me.
I’ve had educators, teachers, and professors that I really looked up to, but someone who would constantly give me information that I would need on an everyday basis. That’s a hard one. I can’t even say that I had much of a mentor as an individual.
As I said, there have been individuals to who I’ve been able to pick the phone up or even spoke to. I would say John Smith, at one period of time was a good mentor to me. I know somebody who I can actually say was a mentor of mine, and they’d probably be shocked with me telling you this.
It was one of my coaches, Steve Lang. I had known Coach Lang since I was in high school and he coached a number of athletes at Fremont High School and they were always a lot better than I was. I would compete in these races with his athletes.
He was the type of coach that always praised me as well. He must have seen something about me when I was back in high school when I first started running track while in high school before the middle school stuff. He’s always been there.
He became a coach at UCLA, and he wasn’t necessarily an in-your-face guy, but he was always there when I needed it. I’m sure if I would’ve leaned on him, he would’ve really given me a lot more game than he provided, but it would definitely be Coach Steve Lang.
I just didn’t think about that. I’m glad you brought that question up to me because I had to sit back and think about somebody who would have known what my journey has been in the sport. He would be the one, literally from the very first time we started running the 110 hurdles and long jumping, he would know the direction and the movement in which I’ve made it.
As I said, he became a coach at UCLA and he’s also broad. He was on the 1972/1973 UCLA track and field team. He was a triple jumper and he’s a local cat who grew up in LA. He understood the perils of the things which I would have been going through growing up in Los Angeles at that time.
A lot of folks failed to realize that in the early eighties in LA there was a lot of gang proliferation and drug activity. A lot of my peers were getting joined in gangs and became very violent in the street and being incarcerated.
Many athletes were far more talented than me that never got the opportunity to go out there and participate because of the action of some of the things which they did or some of the things which they got caught up in as a youngster. Thank God I had athletics to keep me on my path.
Believe me, I was straying away every now and then, doing dumb stuff. But yes, my mentor was definitely Steve Lang. I need to call him up today and let him know.
In the early eighties in LA there was a lot of gang proliferation and drug activity. A lot of my peers were getting joined in gangs and became very violent in the street and being incarcerated. I had athletics to keep me on my path.
Christian: You mentioned mentors are important, not only for athletes but also for any other person.
Kevin: Absolutely yes. I think what happens is during the course of our lives, we need different people to represent to us what we can do or are capable of doing during the course of our lives. As I said, Coach Laing is a person who was there for me while I was on the track.
Off the track, it’s interesting, but I really couldn’t tell you. There are a lot of individuals and family members, such as Mel Pender who is the 1968 Olympian. He is also the 4×100, Vietnam veteran, Hall of Famer in so many different Hall of Famers.
He’s one of our top oldest Olympians. Mel is about 81 years old and I remember reading about him, he’s always been somebody that always gave me advice to this day. He’s someone I can pick up a phone and pick up and talk to and share information with.
But interesting enough, I guess you could also have a mentor who could be in your own age group. This individual who may have better moves than I may have over the years or made different moves that I’ve made over my lifetime or my current lifetime that actually get on the phone and have these conversations with and talk to them. So yes, having a mentor is very, very important.
Do you have any mentors? I’m curious.
Christian: I don’t necessarily have formal mentors, but there are certainly people I learn from. And I’m always more the guy who looks at people who walk the walk rather than talking the talk. I much rather learn from the way they behave and interact and look at what they have achieved through directions.
Kevin: That’s funny. That’s how John Carlos is to me. He’s one of those individuals that he just moves a certain way and I watch him.
I just grab all the information collectively, then package it up the way I need it to package it and internalize it. Then whenever I have an opportunity to share with younger athletes, I give them my best.
I just grab all the information collectively, then package it up the way I need it to package it and internalize it.
Especially now, because in the past you had to make a greater effort to know who these individuals were. You have to pick up the book, you have to read the book, you have to stay in tuned to what’s going on in the sport.
Now with technology, you can just pretty much flick a switch and go to an app and you get all the information in front of you. As a result, you can be disillusioned that it’s so easy for athletes to accomplish what they’ve done, but I have to tell them that it is not.
But for a fan of the sport, it makes it more energizing when I’ve read about these individuals and finally meeting them. But I find a lot of my fans or folks connected with me online on the web and they tell me that they’ve seen me race on television or on the computer or they’ve read about me and that I am one of their heroes.
It’s interesting, and I try to make sure to respond and connect with those folks, but it’s hard. I got three Facebook pages. I got a personal page that morphs as a fan page. Then I got a fan page that doesn’t have enough fans on it because I get so many people on my personal page and I got some people on the waiting list of the fan page.
I wish there was a way in the system that you can just shift everybody to the fan page. I try to connect with folks on Facebook on my other page that they’re replying to me on Facebook. I can’t even add anybody because I’ve reached my personal 5000 limits. I tell them to go to my other pages and I would respond there.
Some folks got people monitoring their pages and all that. That is the truth. It can be a lot of work and I’m not sure if I really want to spend my time responding to people. I wanted to be more active and doing the things that I enjoy doing.
But being at Leuven is amazing. It’s an eye-opener, to say the least. From the education aspect, I was talking to somebody and I may have put a post on my IG, but it’s literally 30 years after me finishing my undergrad that I’m back at school.
There’s a lot of mind and roadblocks to everything. It’s just the whole way in connection that my brain has been over the past 30 years, being in class is a lot different now. I got to read stuff over and over and over and over again, just to shake myself up and understand what I’ve learned.
I realized that a lot of my classmates are super smart. But I love the fact that I’m here in Leuven of all places. I would have never guessed that I would be at this university.
His success habits
Christian: What are the habits that make you a successful athlete and person?
Kevin: To be a successful athlete or person, you have to create a routine for yourself. Even talking to you now, just being here, whatever particular circumstance that you may be in, you have to create a routine for yourself. This is just to make the monotony a lot easier and the repetition of doing things a lot more comfortable.
To be a successful athlete or person, you have to create a routine for yourself.
Typically, what happens, not much changes once you figure out a particular format and I’m finding that out today. Even now one of the things before this interview, I was in a terrible bus accident when I was in my first semester at Swansea University, if you hadn’t read about it. It was in the papers there.
Christian: I did read about it.
Kevin: Yes, and prior to the accident, I was doing a lot of exercises. Then I realized during the course of the accident, I remember hitting the windshield on the bus. The way my body was in shape, it kind of took a lot of the impact of me having that particular injury.
I was actually able to walk away from there. Although I had a couple of broken ribs, it could have been far worse. Just reflecting on that, I know it’s important, especially in my age now, that being healthy has to be a routine that one has to indulge in every day.
Now with my ribs getting better now, I got to start this exercise routine and I was just wondering if I was willing to get up each day at five or six o’clock in the morning just to make sure I’m consistent and doing something. I had to convince myself this morning that I’ve already envisioned what I needed to do in order to get myself in shape.
You have to just be consistent in your movements. Think about it. It’s pretty interesting, if you become routine at something, you got to make it fun. Now, a lot of folks do routine things, but they don’t make it fun.
It becomes very robotic and it gets boring to them and they convince themselves that they’re just doing it because they got to make money to do something or pay a bill. But if you have to create a routine.
That’s why track became one of those inadvertent things because I never looked at it as having a track and field career. You alluded to where I didn’t care too much about the track or the dark day in track for myself.
I can go back to that question and tell you that it was when I didn’t feel personal that I was of any value within the sport. I felt that the sport itself got from bodies and this and that and did not provide me with any sort of adulation, which was the wrong mindset that I should have been having at that point in time.
Over the years, I’m able to say that my contribution is what it is, and I’m cool with that. However, there was a point in time I felt like I should have been the poster child for one thing or another.
I’ve seen these opportunities happen with other athletes who’ve had this regrettable past, whether it be with drugs and all other kinds of stuff. I’m asking how come it happened for them. I had to get over myself because I realized the beauty of me being involved in sport was a simple fact that I’ve always had the opportunity to do something that I love doing.
What I’ve gotten out of it was the travel, meeting different people, and having conversations with individuals like myself. This typically wouldn’t be happening. But it got to be routine.
I’m sure when you start interviewing the athletes, even the formulation of your questions, that sheet of questions that you had is perfect because it touches so many aspects of things that both the athletes may have. And the fact that when you’re probably first doing that, that list was probably maybe two or three questions.
Then you may figure out what you can ask or add to the list that makes it more well-rounded. By me looking at the question that you had, I said that these are cool questions to ask. I appreciate you even want to have me involved in your podcast. I think that’s pretty cool.
Christian: Thank you.
Why he always had to prove something to himself
Christian: I saw in the interview you did with Ato Bolton, you said you had to prove something for yourself as an athlete. Where did that come from and do you still have it?
Kevin: I definitely still have it. And where did it come from? It came from growing up in the neighborhoods that I grew up in. Actually, I’m the youngest of seven kids, so I was always an introvert.
I never was one to express myself. But I’ve always enjoyed doing interesting things. Like you, I might not say much about something, that doesn’t mean I’m not paying any attention to it because I was always the one that wanted to learn how to do something.
I’m the youngest of seven kids, I never was one to express myself.
I remember learning the intermediate hurdles and watching how the race was run and watching all the individuals around me and the successes of which they had. Just looking at the numbers on paper and what I was capable of doing, I realized that I have to change my mindset. I had to quit trying to run faster than Edwin Moses with the 47.02 and just run what I’m capable of running, but what I can be impactful of will be just the style of the way in which I ran; how efficient could Kevin Young run the race.
When I looked at what I was able and capable of doing with my own race, it allowed me to take my mind outside of being focused solely on Edwin, 47.02 and the world record. When in fact, I told myself that if I break the race down, based upon the way in which I’ve been able to run in the past, and now it’s really all about me on the track. It’s not about Edwin, it’s not about the world record and it’s not about 47.02.
It’s about all right Kevin, as you run this particular race in these particular zones of the race, what can you achieve from the starting blocks to the first three hurdles? What did you need to be to run as optimal as you possibly can in certain portions of the race and how can you finish the race?
When I started looking at it that way, I was sure that I could run under 47 seconds. I just looked at it like that. Not breaking any records, but just saying to myself that I think I could run under 47 seconds.
It looks good on paper. The application itself was okay. What’s going to be the best way of making this happen. And over the years I was actually able to do just that.
When it really kind of let me know that I was able to put that type of race together, it took a load off my shoulders because at that point it just became about executing a certain way, which I wanted to run. The key of the focus was to make sure I kept everybody else out of my own head.
As a runner, you got enough thinking about yourself. I remember in the past getting a grip in major races, such as the 1991 World Championships in Tokyo; the 1987 Pan-American Games in Indianapolis; 1987 World Championships in Rome, or even our USA Champions.
I was altered on the long team, Goodwill Games in 1986. I remember just being in those races and filling it out and knowing what I was capable of doing, but I just didn’t put it together until I started telling myself to just put my race together, and once I’ve done that, you will see where it falls into place.
Christian: How long did you need to put it all together if you look at the time span?
Kevin: You know what, it was one of those things which you really can’t force. It just kind of has to come to you because you don’t know the different things that go into that. Whether you’re in shape or not at the time of the season, or you’re going to be in certain races with a certain amount of talent, that’s going to be capable to push you there.
How’s your conditioning? Are you healthy? Are you recovering from any type of injury? What time of the year you try to do something? What will be best for you to do even to run as fast as you possibly can?
The interesting thing of 1992 is when my season had started, I think the very first race I ran was either 48.18 and tore it up like a bell curve. I got faster and faster and faster and faster and faster. I ran 46.78 at the Olympics and then my time started going down from there.
I ran the Mobil Grand Prix final, which was in Torino that year, which will be the Diamond Leagues. I ended up running the exact same time that I started the season off with. But this is what happened.
After 1989, when I was ranked the number one hurdler in the world, I think a lot of guys got injured and didn’t participate before, but I had the fastest time which was 47.89 seconds. It was the first time I was ever ranked number one in the world.
Also the year before, Andre was the number one ranked hurdler winning the gold medal and so, the following year, I’m the number one ranked intermediate hurdler and 1989 was the special year for me. When I realized that the number 46.89, using the number 89 became the goal of which I wanted to be able to run.
I started immediately incorporating that 46.89 in everything that I would do with bank cards and stuff like that. That particular number was associated with a lot of stuff, to the point, I tell the story about writing it on the wall in the Olympic village which I did. I had imprinted that number in my head.
I started immediately incorporating that 46.89 in everything that I would do. I had imprinted that number in my head.
So looking at the number, putting it on paper, it made sense based upon the way in which I was capable of running the race. After breaking it down analytically by the numbers, I figured, from the blocks of the very first 185 meters, which is roughly the first five hurdles, we always say 200 meters, I just had to get there faster than 22 seconds.
During the course of my career running, I’ve always gotten there in 22 seconds or better. On the slow end, you get there in 22; on the fast end, you get there in 20 and change which a lot of these runners are doing now. They’re getting there in 20.5. They’re running exceptionally fast on the first five hurdles.
When I realized that I just needed to get there in 22 seconds and I just have another 24 seconds and change to finish the second 200 race and that basically keeps the race under 47 seconds. I remember orchestrating a number of workouts that incorporated me doing to run the very first part of the race.
I don’t care, whatever people say and I’ve watched this time and time again. I’ve even had this conversation with a number of their hurdlers over the years is why you guys expended so much energy on the first portion of the race.
You’re going to pay for it on the backend, and you can run a more even race and don’t exert as much energy the first half and save that on the second half, because when you start fatiguing, it seems like your stride length is going to do two things. Either they’re going to get too long, or it’s going to get too short and you still got to negotiate that 35 meters over the last few hurdles.
If your strides are getting too long or too short, either two things are going to happen. You need to go over a hurdle too high and here’s the thing when you’re going over hurdles. In the foot race because I realized I see hurdlers, once they come off the 10th hurdle, it’s a whole other race at that point.
It’s all on the track and then you’re just turning over and running. But as you’re clearing hurdles, you have to keep in mind that your parabola going over the barrier itself has to be intact for once you just touched back down and running in between. I’ve literally seen the world record when Rye and Carson ran in Zurich of last year.
They ran on a pace faster than the world record, based on my numbers, all of which both hurdlers had run. I think Carson, he went 15 steps over the last two hurdles, which costs him. But he was fast, like I say, he was exceptional.
Both of them were fast off the last hurdle into the finish, but those microseconds going over the last two barriers, going 15 over the last two, cost Carson, and then for Rye, going 14 over the last barrier cost him. So once they are being able to bounce that off their energy on the backend, they’ll run under 47 seconds.
That’s not even the issue. The interesting thing about it, being honest with you, is the talent that I see that Rye has and even Samba. Rye is a sub 22nd, 200-meter runner, which is crazy. And it is interesting to know how fast Carson had run the 200 or even Samba, but that’s what’s going to make the race so interesting because you know the strengths and weaknesses that the athletes have.
I will say that the strength that Carson has is he’s a former Decathlete, so now he doesn’t have to work out in nine other events. He can concentrate on the 400-meter hurdles.
I couldn’t imagine being a Decathlete going in the day in and day out, going through all these events, and trying to be the best you possibly can to your ability in 10 events over a two-day process. That’s beating the body up constantly and literally.
He’s strong and also when he goes out there and does what he does I shake my head and I laugh. I ponder on the position that he is mentally in. Then you got Rye Benjamin who’s just fast. For his height and size, he’s very quick. He’s very talented and very fast. He is a good hurdler.
Samba, the young man from Qatar is an exceptional hurdler though. I’ve seen him do the things on the track with the left leg and right leg, just being so ambidextrous. I have to question if he really did those things.
When you get a combination of individuals, those sort of strength, it’s just a chess game to see who’s going to outmatch each other with wit. Late 2018, hopefully, they’ll have enough races to participate in, whether they run against one another or not.
If they’re not running against each other, hopefully, the quality of those events are at the level that they would need to be once they all got together to push themselves. It’s going to be interesting.
To be honest with you, leading up to the games, pushing 46.78 and telling everybody that’s the number they’re all shooting for, that’s where my marketability has to be at now, while I’m here at Leuven and going forward.
His morning routine
Christian: Do you have a morning routine?
Kevin: I get up in the morning and I drink water. I drink at least a couple of glasses of water, just to put fluid back into my body. Folks fail to realize that when you’re sleeping, that is when your body is doing all the reconstruction of your cells.
A lot of water is depleted in your body and you really don’t want to get up in the morning and you don’t want to eat anything and then add sugar into your system. You really just want to drink water, at least for the first 10 minutes when you get up.
I get up and drink water. I sit down on the edge of my bed with my feet flat on the floor and I start thinking about everybody that I felt helped me get here. I just try to settle into being awake.
I sit down on the edge of my bed with my feet flat on the floor and I start thinking about everybody that I felt helped me get here.
I’m the type of person, I don’t sleep all the way through. I may wake up and fart around for a little while and try to fall back to sleep. It’s important, but I do get a little bit of rest and once I get settled in the day, I drink some water, and then I slowly try to eat some food over the course of the day. That’s pretty much it.
I literally have to create and find a routine now. I hadn’t really gotten into my routine since I’ve been here in the university, because at one point when I first got here from the UK, I spent the week trying to find housing. I didn’t realize how difficult it was obtaining student housing here.
I was in guest housing, calling people and these different second and third party companies to find student housing. There were so many students here on campus. Some folks had already had places and they were trying to be very mindful of who they actually wanted in their residence.
They wanted a lot of younger students in a lot of the places. So you’d strategically have to find somewhere that’s closer to the university, as opposed to somewhere outside of the university, to try and come in for the crazy time schedule which the professors set. I was just losing my mind, trying to find a place to stay.
Then once I got that taken care of, I had to get my registered car for the city, my bus pass, and then I had to contemplate getting myself a bicycle. I wish they had one of those scooters that they ride around in Atlanta all the time, a little birds and the little line scooters.
That’d be perfect, but I’ve got to get a bicycle. I’ve got to get in extra early just to walk around, but it’s a beautiful city, so I really don’t mind the walk.
How to prepare for important moments
Christian: How do you prepare yourself for important moments?
Kevin: Say for instance, in class, I would write different scenarios of what the conversation was going to be discussed in class. To be honest with you, I don’t get stuck, but I have a tendency of seeing words and I put them in the wrong order. So for me, it would be to write stuff over and over and over again. That’s important to me.
- Also check out the interview ‘My dream and my passion is so strong.’ With double Olympic champion Christian Taylor, who also outlines, that he always writes down notes and thoughts.
I’m really open to meeting people with new ideas, I guess you would say because what happens is a lot of times we block ourselves out of meeting strangers and you don’t know what’s in some people’s minds. Being in a new country, it’s important for me to smile at a lot of people and be open and exchange with the folks.
To me personally, that’s cool. I need to take some Dutch classes and some German classes. I actually signed up for a few of those whenever they’re scheduled. I missed a class on Monday, but they do have some language courses. You can get it with native speakers and just kind of bounce words. That is so cool.
His preparation for the Olympic final where he won in world record time
Christian: Take us through that moment in the Olympic final in 1992. How did you prepare for that?
Kevin: There were so many different aspects that we had. Of course, there was the mental and the physical aspect of it. Physically in the preparation, you want to get there and try to get yourself in a space where you can get a lot of agitation while you’re in the village.
In the village, there’s so much going on. There’s so much you want to do and there’s so much that you want to be successful at. But you got to realize and personally, I had to tell myself that I had been there before, so I had to treat it just as a typical track meet.
I know it’s very hard. It’s still the Olympic Games, but at the end of the day, it’s a track meet that you’ve prepared yourself over and over and over again. Then when I got on the track and did my preparation of being on the practice track. Then, of course, there was the preparation leading up until getting into those particular races.
I know it’s very hard, it’s the Olympic Games, but at the end of the day, it’s a track meet that you’ve prepared yourself over and over and over again. So I had to treat it just as a typical track meet.
I’m going to include eating and meals. I just had to put myself in a place physically, where I knew I had a go-to meal that I could depend on. I could eat that and could be satisfied with it and would not be freaking out that I didn’t eat anything.
Typically, oatmeal is always a good prep meal when you’re in competition because internationally, you always get oatmeal, and some grains, so you can be consistent. It may not taste as good as you may want it to, but you consistently eat up your raisins and it has nuts in it and you have butter in there, so you’re good.
I’m telling you, you got to have a routine of what you are going to eat. Once you’re satisfied with eating, then you move from there. It was just trying to move around differently.
My go-to dinner is always baked chicken and French fries. That’s it. Whatever portion place on this planet, you can always either get yourself some good piece of chicken and some rice or some piece of chicken and some potatoes. The way they cook it up and whip it up, you’ll be all right.
That was always my go-to meals – oatmeal, French fries, and chicken. Nutrition-wise, that was my diet. Obviously, as an athlete, you’re going to drink as much water as you possibly can and try to stay away from the sodas and sort of stuff.
For the mental aspect, most importantly, I knew what my end result was. Everybody is here running to get a gold medal. They’re telling each other how they want to win a medal.
I remember from the race at the 1988 Olympics, where I got so caught up in the Olympic hype. The past four years, leading up to the 1992, it was just trying to tone them all down, telling myself personally that it’s only as big as you make it and I’m out there to perform and once I perform, then I can make it as big as I want at that point in time.
It’s only as big as you make it.
It was always good enough for me to just make everything very basic and simple. You want to go from point A to point B, this is how you’re going to get there. I knew as far as the race was concerned, my step pattern is not what I wanted it to be.
I knew I didn’t want it to be 12 steps all over the place. I told myself that I was going to make sure I got up out of the blocks. I was going to go from blocks to the very first hurdles in 20 steps.
Then it was going to be 13 for two and three; 12 steps for four and five and in the duration of racing, I would go thirteen. Once the lactic acid settles into the body, running 13 aggressively I’ll be more in tuned to do just that as opposed to trying to push myself and doing any more.
But it was actually difficult for that because the trial and error of learning the consistency of being able to go 13 on the back end was something that was probably the hardest part to train myself for. I remember in work, what I would do is I would set up hurdles seven, eight, nine, 10, and then run through the finish.
As you build up running into the seventh hurdle clear, to make sure you go on 13 steps between eight, nine, and 10, with fresh legs getting started, once I get my momentum going up, I would get to the seventh hurdle and clear it. Then I would get up to my speed and run to eight, nine, and 10, going 12 steps, which throws me off the alternate.
In my head, it is okay because the coach had said this is what the clock is. I had to finish at a particular time so I was calculating the speed of how fast I need to run. It became a point where I should not even try to exert that much energy. I was to just back off a little bit, leave the twelves alone and make sure I consistently go thirteen.
The cool thing about 13 is as a runner, you can adjust your stride length and stride pattern. I can run and have the kind of technique to run up on a hurdle and step over it with a quick 13 stride length, or I can run toward it and back off a little bit with a longer parabola over the hurdle in the same 13 stride length.
The only difference would be getting over the hurdle, basically, and running in between. As a hurdler, you want to make up your speed between the barriers and then clear the barriers. By adjusting the stride length, you’re able to formulate how you want to attack the hurdle or just having to get over and clear the hurdle.
I knew the first two hurdles were going to be 13, and then at four and five, I was going to go twelve. I knew I was going to have that little sort of off leg, going over the hurdle with the right. That was pretty much the only glitch into that whole little formula. I just needed to be able to clear that barrier.
I had already locked in on that. What threw me off really was at any time you don’t know how fast you’re going to run until you get out on the track. Then once that happens and you’re able to calibrate what you plan on doing.
On the practice track, we did a lot of different workouts. So I knew I was able to run under 47 seconds on the practice track in the village. Once we got to the very first round of the hurdles, interesting enough was you spend a whole week on the practice track, and then now you’re finally on the main track and those internal feelings come back.
I knew I was able to run under 47 seconds.
When I got into the first round, going into the stadium and trying to tell myself that I want to run fast enough to qualify. I wanted to make sure that I was at least in the top three.
I remember running that very first race and that was the race where I went 11 steps between hurdles three and four. It was between hurdles three and four, I went to 11 and then I went 12 between four and five, and then I got back on to 13 after that.
Interestingly enough, in the very first round I ran 48.76. I remember running the first 255 meters, which was at the seventh hurdle, and pretty much still in the competition looking left and right approaching the eighth hurdle, clearing it, and then shutting down my momentum and just jogging.
I felt like I was jogging through to finish up the race. Had I kept the momentum up and temple up the very first day, I could have broken the world record that day. In hindsight, I saw that based upon my physicality and what I was doing on the track. But it wasn’t the time for that to happen.
I could have broken the world record that day. But it wasn’t the time for that to happen.
Then, the second round, the second race I ran with Winthrop and we raced against one another all through college in major competitions – international competitions and we had a foot race over the last three hurdles. And here’s a guy whose stride length is shorter than mine, but he was right there with me and I was actually trying to keep up with him with my long stride length.
We went head to head all the way to the finish line and he crossed over the finish line a hundredth of a second faster than I did. He set the national record for Jamaica. I finally PR as I ran 47.63 that day.
I remember in that race wondering why the hell I was running so hard with Winthrop when we got a final round to run. We had already qualified, so this back and forth didn’t make any sense. It was counterproductive.
So when I had the extremely fast race in the first round, I had to back off of it. Then I had the really consistent race the second round with Winthrop that I had to acquiesce a victory to. When I went back to the drawing board, it basically told me that this was what I was going to do.
I was not going to let my emotions consume me during the final because that was just going to happen. Sure enough on the practice track in the Madrid league, we did our warm-up, our laps and all that, got very prepared, but then we go into the call room for another thirty minutes.
You can warm your body up to the best you know how to be, you go into a call room, they sit you in there for at least 30 minutes, and you’re not doing anything. That’s why a lot of athletes don’t warm up enough because they give themselves a crap warm-up.
Then they go into the call room and they sit in the call room for 30 minutes. Then they get to go out there and perform as opposed to you literally have enough time in the warm-up to do exhaust yourself. That’s what I would do.
I would go out there and warm up and exhaust myself doing a lot of critical things that I need to do. Then I’d go to the call room, make sure I have my number and my spikes, and then prep everything. You always have to prep.
You got to take your running spikes out and check them. You got to take your signet that you’re going to be wearing and pin everything up and put the numbers on and all that. You stuff the numbers in your shoes and make sure you got numbers on the front and back of your Jersey.
You make everything as prepped the night before so when you leave the object room and go out to the track that you have everything and you don’t give your signet and all that to your coach. You carry your own bag and like I said, your signet uniform if you don’t have it on, if you’re doing the signet, and then the shorts if you don’t have a signet rolled up and stuff in your running spikes, you got to have that.
But if you got the one piece that’s the unitards that you’re wearing, you have to take your arms out and roll it down. You have to make sure you got that and you still pin your number on the back of that as well. You must have at least the back number on it.
Nowadays, I think they got adhesive that sticks to the uniforms. I hardly think they’re pinning numbers on uniforms anymore. The night before you got to get screened or ironed off and they got chips in them, as well. So technology has already taken over, but that was my prep.
I make sure I just have a number and my spikes. I tell you this. I remember in the call room, in the Olympics, they walk you out on the track, according to your lane. You got the first guy in lane one, two, three, four, five.
I remember coming out of the tunnel from the call room walking over the track onto the infield. As we were approaching to come to our blocks and I’ll never forget, my mind was reminding me of what happened in 1988. My mind was reminding me that I took fourth place.
I was just telling myself no and trying to get that out of my head. Then I just started taking deep breaths and I started to hear all the noise and all the stuff that I prepped myself over the years. I was hearing the crowd, walking through, breathing through my nose, knowing that I needed to execute.
All that came back in that moment of time and I told myself that this is just a track meet against guys I’ve been racing with all year long. I told myself that I had been very successful with these guys. I reminded myself that I should not do anything to deviate from what got me there.
I remember coming out of the tunnel from the call room walking over the track onto the infield. As we were approaching to come to our blocks and I’ll never forget, my mind was reminding me of what happened in 1988. My mind was reminding me that I took fourth place. I told myself that I had been very successful with these guys. I reminded myself that I should not do anything to deviate from what got me here.
It’s so easy to get caught up in the moment of the Olympics that you typically deviate from what got you there. It’s hard, but you really can’t let your emotions overwhelm what got you there because your emotion is supposed to be there to get you out of a situation precariously.
But if you’ve already got yourself, there are certain things that are pretty much out of your control. My thing was at that point, once I got onto the track, I think the hardest, yet the easiest thing was to convince myself that I made it there. I just needed to execute everything that got me there.
That was the message I kept telling myself. It was 20, 13, 13, 12, 12, 13, 13, 13, 13, 18 over the last hurdle, and I just kept repeating 153 steps. I forgot to tell you this. One of the things I did early in my season during the course of my mental preparation with the crowd, I would come out on the track, set my blocks up on the numbers, stand on the blocks and make sure they’re in there on the track.
I would fire out of the blocks, run to the first hurdle, and I would step over and step back down. I would run to the second and then to the third. I walk all the way back and I would do it again the second time, just to see how my bounce and my rhythm were.
Once I did that, I would walk back to my blocks in my lane, I would stand on the blocks again, make sure they’re on the track, and then I would walk from my lane all the way through the finish line to the 10th hurdle. As I would make that walk back towards the 10th hurdle, I would contemplate my steps around the track, leading up into that tenth hurdle.
I remember consciously, I would walk and as I approached the 10th hurdle, you hear everybody in the stands, scream and yell your name, “Kevin, Kevin.” Sometimes I might turn around and I would wave at the person.
But as I get to the hurdle, that 10th hurdle in my lane, I would grab the top of the hurdle on the barrier. I would just stand there, take a deep breath and see nine, eight, seven, six, five, four, three, in my head and how I wanted to. Then I would turn back around, stand in my lane and walk back to the blocks and then at that point, I’ll strip down or take off whatever I need to take off.
Then at that point, I was mentally prepared to just go out there and just run and execute. It was that little routine that I actually started doing prior to the different races in Europe. Warm-up, run to the first three hurdles, walk back; run to the first three hurdles, walk back, stand in my lane, walk all the way to the 10th hurdle; walk back to my blocks, settle in, get it started.
I would do that over and over and over again. I didn’t think much about it till you ask the question and that came to me. There was a routine that I was very consistent in doing, and that’s what it was.
For athletes, it’s important to have something that you feel comfortable with that preps you to get you ready mentally and physically. But even physically, you just got to be mindful of what you’re eating in villages because I think in 1992, Michael Johnson, he got stomach poison. He got sick and you see it happen all the time.
How to overcome setbacks
Christian: How do you overcome setbacks?
Kevin: Pray and talk to my mother. I talked about my mother and I always tell myself, it’s not as bad as I actually think they are. I got a very strong spiritual faith and it’s pretty much just ingrained into growing up in a church and just having a conversation with older people.
I realize that my past accomplishments have really been a part of the blessings that I’ve been able to receive over a period of time and just knowing that because I’m always telling myself, the things that I may be upset about, really aren’t as bad as what others may be going through. Once I reflect upon that, it’s easy for me to say that I’m in a space and time, which I have more control than I actually think I don’t.
I realize that my past accomplishments have really been a part of the blessings and just knowing that, I’m always telling myself, the things that I may be upset about, really aren’t as bad as what others may be going through.
I suppose those are the times where I sit around and say that I should get this together. It’s always good to make a list of things and make a list of stuff that you need to do or accomplish and check them off. Over the years, I’ve gotten away from that.
Being honest with you, when you’re an athlete, you’re very routine doing things. Once you’re no longer an athlete, you got to find something else to do in life to replace the routine that you have. Being back in school has allowed me to do just that, to recalibrate myself and find that routine or create a routine for myself.
Now I want to do more things that I personally want to do and involve myself in. I’ve always enjoyed artwork and going to museums and stuff like that and dibbling and dabbling and drawing stuff.
I figure, while I’m in Leuven, I’m going to get myself some canvases and some paint. I got a bunch of paint behind me that I just dabbled in that and made my own little studio here in my room. But I think for anybody, you have to do what makes you happy and creatively make sure you give back to other people as well.
First and foremost, I think you got to give back to people. My artwork is more of me giving back to the world because I feel that so much has been given to me. I figured people would probably like to know what else I do other than being a runner and now studying in school.
Interesting enough, it is one of the concepts that we talk about in classes because they’re prepping us for life after school because we have a thesis and dissertations and hopefully get an internship somewhere to work with somebody. To be honest with you, I really don’t want to work for anybody.
I will consult, but I’m not trying to be in anybody’s office. I want to be in front of a microphone, like you, talking to athletes and that may be something that I may look into in the future. However, the opportunity for me being at the university here has opened it up for me.
I can become more creative in some of the things that I’ve always wanted to do and hadn’t given myself the opportunity. Now, this is a chance for me to really do just that because that’s what me being here is really about. It is being able to come to Belgium and express myself.
I realized just being here that as an American, we get so caught up. In the US, it’s so big, you got so many different states in it that you could be around different people, yet being in the same place. I realize here in Belgium, I take for granted that people don’t know who you are, so there’s an advantage for me to meet and greet people to express myself with them and share my stories with them.
I’m realizing that I was that kid flipping through those books and magazines and looking at what I consider history, now, these youngsters are doing the same thing, looking at me in the magazine. I’m the history; I’m their history.
As I move forward, it’s important for me to have this documented, like what you’re doing, and also for me to engage with the younger athletes or just people in general. I meet folks from different walks of life. Even here at the university, some folks on my floor are grown men.
We had this long discussion about Wallonia and Flanders and just the separation and the language and all that and I’m saying that I never even thought about these things. I’d never even considered it because I remember over the years, I would go to Amsterdam and then go to Belgium and then all of a sudden, I would get my locations mixed up because I know the Dutch are there.
Folks are speaking Dutch, but I know every time I’m in Belgium, I hear a lot of French as well. I never even made the connection of how the separation of the country with the language and I realized how close it is to France, so I could definitely see that lower section.
But of course, you got the Dutch section, the Flanders section, and everybody speaking and I realize that I get that too. So when I listened to the Dutch people have their conversation amongst one another, it’s still enlightening for me to find that out because I’m wondering which language I should learn.
Then I got friends in Switzerland who speaks Swiss German. I’m thinking that maybe it’s just easier for me to learn German. So always I got cassettes, I got DVDs. I got every technology that I was supposed to utilize to learn a different language.
I got the books, like I said, I got cassette tapes that I still own from the nineties that I should be fluent in German, French, and Spanish at this point in time. But you know what, the fact that I’m back in school lets me know that I still have the opportunity to go out there and learn those languages. The thing is, it’s a lot easier now with technology like we were saying earlier.
His role model
Christian: You touched on this a little bit before, but who has influenced you? Who’s your role model and why?
Kevin: My role models have changed over the years. When I was younger, my role model was a high school teacher, Mr. Norris, who convinced me to make sure that I went to college and seek education.
When I got older my role model was, I guess, other individuals around me. I would say currently, who was my role model? My current role model at some point was Andre Phillips. I would look up to Andre and it was basically just the mutual relationship that I was able to have with Andre.
It has been Edwin [Moses], but at that time, I never spent in proximity being around Edwin. It wasn’t till the later years in my running that I got an opportunity to really connect with Edwin. I had wished when I was younger, that I had earlier connected with Edwin, that we would have had that particular relationship, but that wasn’t the case.
However, Andre has always been that one hurdler that I just talked to. But as a role model, as old as I am now, I guess I got to look in the mirror. I got to look in the mirror at times and see myself as that role model, because each time I get out the window, I got to be the best person I can possibly be that day in time.
Each time I get out the window, I got to be the best person I can possibly be that day in time.
I got to overcome my own personal prejudices that I have with people towards people and looking in the mirror and saying just be the best person I can be. At this age now, I’m the only role model that I specifically can really attest to say that I do have.
I would also say that your role model does not have to be the same age that you are. Your role model can definitely be somebody a lot younger. I’ve found that being in that position as well, seeing younger persons than myself and being amazed.
To your point, that that whole question about my twenty-five, twenty-four-year-old self be wanting to do, or be thinking and I have reflections of who that person is from time to time. I hope that the person that I am now is a good reflection of the buildup and character of what I once was. I think this will be a learning experience for me.
Hopefully, as I said, look in the mirror and be the role model that I can be each and every day for myself and towards myself. It’s kind of difficult for me to answer that question because I think I’m still searching.
Christian: Okay, that’s great.
The best advice he has received
Christian: What is the best advice you received and who gave it to you?
Kevin: It had to be Mr. Norris, “go to college, even if you don’t stay there, the experience alone is going to open your eyes up to what’s happening around the world.” When I did go to the university, that was exactly what happened.
I was amazed because when I grew up in our own little community, surrounded by these mental barriers and these physical barriers that we had in Los Angeles. A lot of the mental barriers that are structured in the city will keep you from thinking that you’re actually not able or even capable of doing certain things in your lifetime.
A lot of the mental barriers will keep you from thinking that you’re actually capable of doing certain things in your lifetime.
I mentioned I have so many friends that got caught up in gangs because there are certain neighborhoods and barriers that you’re taught are unsafe to cross, whether because you’re going to be profiled by the police, or you’re going to be profiled by fellow people from a certain neighborhood. As a youngster, that constantly is ingrained in your head.
You just don’t want to be victimized by anybody; a person of color, a person of anybody that’s in conflict with your wellbeing. Growing up in that environment, it was important for me to step away from that and get out of my comfort and safety zone.
What happens is when you get configured in that little box, as I said, you get comfortable being there, but you don’t think that the world is a lot bigger than it is. So when I had the opportunity to go to university, I got to the campus and I was amazed that this is what college was all about.
Then I realized we had individuals in college who either, were still in college acting like they were students. They had either graduated already, or either flunked out or dropped out but the role of being a college student is something that they really enjoyed because it touches so much about our society: entertainment, politics, art, humanity.
These discussions are constantly happening and taking place. You keep yourself within that forefront in the picture of that conversation. So going to school was the best advice, and ‘Get a passport’, was the next best advice. “Get a passport so you can leave the country. Don’t be so alienated as an American.”
A typical training day in the life of a 400-meter hurdler
Christian: Back in the days, how did a typical training day look like?
Kevin: To be honest with you, the typical training day itself starts with the conversation with my fellow teammates. They set the mood of the workout because if I were feeling bad and Danny Everett, or Stephen Lewis, Henry Thomas, Mike Morris came out on the track.
Our comradery set up the mood of the workout itself, because of one thing about the workout, it wasn’t going to change for us. It was about how our mental capacity is going to be towards the workout.
It was about how our mental capacity is going to be towards the workout.
So there were certain days that – the typical day, to answer your question, as a hurdler, the first 15 minutes will be drills: H-skips, B-skips, C-skips, a lot of dynamic explosive drills. We would do some boundings, I always loved doing boundings.
One of the good workouts I would do in the first week would be setting up ten hurdles in one direction, 10 hurdles in another direction, 110s that is; those are 10 meters apart and doing hop over drills; five steps between each hurdle, just pop over, step back down to the track and up and back will be 10 – 20 – up and back would be twenty.
You did that about five times and you do a hundred of those. I’d do a hundred of those. That’d be the first ten, fifteen minutes, get that out of the way, and then I will go do the quarter-mile workout.
I’ll leave the high hurdles alone and basically run the workouts with the quarter milers. In those days, we’d do either two 500s and a 350, or three 500s and two 350s. It would basically get the mileage in and the key thing as an innovative hurdler was I had these great quarter milers that I was racing against, who’d basically just stay up there with them; just find them, the cadence of running with those guys.
I’m running with sub 44 second 400-meter runners, so it wasn’t hard for me to gauge myself to stay in a certain sync with those guys. So that would be a typical workout on a Monday. It was always a technical day, just this day on a Monday; and then Tuesday, we’ll come back with more specifically hurdle directed. It’ll be more hurdle directed towards the event itself.
Like I said, Monday, I do drills – high hurdle drills – with the hurdles and then run some 400s and 350s with the quarter milers. The next day and even sometimes those days when I would do those 350s or those 500s, we would actually set the last 200 meters up in hurdles, for me to step outside and finish up going home to barriers in a fatigued state.
The next day, that Tuesday, the race will be broken down at that point. I would probably do the first five hurdles out of the blocks, repeats probably about eight times; fresh legs, full recovery. The point of that workout will be to run under 22 seconds clearing the first five barriers and basically work on step patterns as far as, “Okay. Are you going to go 13, incorporate going 13?”
If the workout is first — It’ll start out like this. You run to the first three twice, walked back, and then you run to the first four, do that twice, walk back and then you run to the first five, twice, and walk back.
So you got two, four, six – it’s usually six to eight times and the reason for that workout would be to work on, “Which part of these hurdles are you going to go? Twelve steps or are you just going to go thirteen?”
Even in the course of the workout, I would do both and see how I feel. “Is the third step more comfortable? if it isn’t, what part of the race can I essentially attack, and which part of the race I have to give up a little bit?”
We got this workout called ascending and descending, and basically ascending and descending, is attacking the hurdle, signature like, step over and then just run off the hurdle and incorporate that in the makeup of the workout. That’d be Tuesday.
Wednesday was always an easy day and it was recovering from the first two days and we’d probably just do easy drills and go on a long run – a nice, easy run. Each one of those days: Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, Friday, were all weight room days.
We just go out on Wednesdays and warm-up and then go study. We would come back on Thursday and Thursday was more of a speed day. We had this workout called the flying 100s – flying 100s is what’s it’s called, but it’s called the flying 7, something similar to that.
Basically, you’ll run a hundred meters, you jog back fifty meters, you run a hundred meters, you jog back fifty, you run a hundred meters, you jog back fifty. You ended up doing a total of a hundred meters running, but your jog back is your recovery to that point, and you got to take off right after that.
The point of that workout was to try to run 11.4 seconds or better, for the course of the workout. You got guys like Mike Morris and Henry Thomas, they start off running eleven flat the first one. You’re jogging until your recovery and they were running the second one, like 10.9, because they’re getting warmed up doing the course. They run the third one, like 10.9 again.
It was always trying to make fun of it and work out because what you can do is after you finish, you start up on the hundred-meter mark and you run the first one hundred. You’re hauling ass and once you hit it, you see who’s going to be the ones you got to keep your eye on.
As you jog back in the group, 50 meters to the top of the turn, to start the next one hundred meters, you decide who you want to be next to during the course of the workout and you’re talking stuff like, “You got a rolling start.” This workout is so fast because it’s a conditioning workout.
You line up against guys and you look at the coach and then once everybody’s ready to go, you just take off. If they’re not ready, they’re not ready, but everybody’s like, “I know this joker right here going to take off on me. I got to keep close to him, grab him.” We’ll just get running and the key to that really was to run, accelerate, but at all times maintain the mechanics and biomechanics of your racing form.
Another easy thing, you can learn how to run that race too, because a lot of times, since you got seven of them and they’re all back to back to back, you got to know when to exhaust your energy and see what happens is, you want to get out as fast as you can jump up on your speed and then relax into it and biomechanically even finish up the race.
What a lot of guys, they would blast out and spend so much time trying to catch up with the group. While everybody else is easing down, they’re trying to run until they finish the race and outlaying you while we’re actually taking the momentum that we built up for the first 25, 30 meters and we’re taking that and carrying that into the finish.
We’re utilizing the jog back within the next 50 meters as a recovery and this is what goes by so fast. It is one of those workouts where the fresher100 meter repeats going to be in the middle and then the slower ones are going to be on the end, but the key thing each and every time that the buildup of lactic acid slowly building into your legs, getting heavy, is to have an upbeat attitude with your peers and finish the race out as strong as you possibly can.
Between all the crap talking and all the bravado, it makes that workout fun. It makes it challenging and it makes it something that you look forward to, even when you really don’t feel like doing it, because you really have no choice, because you got enough guys there that’s going to make you do it.
They’re going to make you and they’re going to force you to do it. Hopefully – I realized these are the sorts of things that as a younger athlete, while I was at UCLA and I picked up and carried over and so becoming an elite athlete, I think what had happened, I came around at a time and era in sports and track and field where you get great coaches coming up, John Smith.
I was one of John’s very first athletes when he started coaching the quarter-milers was at UCLA. He ended up coaching me. He stopped coaching quarter milers and ended up coaching started sprinters.
There’s more money in sprinting than quarter-milers, obviously, everybody wants the fastest man in the world. That’s what the market, the commercial market for running shoes and spikes and all that stuff are curtailed to.
That being said, I don’t know where my what I’ll end up doing after the university. I’ll probably get into some international coaching. I think there’s a lot of places I found even here in Europe that there are other universities that will – I probably spend so much time going from college to college to college, to university or just different academies training young athletes who really has some issues with just the football here.
I would actually like to train more athletes in football because I think there’s a lot of physical improvements that these athletes can have on the pitch, then it would maybe be more lucrative than athletics itself being feeling the amount of money to spend with football in the world and it’s amazing.
Will his world record that is standing for 28 years be broken soon
Christian: We’re coming to the end of the interview. Considering we are in an Olympic year and your world record is standing now [at the time of the interview 2020] for 28 years, if I’m not mistaken, what are your predictions for this year and for the Olympic games?
Kevin: Predictions, I will predict and I may be wrong, but I’m not going to say this is going to happen. The world record will be close to being broken this year, maybe being broken this year by the talented athletes that are out there running.
I will predict the world record will be close to being broken by the talented athletes that are out there running.
I couldn’t tell you, who’s going to break the record. I would side with Benjamin because of I watching his talent level and what he’s getting to doing. However, I’ve mentioned in the past at the time itself, the record itself should have been broken years ago by Angelo Taylor, Kerron Fleming, those guys.
I personally thought she had broken the record, but this new class of 400-meter hurdlers, obviously showing the world they’re capable of definitely running under 47 seconds, so the next thing for them as young hurdlers is to get better. I think that’s what’s happened.
So as they get better, they’re going to push – they’re going to be able to push the world record mark beyond 46.78 seconds. So I think in this 2020 leading up to the Olympics, my predictions will be – and I can’t say who’s going to be in that race in Tokyo.
Macau may still end up winning because no one’s talking about him and you never know how your body’s going to be doing that time of the year, but prediction-wise, I would say, Benjamin, just say in the Olympic Games, Benjamin, Carsten, and Samba. I’m just saying that.
But those positions – and those three positions can change at any second. One of the most incredible races that I participated in was when I saw Amadou Dia Ba win that silver in 1988. He has such a crazy strong finish I’ve ever seen.
And like I said, it’s things like that, situations like that, that you don’t know they’re on the horizon. And who’s to say, it may not be those three hurdlers. It may be somebody else; some youngster who’s just been watching, who really realize “I can go out there and do the Kevinest thing.”
You know what I forgot to mention somebody who actually was a role model to me – Bob Beamon. I forgot to mention Bob Beamon. I mentioned Tommy and John, but Bob Beamon is always one of the greatest in my mind as Olympic athletes.
When I say that ’68 team, I really mean – even Dick Fosbury. Dick Fosbury as well on that ’68 team. The fact that I have the opportunity to be able to pick up the phone and just use technology to communicate with these great athletes, they’re all my role models.
They’re still my role models. I can go to Instagram, I can go to Facebook and I can communicate with these guys and the ladies as well. It’s just amazing that I’m able to reach and grab and soak into it, hold it close to my heart.
So hopefully the younger athletes will feel the same way I feel about those past athletes about me. I try to be as open as I possibly can, because like I said, I know how it is to have a role model or somebody that you look up to in the sport and not having that opportunity of connecting with them.
So if I’m able to connect with anybody that’s out there that feels a need for me to connect with them, I’m there. And I think now the talent level of the athletes, I think the relationships that we need to have, need to be stronger, not just domestically, but internationally as well.
Then we all can really appreciate the sport itself and really be embraced and kind of` let the Olympic community, the IOC and the different federations of which we do have, embrace the athletes like they really need to, as opposed to it always being something on the antithesis of the sport itself.
The doping stuff and the cheating and all the crap. There’s no room in sports for none of that stuff. I’m here to set ethics. So maybe I’ll be sitting on some of these ethics panels and committees for these federations in the future.
To be honest with you, that is what the curriculum of my current study is geared for, for me to actually be working with an NGO, with a national governing body, somebody that basically run my mouth from furlough and try to convince those in power that this is the direction which it needs to take.
It has to be on both ends though. We have to have the leadership be able to be mindful of it and we got to have to be developing athletes, coaches to be able to teach the right way from the start, as it goes up to the top and folks on the top, can’t be there to shy away from them to hear what’s being heard or said and do what’s right all the time, at all times.
A lot of the – the doping stuff – there’s no way – there’s no reason for all that doping for USADA (U.S. Anti-Doping Agency) to be doing that and getting away with all that. It doesn’t even make sense in the realm of sports, and in governance.
It doesn’t send the right message at all and not to point out USADA. If you’re out there acquiescing to give – looking the other way when folks are doing something’s that’s very unethical in the sport itself, you don’t need to be involved in sport, very simple.
But thanks for the role models which I’ve had, I was able to go out there and run and run fast and I’ll pat my own self on the back and enjoy my confidence in the sport, and just having the relationships. It’s all about the relationships and the connections, not necessarily the medals and the records and all that.
I got a chance to really connect with my childhood heroes. I think that’s the biggest gift and goal is, like I said, I got a chance to meet Superman, the superwoman, Batman, happy, as I said, it doesn’t get any better for me to be able to be in a room with Tommy Smith and John Carlos, Eden Maguire, Mel Pender, Bob Beamon, Herb Douglas.
We sit in a room with these Olympic greats and having conversations, talking about sports and the different areas and different times and the things that they had to go through to be the best athletes which they became.
So I want youngsters to realize that in 2020, it cannot be bad as it was in 1959, 1960, 1964, ’65, ’68, and seventies. It can’t get any worse than that in that bit in athletics. You didn’t have drug testing as they do now; there’s more money involved in the sport; there are more places to run and participate.
So when I get athletes complaining about why they haven’t accomplished anything or – because you haven’t challenged your energy in the right direction, or you do just that. You make it, but to your point, quit complaining, quit talking, and start walking the walk.
Quit complaining, quit talking, and start walking the walk.
Not everybody’s going to be a World Champion. Do what you can and do what you can in your part to be the best you can possibly be.
- Also check out the interview ‘Olympic champion is not a status, it’s a philosophy of life.’ With Olympic champion and Volleyball Hall of Famer Vladimir Grbić, who also outlines, that not everyone will be an Olympic champion or World champion, but everybody can strive to be the best version of himself or herself.
But my biggest role model is probably my mother. Of all people, my mother. Definitely my biggest role model. I’ll just give her a shout-out. So she can hear me mentioned her name and Carmen Adams, my big sister.
His interview nomination
Christian: Do you want to nominate someone to be interviewed?
Kevin: It’d be so obvious to me the nominate one of the other hurdlers that I’ve been mentioning in the course of the interview, but I won’t do that. I’ll nominate Jaide Stepter. Jaide Stepter, she’s a quarter-miler, 400-meter hurdler. She trains at Long Beach State.
Her mother is Latanya Sheffield, an Olympic 400-meter hurdler. Latanya Sheffield is a great friend of mine, but her daughter Jaide Stepter, I knew Jaide when she was tiny when she was a 100-meter hurdler. And now she’s an elite hurdler now.
She went from a little high school premier pick you up to now she’s a world-class quarter-miler hurdler. I would love for you to interview her, she is very super-duper smart. And like I said, she’ll be someone that I would love for you to interview.
Christian: That is awesome. Thank you.
Where can you find Kevin Young
Christian: Where can people find you?
Kevin: They can find me on Instagram, hurdle great 4678. And that’s H-U-R-D-L-E-G-R-E-A-T because I’m a hurdle great. Twitter, same thing, hurdle great 4678; Facebook, Kevin Young, Kevin Young Oly, and Kev Young.
Kevin Young’s social profiles
Website-wise, it’s a work in progress. I’m trying to figure out which URL I’m going to use is; either I’m going to use hurdle click, which I may end up using hurdle click right here and Hurdle Click is basically an international organization of hurdlers or individuals who have accomplished something or overcame something – a hurdle, a barrier who wants to join the organization, buy apparel and tell their story.
Talk about an adverse situation that you had to overcome and you’re successful at it. And you want to share that information with anybody. Rooted and grounded and founded in all the adversarial things that I have to overcome growing up in Watts and Compton, going to school without getting a scholarship, learning to hurdle race; falling down and getting back up, having persistence, being tenacious, confident, telling yourself you can do better or be better and get better.
And literally be honest with you, standing on the edge of the swimming pool and grabbing your nose and then just jumping in the water. You have to participate. You have to educate and you have to motivate.
Christian: Really cool. Kevin, thanks a lot for your time. You’ve been very generous with your time. Thank you.
Kevin: Thank you, Christian. It was my pleasure.