Mark McCoy, Olympic Champion 1992 outlines how he had to miss his first Olympic Games to the 1980 boycott, why he retired at the age of 26 years, and his comeback from retirement and his 16-year long journey to fulfill his lifetime dream.
Mark shares how he developed his attitude of always getting back up and using setbacks as a learning opportunity. Why he believes, that if you keep going, you will be successful sooner or later. The necessity to stay away from naysayers and why he likes to prove people wrong.
Furthermore, we discuss
- How he got into 110-meter hurdle sprinting
- His darkest moment
- How he qualified for the 1980 Olympics at the age of 18 years and ended up not being able to participate in the Olympics due to the boycott
- His best moment
- His advice to a younger Mark McKoy
- His long journey of 16 years to fulfill his lifetime dream
- His success habits
- The universal success traits he learned from his parents
- How he started making training plans for himself at the age of 10 years
- His morning routine
- How to prepare for important moments
- How his Olympic preparation changed over 3 Olympic Games
- His preparation for the Olympic final 1992 which he won
- How to overcome setbacks
- His attitude of always getting back up and how to use setbacks as a learning opportunity
- His role model
- The best advice he has received
- How to know when it is time to move on
- A typical training day in the life of an Olympic 110-meter hurdler
- Why he believes the Canadian approach to training isn’t right
- His interview nomination
- Where can you find Mark McKoy
Part 2 of the interview with Mark McKoy
Christian: In this interview I’m joined by Mark McCoy. Mark is a 1992 Olympic Champion in the 110-meter hurdles. His further achievements next to being an Olympic Champion, are triple Olympic finalists, five-time Olympian, World Indoor Champion and three times Commonwealth Champion.
Mark: It’s a pleasure to be here.
How he got into 110-meter hurdle sprinting
Christian: Mark, as a Canadian how did you get into 110-meter hurdles?
Mark: Just bad luck. No, actually Canada is not known as a track and field powerhouse, as you probably know. But back in my early stages, one of the best sprinters and one of my best friends, still to this day in Canada, was in my high school.
So I was always getting beaten and didn’t come in second all the time. It was more third or fourth. So I decided to find another outlet and my coach suggested that I do hurdles, and the reason he did that is because nobody did hurdles, so it’s pretty easy to make the team that way.
I was always getting beaten and didn’t come in second all the time.
It’s not something you get up in the morning and decide that you want to jump over these three and a half foot barriers at full speed. But it was just sort of a way of getting some early success in the sport that I love to do.
Christian: At what age was that?
Mark: I was sixteen years.
Christian: Sixteen? And at what age did you start track and field?
Mark: I was brought up in London, England and there were two things I used to do. It was soccer and running and it was mostly cross-country at that time. I used to do all types of running events at different distances.
It was nothing formalized, but I loved sprinting and soccer. When I came to Canada at the age of 12, soccer wasn’t that popular at the time and track was a little more popular, so I went in that direction.
His darkest moment
Christian: In your life as an athlete, what was your darkest moment?
Mark: Well it was a dark moment, but I think a very necessary one, and one that people always ask me about. They always asked if I regret doing it. I usually say no because without it, it would never have gotten me to where I was.
It was a dark moment, but a very necessary one, because without it, it would never have gotten me to where I was.
I was training with Ben Johnson in 1988 and partaking in the steroid scandal that we did some steroids that year in our training. Again it was after that and Ben got busted, as most people know in track and field, I actually retired. Now it’s like I’m done with this sport.
I was 26 years old at the time as well, so getting up there for track and field. But again, it steered me in the right direction. It got me hooked up with Colin Jackson and Malcolm Arnold in Great Britain and from there, that’s history.
Christian: What did you learn from that moment? How has it shaped your life?
Mark: I learned a lot. Number one you learn who your friends are really quick because when you hit times like that, everybody takes off. Nobody wants to know you anymore. Everybody wants to know you when you’re doing well and you’re on top of your game.
But when the hard times come along, a lot of people run for the hills, so you really learn who your friends are. One of my best friends to this day, from that day, is Colin Jackson because in the Olympic village in Seoul 1988, everybody wanted to disassociate with us, especially all the Canadians.
Everybody wants to know you when you’re doing well and you’re on top of your game. But when the hard times come along, a lot of people run for the hills
All the Canadians, my teammates, the coaches, the establishment, nobody wanted anything to do with us. But Colin and Malcolm told me to come and hang out with them. So I knew who my friends were right from the beginning. Then after that, I took some time off.
I actually had Achilles surgery. At the time I was nursing a bad Achilles for about a year and after that, Colin said that I should come to Britain and train with him. I think without that dark time in my career, I would never have made a comeback and I would have never made it to the top.
How he qualified for the 1980 Olympics at the age of 18 years and ended up not being able to participate in the Olympics due to the boycott
Christian: At 18 years old, you qualified for the 1980 Olympics. In the end, you couldn’t go because of the political situation and the boycott. I just wonder, let’s put it like this. How is it in that situation, you’re 18 years old, you are very motivated with your sports and you have to sacrifice for something bigger?
Mark: I was devastated. As an amateur athlete, in Canada, you have very little support. So, your timeline is very, very short in a sport like track and field in Canada. Most athletes, it’s like 1% that make it to the Olympics once. Not many make it a second time.
So you think at the time, you’re young, that this is your chance, the once in a lifetime opportunity to go to the Olympics and it’s been taken away from you, no fault of your own. You really don’t think at the time that you’ll have a chance again. Who knows what’s going to happen in four years.
I was devastated, it’s like 1% of athletes that make it to the Olympics once. Not many make it a second time. So you that this is your chance, the once in a lifetime opportunity to go to the Olympics and it’s been taken away from you, no fault of your own.
One of my mentors or idols as a kid growing up is Ronaldo Nehemiah, one of the best hurdlers in history. He was a beautiful hurdler. He never made it to the Olympics because that was his time and he missed the Olympics, and he was not around in 1984.
It’s very devastating as a young athlete, especially in Canada. You’re thinking that you’ve worked all this time, four years, and you don’t get a chance to go and you may never do it again.
Christian: I believe that.
His best moment
Christian: What was your best moment?
Mark: Take a guess!
Christian: I’ve had a few Olympic Champions on the interview and I guess everyone says that was the moment.
Mark: Other than the birth of my children, in sport, my Olympic title was definitely by far the biggest thing, especially because again, as we go through this, and you probably know already. Your listeners might not, but I’ve been through a lot of ups and downs. There have been more downs than ups.
- also check out the interview ‘Focus on one way!’ with 2012 Olympic Champion Aleksey Torokhtiy, who outlines that as an athlete 99% of your athletic life are failures.
So it just makes it that much more satisfying when you do something that other people don’t think you can do. It’s almost impossible and you’re like, “Oh yes, I’ll show you.” When it actually comes to fruition, it feels really, really good. So yes, 1992 August 3rd, 9:20 p.m., was the highlight of my athletic career.
I’ve been through a lot of ups and downs. There have been more downs than ups.
Christian: I believe that. What did you learn from that moment and how has it shaped your life?
Mark: I learned that you get a lot done in life with a gold medal around your neck. It’s made things quite a bit easier in a way. I love health, wellness, fitness, and athletics. That’s been my whole career my whole life from the time I was about 5 or 6 years old.
I’ve been doing training plans for myself. In this field, again, especially in Canada, it’s very hard to make a living in anything to do with amateur sport or health and wellness, for that matter. So it’s just a lot easier for me now to open doors.
A lot more people will talk to you. I’ve met people in every industry, in all walks of life, successful people that I had the opportunity to chat with that most other people wouldn’t. Some of the clients I’ve had have been phenomenal, again, because of what I did.
A lot of people just like to hang out with you. People will pay you just to hang out just because you’ve got a gold medal around your neck. In that respect, it has made it a lot easier than most people going down that path, but I paid my dues.
People will pay you just to hang out just because you’ve got a gold medal around your neck. But I paid my dues.
It was 20 years of hard work, so sometimes I think some people think your life’s a vacation because all I do all day is train people or come home and study about training people. But I paid my 20 years. I paid my dues.
His advice to a younger Mark McKoy
Christian: If you could go back in time, 15, 20, maybe 25 years, what advice would you give your younger you?
Mark: Get better friends. I was quite happy with the path that I took. I think that there’s not much I would have changed. I do like to go to schools and talk to kids because I think that’s where you can have the most impact.
I tell them that number one thing is the environment that you create for yourself. Everything in life’s a choice. I always tell them you get everything in life you deserve, not what you want. A lot of people want a lot of things, but are not willing to pay the price.
Everything in life’s a choice. You get everything in life you deserve, not what you want. A lot of people want a lot of things, but are not willing to pay the price.
You know when you’re standing on that starting line, if you just want it or if you deserve it if you’ve done the work. So make good choices, hang out with the right people and you can get anything you’re willing to work for.
Christian: Then a tricky question. You talk about deserving it. Colin Jackson is probably one of the best hurdlers ever.
Mark: In my opinion, he’s the best ever.
Christian: He was never an Olympic Champion. Didn’t he deserve it?
Mark: He did deserve it. Now that’s a good question, okay. So I take everything I said back. No.
Christian: No, by no means, that’s not what I wanted to say.
Mark: I know. I’m just playing. No, you know what? I talked about this. I talk to Colin almost every day still, to this day. It’s been over 30 years I’ve known Colin now. The accomplishments he’s had are way surpassed mine, except for the gold medal, which is what every amateur athlete wants.
He said it in interviews. I’ve been online and even he tells me himself that number one, he was unfocused for that race. He took everything for granted. He said he was so good and he was.
In 1992, it was probably the best shape I’ve ever seen him in and he knew it. I think he took it for a little bit for granted going in there and made a mistake because of that. So yes, he deserved it.
In 1992, it was probably the best shape I’ve ever seen him in and he knew it. I think he took it for a little bit for granted going in there and made a mistake because of that.
The year after, he broke the world record, won the World Championships, broke the indoor world records, and had more sub-13 second runs than any other hurdler in history. So he did get a silver medal at the Olympic Games 1988, but he did deserve to have the gold. Sometimes in life, sh£@& happens.
His long journey of 16 years to fulfill his lifetime dream
Christian: I myself, I’ve been very fortunate to work with some athletes that have made it to the top of their sport. Often we get asked by a lot of people how we do it and I’m just thinking to myself, honestly, it’s eight or more years of work and, and of course, the commitment of the athletes.
I’ve seen you mentioned a lot of times, it took you 16 years to get where you wanted to get to. Sixteen years can seem like an eternity for young athletes. So how would you explain to a young athlete that it’s a long journey and be prepared for a long journey?
Mark: Suck it up, buttercup, as we say over here. It’s not going to be easy. I’ve never met anybody who’s successful in anything say that it was easy when you ask them how it was. It’s not and that’s why there’s less than 1% that make it in any field.
I’ve never met anybody who’s successful in anything say that it was easy when you ask them how it was.
I tell young kids all the time that it depends on how badly they want something and what they are willing to give up to get that. If it’s important to them, they’ll persevere. It was important to me, especially with setbacks.
Sport, in general, is a losing proposition. The best baseball players over here in North America get paid two hundred million dollar contracts and they strike out 70 percent of the time. It’s just life.
- Also, check out the interview ‘Set goals and structure your life.’ with 3-time Mountainbike World Champion Anneke Beerten, who explains that every athlete loses more often than they win.
If you realize that that’s life and you might not do it this time and it’s going to be 1461 days between Olympics before you get to do it again, that’s a lot of training days for 13 seconds. You have to be right on the mark for that 13 seconds.
You don’t get to choose when that is. It’s “there it is over there; 13 seconds” and 1461 days from now you better be ready. You better not have a cold, you better not be sick and you better not be injured. You got to be ready.
You train 1461 days for a 13-second race.
So as long as you prepared upfront, that even if you do everything – aka Colin Jackson – and get ready for that day, it might not happen. You might have to wait another 1461 days. It depends on how badly you want it. I wanted it pretty bad.
His success habits
Christian: What are the habits that make you a successful athlete or person?
Mark: The first habit is discipline. I believe discipline is the key to everything because I just said, it’s not easy. There are little things you got to do every day. It’s the little choices you make every day. I’ve never missed a day of training, ever. That’s how badly I wanted it.
Discipline is the key to everything, it’s the little choices you make every day. I’ve never missed a day of training, ever. That’s how badly I wanted it.
I’ve been sick and I’ve been injured. After 1988, I had an Achilles operation. I had somebody pick me up from the hospital. I went in the hospital at nine o’clock in the morning, they were finished by 11:00. I got on my crutches, I went straight to the track.
Most people don’t do that. It’s again, the little things you do consistently every single day. It all comes down to the discipline to do it. Not making any excuses. I heard a great quote. I can’t remember who said it, but it says, “If you want to be successful, do what you say you’re going to do when you say you’re going to do it, the way you say you’re going to do it”.
Wales has the rainiest days. I actually just Googled it. I was training in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, which is the sunniest place in North America, to the rainiest place in the world. So, here in Canada, and Wales was even worse because there’s no indoor facility when we train there in Cardiff if it’s five degrees, minus-five degrees, we were out there every day.
If we looked outside and it was raining, we went out. If it was snowing, we went out. There is no excuse. I tell my young athletes all the time that they should not tell me what you’re going to do. I want them to show me.
I know within a couple of days if you’re going to make it or not as an athlete. I did a session the other day with two young tennis players. They said they wanted to train with me. I have no time. I got a full roster of people to train.
They insisted that they really wanted to do some speed work and that they needed some conditioning. I broke down and I told them that they should meet me at 4 o’clock at the gym and I’d assess them and see what they needed. They showed up at 4:10 and I just walked out.
These are some of the best tennis players at their age in Canada and just said that I don’t care. They don’t want it bad enough. So do what you say you’re going to do, the way you say you’re going to do it when you say you’re going to do it. That way you will persevere.
It’s those little disciplines you do. It’s every day, it’s not when you feel like it. It’s not for a month. People ask me how long it takes. I say that it takes as long as it takes. People ask me diet information or they want to lose weight.
It’s those little disciplines you do. It’s every day, it’s not when you feel like it.
They ask how often they should work out and I tell them that it is only on the days they eat. Any other day they don’t have to work out. No one has a problem getting up in the morning and having a shower or brushing their teeth and eating food.
But for the workout, they have to see if they can plan it into their day. I tell them they don’t have a choice. If you have goals, whether it’s fitness goals or athletic goals, it’s small disciplines every single day until you reach that goal. It’s pretty simple.
The universal success traits he learned from his parents
Christian: I also saw in an interview you said you’ve got certain traits from your parents that have nothing to do with sports and that are universal. You elaborated on discipline. What are these other traits?
Mark: Yes. I just came from a meeting the other day with some persons. The father’s a basketball player, the son’s a basketball player, three of the sons were basketball players and the mother was an athlete. It runs in the family.
Like the Manning’s, the father’s a quarterback, the sons are quarterbacks, they are a famous quarterback family. Father, son, and brother, they all do sport. My family, I got five brothers and sisters. There’s not a single athlete in the whole family.
My parents, not even come close to being athletes. Nobody was interested in sports except me. So people ask where I get it from and where I develop the discipline and the drive from. I would say that my father was a workaholic.
We went from Guyana where I was born to England. He had three jobs and it was the discipline of working, providing for us, and learning. It was always reading when I was bored. They’d tell me to go and read a book, which I never did, by the way.
But it was always learning and it was always working. My mother was the disciplinarian. It’s like you start something, you finish it.
My father had three jobs and it was the discipline of working and always learning. My mother was the disciplinarian. It’s like you start something, you finish it.
You put food on your plate, you’re not getting up from the table until you eat it. You take guitar lessons, you don’t like it anymore. She doesn’t care. You’re going to keep going until the lessons are finished.
So I got that discipline, that never quit. You don’t have the opportunity to stop until you finish what you said you were going to do. That’s where I got those two very important traits, I think; the work ethic and the perseverance and discipline to finish what you start.
That’s where I got those very important traits, the work ethic and the perseverance, and discipline to finish what you start.
How he started making training plans for himself at the age of 10 years
Christian: Then I have an interesting question, at least for me, it’s interesting. There’s always this debate on nature versus nurture and you just mentioned your parents were not into sports. Your family also not. But I also saw at the age of 10, you already started making training plans for yourself. So where do you think that love for sports came from?
Mark: Growing up, I was the second youngest, so my brothers loved watching sports. We all played sports, like soccer and stuff when we were younger, but nothing serious. We always watched the World Cup, we always watched the Olympics and I guess I’m a little lady bee.
I can’t sit still. I like to move, so I saw these things as a young boy. I remember I have a scrapbook I found the other day because I was just moving and it was from 1971 I think or 1972. The first page had a picture of Arnold.
I remember having a big chart on my wall with how many pushups I can do, how many sit-ups I can do, how many squats I can do, how much running I did that day and I just love doing it. I just love sports, I love moving.
I remember having a big chart on my wall with how many pushups I can do, how many sit-ups I can do, how many squats I can do, how much running I did that day and I just love doing it.
I wasn’t actually particularly good at any sport. I was average when I came over here in grade nine when I was about 15 years old. I tried a bunch of North American sports and really wasn’t good at any of them. I love sports. It was just a matter of finding what sport I wanted to do and what sport I can do well at.
His morning routine
Christian: Do you have a morning routine?
Mark: I do. I am very routine-oriented. I always had been.
Mark: I guess, yes. Now is a little bit different than when I was younger. I read all the time now. It’s a lot easier to access information on the internet now. I do a lot of research on anything to do with nutrition and health and fitness and wellness.
That’s what my mornings consist of, but I start my mornings the night before because I find and the research I’ve done is that we get caught up in wasting energy in making unnecessary decisions on things that are stupid, like what to wear and what to eat. These things clutter up your mind so you can’t focus on what you want to do.
- Also, check out the interview ‘I can, I do and I will.’ with Triple Olympian Neville Wright, who explains that he starts his morning the night before.
So I do all those things the night before. I have a calendar and a list of things that I need to do and I set that all up the night before. I do big rocks. I do all the big things first. A lot of people do their little emails and they read the papers, listen to the news, or whatever it is.
But I want to do all the things that are important once I have the energy and then I’ll fit in all the other things later. I set up my calendar, I set up my to-do list with the big things first. I always sleep.
Sleep is the most important thing for athletes. Sometimes I look back and I wonder how I ever accomplish what I accomplished. Because of the things that I know now, I could’ve been ‘a Colin Jackson’. I could have been good. So sleep is number one.
I can’t stand personal trainers, especially here in the gym industry. They’re always saying that I’m overtraining. Or young athletes will say that they can’t do this or that workout. They have to take the day off because they’re overtraining.
There’s no such thing as overtraining. Nobody’s even come close to overtraining, so throw that crap out. That’s an excuse for people who are lazy and don’t want to work out. Trust me, I train athletes now and I train with three, four athletes.
There’s no such thing as overtraining. Nobody’s even come close to overtraining, that’s an excuse for people who are lazy and don’t want to work out.
The way I do it is I train with them. I don’t give them programs and watch them. I train with every one of my athletes and they’re in their twenties. I do the workout with the first guy, then I’ll do the workout with the next guy and they’re going home resting for three days.
I’m doing three or four workouts a day and I’m 60 years old and these guys are telling me they are overtraining in their twenties? They have no idea what training is, trust me. Unless you do track and field, you have no idea what training is. I don’t care what sport you do.
A little harsh sometimes, aren’t I? Athletes don’t like me very much, but I don’t care. So yes, I set up my routine at night. I make sure I have all these trackers on that I use to track my sleep so I make sure I get enough rest.
I set my water bottle. I always get up in the morning and the first thing I do is to drink a liter of lemon water. Then I meditate, which I just picked up recently, in the last few, I’d say six months or so.
I find this hugely advantageous just because again, I can check my resting heart rate, I can check my HRV (heart rate variability) and I can check all these parameters that tell me if I’m ready to train the next day or how hard I should be training the next day.
Then I get up and I put the coffee pot on and I make my coffee as I shower and get ready and depending on the time of year. In the summer or the spring of summer between April and September, I grab my coffee and I head to the track. Then I start working out with different athletes.
In the winter, like now, I do more research in the morning. So I’ll do a few hours of research or writing. I do a lot of corporate speaking and at schools.
I love to go to schools and talk, so I prepare for those things in the mornings when I’m fresh. Then I’ll go work out for a while and then I’ll come home and usually I’ll eat lunch or a form of lunch at around midday. That’s my daily morning routine.
Christian: How was it as an athlete?
Mark: As an athlete, again, depending on what we’re doing, generally, it depends on the time of year because, in the fall, you do more training than you do in the summer, volume-wise. So in fall, get up again and I’ll have coffee. I drink too much coffee. It’s maybe one of my bad habits.
But I’ll get up and I’ll drink coffee and usually head out training. When I was competing and I stayed a lot with Colin in Britain, we didn’t go that early. We’d probably go to the track around 9:00 in the morning.
We would do our workout, head home, have lunch, go back out and go to the gym in the afternoon, and then come home. We didn’t do very much. I think that’s another reason why people say they over-train is because they just don’t recover because they’re hanging out with their friends.
They’re on video games and they’re all over the place doing stuff and all we did was train, eat, sleep. There was no social time and there was no time for anything else. We’d review training videos when we did them.
All we did was train, eat, sleep. There was no social time and there was no time for anything else.
We would just talk about training, how to manipulate training, how the training sessions went, and just discuss the different aspects of training, and how to make it better. Our whole life was consumed around training in some form or fashion.
How to prepare for important moments
Christian: How do you prepare for important moments?
Mark: Important moments? Well if it’s the birth of my children, I usually drink a lot. I’m guessing you’re talking about competitions or important events.
Back in the day of competition, I was a little different than everybody else, which is what I like because I don’t want to be the same as the rest of the athletes because most athletes don’t win. So I’d always do the opposite.
I don’t want to be the same as the rest of the athletes because most athletes don’t win. So I’d always do the opposite.
My routine, if I was going to compete, say in one of the Grand Prix meets in Europe, depending on if there were one or two rounds like sometimes they have a heat and then a final or sometimes they go straight to the final, depending on the sites of the meet.
If there was a regular Grand Prix meet and it was going to be one final late at night, I always get up at 6:00 in the morning. I like to get up really early and again I’ll have a coffee or ten and then I go to the track and I would do a full workout.
So I’d warm-up and I’d run like I was running a heat because I don’t like to run one race. I run better on my second race. On one of those days, I go and usually I do a full warmup and either do a full flight of hurdles or some starts over at least four or five hurdles.
Then I’d go back to the hotel, drink more coffee. Seriously, before training, I’d usually drink 20 cups of coffee easily. In the Olympics, I probably drank about 40, but that’s also because I don’t eat.
It also helps to stave off some of the hunger because I found, and I’ve experimented with it over the years that it doesn’t matter even if I eat at 6 o’clock in the morning, I still feel sluggish at 9 o’clock at night. So I don’t eat at all, the day I compete.
Christian: Nothing at all?
Mark: Nothing at all. I don’t even drink water. No water, no food; just coffee. That’s it. Again, I’d go back for the Grand Prix meet. If it’s a one-off, I’d go back in the afternoon. I usually get to track two and a half to three hours before the race.
It takes me two hours to warm up. So I’ll get there, probably three hours before, put on my headset, listen to some music, get in the zone and start warming up and then compete. At the Olympics, there’s two days’ heats, quarterfinals on one day, semi-finals, and finals on the next.
Heat is early in the morning, like tennis or so. I get up early, have a couple of cups of coffee, go to the track, run the heat, come back, have some more coffee, go back to track, run the quarterfinals and come home.
There wasn’t really very much time in Barcelona because the quarterfinals were late, by the time I got back to the village, it’s pretty late and you want to get to bed. So maybe grab a bite if you can and get up the next day. Then it’s more coffee.
Basically that’s the hardest day because you’re hanging out the whole day because the heats and the finals are an hour apart at night or two hours apart. So heading to the track, we didn’t start till about seven.
So I’d hit the track like four and again, getting ready, put on my headset, and then start warming up for the semi-final. Not much you can do in between semi-finals and finals because by the time you get back to the warm-up track you have a 45-minute turnaround time so you just little limber up, stay warm, and then head back from the final.
How his Olympic preparation changed over 3 Olympic Games
Christian: Your preparation for the 1992 Olympics, in 1984 you were unlucky fourth. In 1988, I think you came in seventh and 1992 you won. How did the preparation change from 1984 to 1988 to 1992? The immediate preparation, did you approach it differently?
Mark: It was really simple. After I started training with Colin and I went to Britain in 1989, after my operation I got, for about a year and I started training again. I actually started to hurdle. I know that sounds funny.
Over here, there are not that many hurdlers to train with. I did go down to the States. I started hurdling a little bit more. Probably in 1986 is when I started to pick up the pace on hurdling.
I used to train with the sprinters. It’s more fun. I used to go out there, we do starts. That’s why my start was so good. You notice for many of my races, I was always known for the start, not so much the finish because I trained with the sprinters all the time.
So the balance of training changed from sprinting and a little bit of hurdling to a lot of hurdling and less sprinting. So that made all the difference in the world, plus the fact that I actually had a hurdle coach. That’s the first time I’ve had a real hurdle coach in my life, was in 1989.
I went from basically my first 10 years of my career without a coach. It’s really funny. Malcolm completely changed the way I hurdle by changing my trail leg by one inch and I completely changed my hurdling dynamics and my stability and my balance of going over hurdles.
I went from basically my first 10 years of my career without a coach.
Christian: It’s quite impressive that you can come to number fourth in the Olympics or even Olympic final in 1988 without having a dedicated hurdle coach, right?
Mark: Yes. Again, because I couldn’t find one. It’s not like I didn’t try. I’ve had some input here and there, but to have a coach, no. Malcolm was my coach from 1989 until I retired. Renaldo Nehemiah, I guess, was the biggest impact.
He used to be the world record holder back in the day. I met him back in the early 80s and this was when I just started. Just after I started hurdling, I got a scholarship to Clemson South Carolina University in the States and I met him down there and I just asked him.
He was the best in the world. My philosophy was just going up to the best and ask them and I did. He sat down with me for an hour and he told me exactly what I needed to do. So it’s not like I didn’t have guidance. I just didn’t have a coach watching me.
My philosophy was just going up to the best and ask them.
So basically from 1981, I followed the type of protocol, which is he used to train like a madman. He used to train ten times harder. Seriously, the night when he gave me the program, I’m like, “Oh this is for the year?” He goes, “No, this is weekly.”
It was massive, the amount of work he did. So I just up my volume and I implemented, obviously, a little more hurdling, but without supervision. I talked to him in 1981 and by 1982, in one year, I won the Commonwealth Games, Commonwealth record and I went from 100th in the world or not even 100th in the world to number five.
So it’s really important. I always tell people about the environment and who you hang out with and your mentors and stuff like that. It made all the difference in the world. It’s night and day.
His preparation for the Olympic final 1992
Christian: I would like to go back to that Olympic final in 1992. I watched the replay and I could see, from what I saw, most of the competitors were quiet, standing still, but you were walking up and down and you were a little bit pumped up.
Mark: I was actually the opposite. What I usually do is I’m prepared and I’m ready. I usually run great semi-finals and then I try harder in the finals. It’s the finals so I feel I got to try hard. Then I make a mistake.
At the 1984 Olympics in Los Angeles, I hit the first hurdle which is the kiss of death for hurdlers. At the Olympics in Seoul 1988, I hit hurdle seven, I think it was, really hard and that was it. Again, I was trying too hard.
The last thing Malcolm said to me was that we’ve worked so hard and the good thing is I was training with Colin. He was number one in the world and I’m training at that level every single day. People say they like to train by themselves or they train hard.
You cannot train at that level unless you have that person next to you. You just can’t do it. I’ve tried training by myself even after the 1992 Olympics at that level when Colin’s not around and I can’t do it, no matter how much you try to push yourself.
But you can do it when somebody is beside you and he’s the best in the world and he’s pushing you day in and day out. I always say if I went to a race, like to one of the Grand Prix meets and Colin wasn’t there, it’s like a day off. It was like I didn’t have to put my spikes on because it was so easy.
So Malcolm told me that I prepared so well. I was just to do what I do every day. He told me not to try any harder, but to just relax. So I was walking back and forth, pacing myself to calm myself down.
I was telling myself not to get excited as it was just another race. This was something I did every single day. Then if you did see that and you did watch the Olympic, the final from Barcelona, if you look at the start, I was the only one who didn’t get out of the blocks on the false start.
My coach told me that I prepared so well, and just to do what I do every day. He told me not to try any harder, but to just relax. I was telling myself not to get excited as it was just another race.
I didn’t move when the gun went. So every other person on the false start, first false start, everybody left the blocks except me.
Christian: No, I didn’t see that.
Mark: Go back and check that out. Yes, if you look, I just got up and walk backward. Everybody else was thrown off by the guy who false-started in lane one.
But I could see him from lane four, but that’s because I was calm and relaxed. I was just waiting because I had my share of false starts, so I was pacing and walking, basically doing the opposite to calm myself down not to pump myself up.
Check out the Men’s 110m Hurdles Final Barcelona Olympics 1992
How to overcome setbacks
Christian: How do you overcome setbacks?
Mark: I’m a hurdler. Everything we do as hurdle sprinters is a setback. Everything we do is a hurdle. We’re used to overcoming hurdles in life. Seriously, hurdling is probably a good analogy is if you know that you’re going to come across setbacks most of the time, especially in sport, then it’s just a part of life.
- Also, check out the interview ‘I want to help people awaken the champion within them.’ With triple Olympian Mikel Thomas, who uses the same analogy
Don’t dwell on it. There are going to be better days ahead and trust me, I’ve hit rock bottom as you know, once you hit rock bottom, once you had a few setbacks, it’s just about a matter of time before you can hit one out of the park.
I’ve hit rock bottom, once you hit rock bottom, once you had a few setbacks, it’s just about a matter of time before you can hit one out of the park.
It might take you 16 years, but if you keep going, you’re going to hit one out of a park. You’re going to hit that home run sooner or later. I say once you get that realization that it’s just going to happen, you will overcome setbacks.
Especially in sports, especially in hurdles, you’ve seen the races in Europe. You could be the best, like Colin. You clip one hurdle and you’re done; don’t care how good you are.
That’s just a reality we learned early in our careers as hurdlers that in life you’re going to clip something, it’s going to throw you off and you might have to start all over again. The person who’s going to make it is the person who doesn’t quit.
The person who’s going to make it is the person who doesn’t quit.
His attitude of always getting back up and how to use setbacks as a learning opportunity
Christian: I also saw you mentioned that you have failed more often early in your life and that helped you to develop the attitude of always getting back up and you are using setbacks as a learning opportunity. The question I have is once you are in the middle of that moment of a setback, it’s sometimes hard to see that this could be a learning opportunity.
What advice would you give to someone who is at that moment and who dwells on that moment and then advise him or her, use it as a learning opportunity?
Mark: Again that depends on how bad you want something and what you’re willing to give up to get it because you’re going to have to give up something. You can’t have everything in life. If you realize, again, as I said just now, it’s going to happen.
I think the most important thing, and I learned this through the Seoul Olympic Games 1988 and through other setbacks, is the people you hang around. If you hang around the right people, they will say that you should hang around with them because they’ve been there and done it. They will tell you that you’re going to come through the other end if you keep going.
So you need good people. You want to stay away from the naysayers. You want to stay away from negative people. You want to stay away from people who say things can’t be done.
Sometimes I watch the Olympic race from 1992 and I still get nervous when I’m watching and this is twenty-seven years ago. I still get nervous and I keep thinking one day I’m going to hit that last hurdle and wake up out of a dream, like it didn’t happen because the chances of winning Olympics are so slim.
People used to tell me I couldn’t even hurdle, which is probably true. I was the worst hurdler in that field by the way. If anybody knows anything about hurdles and what’s the technique, mine was the worst.
But I’ve hurdled my whole life. Coming up, especially at the beginning of when I started to run high hurdles coming out of high school, they were saying I’m just a sprinter. They said I’ll never make it at hurdles.
If I ran a good race they would day that I just got lucky and I’ll never do it again. It’s really important to make sure that you surround yourself with like-minded people. It should be people who think we can do this because you’re going to come across way more people, and trust me I have, and you just try to get them out of your life. And sometimes these people are family.
You want to stay away from the naysayers. You want to stay away from people who say things can’t be done. Make sure that you surround yourself with like-minded people
Hang around the very few people who’ve either done it or who want to do it as badly as you do because if you hang out with people who go hang out at the malls or go play video games, that’s what you’re going to end up being.
It’s a journey. It took me 13 years to find Colin and Malcolm to train with and then another three years to win the gold medal. So again, it really comes down to the basics of how bad you want something and what you are willing to do.
I went from Canada to the US, from the US to Britain. Before I went to Britain, I would train in France and Finland. I trained with Arto Bryggare in Finland for a summer because he was one of the best hurdlers in the world. I went to train with Stéphane Caristan in France for a while because he was doing really well. I was willing to do whatever it took and go wherever I needed to go.
I was broke. You don’t make any money in track and field. I was, at one point, hundreds of thousands of dollars in debt, but that didn’t stop me. I didn’t say just because I’m in debt or just because I’m injured or just because of whatever. You can make an excuse for everything. You can have excuses or results. You can’t have both.
You can have excuses or results. You can’t have both.
Again, it comes back down to the choices you make. I decided I was going all-in. I was going to win or die trying. That was it. That’s what I wanted to do. It’s not rocket science. It’s how bad you want it.
His role model
Christian: Who’s your role model and why?
Mark: Early on in my life, there were probably two. One of them was Pele. I was brought up in England and I’m from Guyana, which is the border of Brazil. I supported Brazil and I loved Pele as a great athlete. One of the greatest of all times.
Then the other one was Renaldo Nehemiah. At the time when I was making my breakthrough, he was the number one hurdler in the world. He was a beautiful technician and I loved his work ethic.
I heard of his workouts. We didn’t have Google back then, so it was a lot harder to find out what athletes did. But I heard of his work ethic and then when he gave me his time, he didn’t even flinch. I didn’t have to beg him or anything.
He’s like the best in the world and I was nobody and he agreed that I could come and he’d show me what to do. I was blown away that somebody that was that great in my eyes would spend the time with me. I was not even from his country.
So he was a big idol of mine. Funny thing is, he went to play American football for a couple of years and that’s why he didn’t do an Olympics again. Then he came back to track and field, I think it was in 1989 or 1990 and I was his roommate, so that was a great thing.
Christian: Nice. With regards to Pele, did you see the 1970 World Cup?
Mark: I did.
Christian: That must have been amazing, right?
Mark: I was still in Britain at the time and two things we always follow were the Olympics and World Cup. Johan Cruijff was one of my mentors too. So there you go.
Christian: Well, I’m originally German. I work in the Netherlands.
Mark: Oh, okay. Condolences about being German. I’m just kidding.
Christian: You lived in Austria, I think right, for some time?
Mark: I’m actually Austrian, I lived there for three years. I got an Austrian passport. My ex-wife is German, that’s why I say condolences.
The best advice he received
Christian: What’s the best advice you received and who gave it to you?
Mark: Career-wise, I would have to say the best advice I received was from Malcolm Arnold, my coach. He completely turned my career around. This was the first thing he told me when I got off the plane.
It’s a great story of how his correcting my foot one inch made all the difference in my career because I used to run, like this my lead leg would go straight and my trail leg would come over the hurdle pointing outwards, so when the foot made contact with the track because it pushed me away because it wasn’t aligned.
I’ve been training now and running and finished fourth in Olympics, fourth in the World Championships and all this stuff, running like that. He suggested that I just put my foot straight, then run straight down the track instead of what I did. And I did what he said.
He also was a brilliant coach. He was the best hurdle coach by far in history. He told me that I do it 39 times in a race. He said that would be 39 inches if I correct it down the track. I won the Olympics by 39 inches.
He told me that I do it 39 times in a race, he said that would be 39 inches if I correct it down the track. I won the Olympics by 39 inches.
That’s how brilliant that man was. So he saw that with me running one flight of hurdles. He just told me to do it like that and the problem was solved. Now I just had to work on training.
Secondly, this is what I really mentioned to you before about the Olympic final. Malcolm asked why I was getting all tense and excited and trying so hard. He told me that I was ready because I had run three rounds and I won all of them.
He told me that I had nothing more to do. He said I was to do exactly what I did in the last three years and then do exactly what I did for the three rounds. So with those two pieces of information, I ended up with an Olympic gold medal.
How to know when it is time to move on
Christian: So now I have to ask you for good advice. You retired the first time after the Olympics in Seoul in 1988, and you made a comeback culminating in your Olympic success and you also ran your personal best after that in 1993.
Every person, at least every person who’s somehow ambitious about something, has to make a decision to move on from something in his or her life. You have done two retirements.
How would you tell someone when it is the right time that you know it’s time to move on?
Mark: Some people never learn, like me. A lot of my competitors said I should have moved on a lot earlier. When I showed up, they were saying, “Grandpa’s here again” because I’ve been around so long.
Christian: You won the Olympic title, so somehow you were right and they were wrong?
Mark: Exactly! I like to prove people wrong. That’s my main thing in life. I want to prove people wrong because there are too many naysayers out there.
- Also check out the interview ‘I want to prove people wrong.’ with Olympian Saiyidah Aisyah, the first-ever Singaporean rower to qualify for the Olympic Games.
My actual final retirement was after the 1996 Olympic Games in Atlanta, and I didn’t do very well there. That was the first time I didn’t make the Olympic final. So I came home and I was at a wedding and I was sitting next to these people who I didn’t know, but they were athletic fans. They asked me what I was going to do now that I was retired.
I did not see myself as retired because I was heading back over to Europe to compete. But I guess because of my dismal showing in Atlanta and I was 34 years old, they figured it was time to hang them up. So some people never get the message.
The only reason I retired was because I was injured and as you get into your 30s, injuries take longer to heal. It’s no fun. I don’t mind getting injured when it’s part of the sport and you recover and can start training again.
But when injuries linger on and it’s no more fun when you train, you can’t train properly when you’re injured. So retirement comes when it’s no more fun. It should always be fun. A bunch of times in my life, I used to think back, when you maybe think you want to quit and you get too serious. It’s sport!
Retirement comes when it’s no more fun.
We’re not trying to cure cancer or send anybody to the moon here. It’s sport and the reason we started sport is because it’s fun. When it no longer becomes fun, it’s time to move on. That for me, that’s when it no longer became fun. In 1996, when the body is had too many injuries and was just taking too long to recover.
A typical training day in the life of a 110-meter hurdle sprinter
Christian: Back in the days, how did the typical training day look like?
Mark: Depending on the time of year it differed, in the fall it was all volume, so it’s a lot of time doing longer runs on the track. Depending on the training group and sometimes we’d start in the morning if it was just myself and Colin because a lot of our group in Britain worked.
So other days, we trained with them after work, like after 5 o’clock or something like that. But in general, we’d go to track for a couple of hours in the morning, and then we’d be in the gym lifting weights for a couple of hours in the afternoon.
Some days were six hours long, some days were two hours long. Again, it just depends on the training cycle and what plan we had for the week, the month of the year. In the fall, there were a lot of longer hours.
That’s where we got all our base work in. We did a lot of hill work, 300s, some speed endurance type work, and a lot of volume lifting. Well, for us sprinters it’s volume, sets of 8 or 12 reps, higher volume, and less weight.
As we get towards the season, the indoor season, again we cut back on the volume. So 300s might come down to 150s or 120s. Weights would come down to sets of three rather than sets of eight. There’d be much heavier weights, much more rest and the same with the running. Then we start to implement more hurdling.
Again, in the fall we do longer hurdles, like sets over ten or twelve hurdles, and in the indoor season, it will be down to between three and six hurdles. Then after the indoor season, you’d build back up in the spring, which would be similar to the fall, and then the summer would be similar to the indoor season, as far as volume and intensity go.
Why he believes the Canadian approach to training isn’t right
Christian: Another question, you said the Canadian approach to training isn’t right, at least for Canadian track and field, and most successful athletes train in the US or abroad. Can you elaborate on what is not right?
Mark: What is right, would be the question? It’s not rocket science. From day one, I’ve always fought against my Federation and the way we do things here.
I’ve got a buddy of mine, the sprinter, who forced me to go into hurdles. He works with athletes still and he’s still knocking his head against the wall trying to fight the Federations and helping the way things are done. As I said, it’s not rocket science.
My medal was the first in 60 years, and I always asked myself why I was doing what they did when we don’t produce any athletes. So actually the first couple of years of my career on the Olympic team or on the Canadian National team, we have this funding, which is not really funding because it’s below the poverty line.
I always asked myself why I was doing what they did when we don’t produce any athletes.
But anyway, they held that from me because you have to have a nationally accredited coach in order to get the funding. I told them that they don’t have a nationally accredited coach in my eyes that can coach hurdles, so I don’t want any of them. So they told me that I can’t get the funding.
I told them that they should keep your funding. I didn’t care because I wanted to win. I said that it was more important than the fifty bucks a month or whatever they were paying me. So things haven’t changed.
That was back in the late 70s. Things are the same. They coached the same way. Coaching to me is not rocket science. For example, my son, he is a specimen. He never really did any sports in high school. He wasn’t that interested.
After high school, he said he wanted to be a sprinter, so I sent him down to Jamaica. I told him that if he wanted to be a sprinter, he should go and train with Usain [Bolt] because he’s the best. It’s not rocket science. All he needed to do is go and they’d happily have him.
I told him to go to Jamaica or to the States or wherever and follow what they do. We don’t do that. We try to make things up and we’re like. I remember back in the day we had coaches who would come up to me and say that Jackie Joyner-Kersey got all these mistakes.
I told them that she’s the best in the world. That’s our mentality. But they can’t coach better because she’s the best. Whatever she’s doing we should be copying; not the opposite way. So we have this mentality here that, I don’t know, it’s either we know it or we don’t need help.
I always went to the best. Whatever I can get, whatever I can steal, I’ll take it from the best. So we’re just so far behind in our mentality of training. I love Canada as a country to live in. It’s a great place to live, a great place to raise a family and stuff like that.
But when I go to high schools, I tell kids all the time, if you want to be an athlete, get yourself a scholarship to the States because that’s the best intermediate program in the world. It’s not just their training and the amount of funding they have, but their mentality.
I always used to think Americans were arrogant. They’re not arrogant. They just want to win. They’re just confident. There’s a fine line between arrogance and confidence and when they stand on the line, they want to win.
They just want to win. They’re just confident. There’s a fine line between arrogance and confidence.
When we go to the Olympics, our team wants to make it to the Olympics. Those guys aren’t interested in making it to the Olympics. They want to win the Olympics. That is a big difference.
Christian: Yes. And then, I’m always interested to understand a little bit about the different performance cultures. Canadian ice hockey, somehow, has some success. So what would you think is the difference between Canadian track-and-field and Canadian ice hockey, for example, because it’s the same nation?
Mark: Yes, we’re very successful. I think it’s because, it’s our number one sport, it’s basically a national sport and we have six months of snow. Right now, it is freezing. So it’s a culture finding something to do in the winter. Otherwise, it’s going to be a long winter.
A lot of people like skating, not me; you don’t find me on the ice. But we were brought up skating and playing hockey, so it’s ingrained in the culture. But the rest of the world’s catching up and I’ll tell you why, because we don’t train properly.
Even our athletes, even our hockey players don’t train properly. I actually work with some NHL guys over here and I not sure how familiar you are with hockey, but we had a very famous Toronto Maple Leaf from Sweden, Mats Sundin.
So guys over there might know him a little bit better. I had a conversation with him last year about some of the athletes training over here. He said that our athletes have no idea what they’re doing because over there he dry line and when they’re off the ice they go into a gym and they start lifting weights.
He said he’s never lifted weights in his life. He complained that this is a sport, they are athletic and want movement. He said that the guys are very stiff. So it’s changing, the way people train because the other countries, the Czechs, the Finns, the Swedes, they’re all faster than we are and are more athletic too.
So they’re starting to catch up. They haven’t been doing it as long as us, they haven’t been organized as long as us, but if we don’t change our ways, which we are doing slowly, because a lot more of these kids now are not getting off the ice and going in the gym.
Matt said what they need is track and field training. That’s what he used to do because it hurts. In a gym, I can lift all day long, it doesn’t hurt. It’s hard, but it doesn’t hurt.
Try running a couple of 300s. It’s just pain. When you feel that lactic building up, it hurts, but that’s what they need. So we’re good at hockey, but we’re not as good compared to the rest of the world as we used to be.
His interview nomination
Christian: Do you want to nominate someone to be interviewed?
Mark: I’d love to nominate somebody to be interviewed. I have to talk to them first. Colin would be a great one to interview, but again, I’d have to ask him and see if he’s open to it. But that would my number one because he’s got such a great mindset and he’s such an influence on me.
He’s younger than me and I wouldn’t say he was an idol or anything when I was growing up because I didn’t know him until he started beating me. But he’s such a smart athlete, with such a great mindset and mentality. He’d be a great person. I’ll check and see if he wants to do it and let you know.
Christian: That would be cool. Thank you.
Where can you find Mark McKoy
Christian: Where can people find you?
Mark: Come to Canada. I’m actually building a new website and social network platform to let people know about the new and innovative things I’ve recently been doing with training. As I said, people always ask me what did I do so differently than all the athletes 60 years before me in Canada?
What’s the difference? I certainly wasn’t more talented. I can tell you that right off the bat. But I think it’s when I was competing when I was a young athlete, I was always learning. It wasn’t as easy, but it’s much easier now, like I said, with the internet.
But I think my success came because I was continually learning to do things, whether it’s nutrition and supplements or training methods from around the world, from East Germany. I said my first wife was East German. I was always learning what the Germans and the Russians did.
I was always searching for the best methods to make me the best I could be and I haven’t stopped. Since I retired, I’ve been doing the same thing. That’s why I said I do research in the mornings.
I was always searching for the best methods to make me the best I could be and I haven’t stopped.
All fall and winter long when it’s cold and dark, I’m up and I’m reading. I’m doing research on the internet on anything that’s new or anything that I can do to improve myself or my athletes. So I’m building a new site where I’m going to have all that.
It’s just going to be markmckoy.com, so that’s easy for people to find. You can even find me almost anywhere, but within the next few weeks, I’m going to start to put together some of the information on what I’m doing and the latest research that I’ve found.
Mark McKoy’s social profiles
Christian: Mark, thanks a lot for your time.
Mark: Christian, it’s been a pleasure.