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Hall of Fame teleconference excerpts


On Tuesday, USA Track & Field hosted a media teleconference with 2011 National Track & Field inductees Gail Devers, Vince Matthews and Craig Virgin. Below are selected excerpts from that teleconference.

Gail Devers (Three-time Olympic gold medalist)
On what being inducted to the Hall of Fame means
“It’s a surprise and an honor. When I initially heard I thought that must mean I can’t compete anymore. The fact that you are being recognized when you get that call it means a lot to me. It’s a sense of pride. I just want to thank those who have put me into this position.

Were you surprised to be elected?
“It totally caught me by surprise. I didn’t put in any thought at all to this. It was an honor to hear that. I don’t even think I had put any thought at all into it. To say that I am part of the hall of fame is a prestigious honor. It’s truly, truly special.

On coming back from graves’ disease when doctors threatened to amputate for feet
“It’s my faith. I carry myself as anyone has. Not everyone is perfect. I deal with special education children and I talk to them. I don’t view it as a disability. I never got caught up in what I was going through at that moment. It was my goal to get better. When I write my goals down, it becomes a part of me. I am going to see this through. I had written down out of high school that I wanted to go to the Olympic Games and that I wanted to win a medal. What I believed in was my faith. Even if I can’t see the other side, I know there is another side. On those dark days when it’s snowing and you can’t get outside. We know bad times don’t last always. The sun is going to shine again. I don’t know when it’s going to shine, but it’s going to shine again. With my graves’ disease there were days when I couldn’t go outside because of the sunlight. It’s just knowing this happens for a reason. I believe God doesn’t give me more than I can handle. Lying in bed when they talked about cutting off my feet, I wrote down that I was still going to the Olympics. It might have been the Special Olympics, but I am going to the Olympics.

On her competition
“You know your competitors because you compete against the same four to five people. It’s the same people you knew would be on the line. You have to go to the line and bring you’re A-plus game. I would pray before every race and my prayer was not to win, but it was to run my very best on that day. A lot of time when I ran I didn’t know where I was. I tried to have such tunnel vision. Early on I used to think I would get caught up with someone else’s rhythm.

What was the proudest moment of your Hall of Fame career?
“It was my first gold medal. It was more my triumph from coming back from my grave’s disease. I cannot believe that I have done this for myself and for my country. These are things I have seen in my career. Just remembering how being in those countries and those cities felt. I was not born with a silver spoon and I was able to travel to different cities. All of that is categorized as things I am proud of.

What are your best moments from your career?
I have a lot of memories. It’s a full range of what I have been blessed to encounter. The gold medal is significant because I came back from my grave’s disease. I was told I would not run or walk again.”

Vince Matthews (Two-time Olympic gold medalist)
On what being inducted to the Hall of Fame means
“It means a lot to me. A few of the guys that I ran with have been inducted like Larry James and Lee Evans. I have been looking forward to putting my name alongside theirs.

Were you surprised to be elected?
“For me it came as a surprise. To tell the truth, I really wanted it. I had kind of given up on the thought that it was going to come my way. I’m a little nervous about it. I would rather be on the starting line. I’m nervous about going in. There are a lot of people that came before me. I’m just nervous about joining.

On the Civil Rights movement during his competition and its influences on track and field
“It was a big part. I hate to sound too corny, but it was the best of times and it was the worst of times. That’s the way it was. Back then our big thing was beating the Soviet Union. For some reason that was a big deal. We were able to get up and be sure we had more athletes than the Soviet Union. It was our own from cold war. We also had the whole Civil Rights movement going. We got caught up in that movement. But through it all I loved being a quarter-miler.

On setting the world record but it being disallowed because of using brush spikes
“During that time we competed at Trials in Lake Tahoe and the competition was fierce. There were four guys who easily could have set the world record. Puma had come out with this type of a shoe. They had a needle-point look to them and I wore them. I don’t know how much more traction I got. There was nothing I could do. I felt good when I thought I had the world record. I don’t think it would have been slower than a 44-something. All I could do was get ready for the race the next week. It’s a whole different world now. I don’t remember anyone saying we couldn’t run with the brush spikes. It was a good looking shoe. It had that allure look. It just felt good. It was just the draw.”

Craig Virgin (Two-time World Cross Country champion)
On what being inducted to the Hall of Fame means
 “Like Vince (Matthews), my career has been over for awhile. For me, it’s vindication for the body of work that I did. That body of work was quality enough for me to stand with up here with my contemporaries. I watched Vince on TV when I was getting into sport. The 1968 Olympics was the first time I saw any Olympics on TV. It’s a great honor to have my name alongside his and others like him. When you have runners like Frank Shorter and Steve Prefontaine, whose records I chased, and now my name is alongside theirs.

Were you surprised to be elected?
“This is not anything like running a race where I have a lot to do with what happens. This wasn’t something I had any control of. It was something where I was at the mercy of the voters. I believe I had the top American time in about eight distance races at the NCAA level. Post collegiately I was able to experience continued success. I got involved with the Olympic boycott in 1980. I was hoping they would look at my entire career. I know a lot of our 1980 teammates were affected by the Carter Administration boycotting the Games. Many athletes peaked then and didn’t get their shot. It was a shame we couldn’t make the team. I was hopeful I was elected.

Did you expect to be inducted?
“It’s a matter of professional pride. I was in that transition where the rules were broken up. We had to run things through channels. Our era was when we started transition from amateurs to professional rules and I was part of. I just laugh to think of all that is going on in the sport they would take that world record away for wearing puma brush spikes (Vince Matthews had a world record discounted in 1968 for using illegal spikes). Things have changed a lot since I have competed. Our national governing body has improved in terms of its assistance. I see a lot of things that have improved. When I went back to Olympic Trials in 2008, we received a video tape from the 1980 Trials. It brought back a lot of memories. There were a lot of records set at that Olympic Trials.”

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