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National Track & Field Hall of Fame Q&A: Kathy Hammond


In advance of the National Track & Field Hall of Fame induction ceremony on December 1 at USATF Night of Legends, USATF interviewed Class of 2018 inductees on their athletic careers and legacies.

Today’s feature: Kathy Hammond

How did you get started in track and field and when did you first realize you could be really good at it?

When I was little, I had an older brother who's four years older and I was always running around with him. The neighborhood kids played around and that carried over into the playground, and I realized I could outrun all the guys in grade school.


In seventh grade, my PE class got together a team to run in the district championships, and I won a couple races and got second in one. Somebody told me about Will's Spikettes in Sacramento, which was the girls track team that worked out with one of the high school boys teams.


I remember coach Will Stephens, the coach for Will's Spikettes, told me to go run/walk 110s for a mile, and then come back. All of a sudden, I come back, and he said, "Are you done already?", and that's kind of when I got started.


What was it like having national success at such an early age?

Looking back at everything, I don't think I realized what it was, being like 14 and running girls' nationals for the 14 through 17 age group. And in fact, when I started out in the age group, I was running 60s, 75s and 100s, stuff like that.


My coach told me when I was going to turn 14 that I was going to run the 400. I ran one, and I go, “Oh, gosh, I'm never going to run this again.” The second one I ever ran was the women's indoor nationals and I placed third and even my third place broke the old American record. And so that's kind of how I got on my way. It was really exciting because I made my first USA team at 14.


Looking back at the 1972 Olympic Games in Munich, what stands out to you as your biggest memory?

Just meeting the people. I met some really nice people in the village and from other teams, too. Runners, but also people who weren't runners but had passes to the village. Right before going to Munich all the teams got together for a big dinner at the White House and that was exciting.


Also, at most of the meets you would warm up in the stadium under the lights, and it was pretty casual. At the Games, you warm up on a separate track, so you really don't know what's going on. We were just trying to stay kind of warm as time was going by.


What what did it mean to you to qualify for the 1972 Olympics after you weren't able to make it in 1968?

1972 was a really good year. I had switched coaches and was running with Steve Lehnhardt and I was running unattached for a little bit and then we formed our own team, the Sacramento Roadrunners. I had Deanne Carlsen, who was a hurdler, and Cherrie Sherrard and Nancy Mullen. Between just the four of us we were going to our AAU meets and cleaning up on everything from the 200, 400, 800, relays, hurdles, winning team trophies.


I was having a really good year, but it was kind of mixed. I think I won almost every meet that year indoor and outdoor, but it was kind of mixed feelings because I was supposed to go to Mexico [in 1968].


You know, I was like a shoo-in for Mexico in '68 and I had the fastest time in the world at that time and I was tied in the nation with Wyomia Tyus in the 200, so I was being probably a little too ambitious and I thought I'd go for the 200 and 400 in Mexico instead of just sticking to the 400. I was at a Western Division meet that wasn't that important to me, right before the nationals, and I was running the 200. I came around the corner and my hamstring just popped. They went ahead and passed me through the nationals since I had the best time in the world, but then when I got to the Trials I was shot up with cortisone and tried to run, and got to the 330 mark and couldn't even do anything. I had nothing.


For a 16-year-old that was pretty devastating for me and even to this day I think, oh gosh, I could have gone to Mexico at 16, I would have been the youngest ever.


So, when I was going into Munich, I was at my top. I got lane eight at the Olympic Trials and I just shot out of there. My first 200 split was faster than third place in the open 200. When I came off the curve I was three seconds ahead of the next person and I set an American record.


At [the Games], I didn't run as fast on my first 200 as I usually did. I think a part of it was if I had gone to Mexico and got a medal it would have been OK to go for broke. But if you have something to lose, might not get a medal at all, you run the race differently. I think that was kind of on my mind a little bit and might have made me nervous. When they broadcast it on TV and I'm coming off the second corner they were saying, "Here comes Kathy Hammond really sprinting down the straightaway," and I'm thinking I shouldn't have been that far back to begin with.


In the 4x400 relay, I got the baton and I just went after Monika Zehrt… I had been a little disappointed in my time in the open 400 and I was just going all out, and I've always been a really good anchor leg making up distance. Once I get that baton I just go after the person that's in front of me.


What motivated you as an athlete, and what advice would you give to the next generation of track and field athletes?

Track and field has come a long way since my day. Title IX came in and now you have contracts and you are actually able to run and practice and have that as your job, not just as a side thing.


I would tell young athletes to not be afraid, go for your goals. If you don't make it, you don't make it. You should try your best and do what you want to do what you love. I had two really good coaches and that helped motivate me. Get to know your teammates and people you know on other teams, friends, you all have something in common that helps to motivate you. Enjoy the sport. It's not just the winning, but the friends you meet, the places you see, the losses that make you stronger, the accomplishments to be the best you can be.


My mom and dad both used to give up weekends for meets and they would haul both my sisters to all the meets on the weekend. I think that's how my younger sister ended up getting involved in track. I had a lot of parental support. I'm a very competitive person, and when I started at 13, I wasn't going to settle for getting third and fourth.


What's the biggest change you've seen in women's track and field since you were competing?

When I was in high school before Title IX, there were no girls' track teams in high schools. Girls not only didn't get funding for sports, but it was discouraged for them.  My high school principal thought that sports would keep girls from being able to have babies. When I ran on the street, people would say, "Is that a boy or a girl?"


When I was ready to go to college, the only college giving full track scholarships to women was Tennessee State. To afford to keep competing, we had car washes, pancake breakfasts, etc., and I had donations from the people and organizations in Sacramento.  My coach couldn't afford to go to the Olympics with me.


Women are treated more equally now. Our nationals were separate, and our Olympic Trials were separate when I was running. Most of my indoor meets that were that were invitationals for the men were televised, but the rest of the meets for women weren't. We didn't have the subsidies like now, so as I got older I ended up quitting at 21. I had planned on going on to Montreal in 1976 but you know it was just too hard and I had lost my coach. Now you can get a training camp and you can get the subsidy to be able to do it, so I think that's a big thing and women are seen as more equal as far as publicity and money.


How did track and field prepare you for your later life?

I think that setting goals helped me. Also, just having that Olympic medal. You put that on your resume and it kind of gets you in the door, people talk to you.


When I ended up quitting running, and I'd already got married and had my daughter and all sudden I was a single mom, Sacramento Savings & Loan gave me a position and next thing I know I was a supervisor for the new accounts and then I was teaching training classes for 24 branches in Northern California. It's always helped me get my foot in the door, and then after that it's where you take it.


Other than competing and medaling at the Olympics, what was one of your greatest or favorite track memories?

I loved indoor track. I loved the crowd being right there. Having the smaller tracks and having to run around them several times, the strategy of it. I loved that. So probably when I set my world records indoors, my 500 and 600, I did that twice in each.


Also, the memories I have of my family going with me to all the meets. Those are probably my fondest memories.

This interview has been edited and condensed.

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