If Jack Pierce were to write a book on how to peak at the Big Meet, it would sell. Few world-class performers are able to peak as consistently as the veteran hurdler. He has an Olympic medal and two World Championship medals to show for it. In the 1991 Worlds he missed gold by the slimmest of margins; he and winner Greg Foster had the same time, 13.06. Pierce didn't grab any bullion at the latest World Championships, but the fact that he triumphed over serious health problems to miss by only 0.08 is testament to his peaking ability.
The year started out well for Pierce. "I trained really hard," he says. "I trained harder than I've ever trained before. But in the process, I herniated two disks in my back. I continued to compete throughout the year with that. It was hindering me. If it weren't for a Dr. Lawrence Bell from Canada, I wouldn't have even competed at the Worlds. He worked on me day by day, night by night."
Pierce arrived at the USA Championships with a season's best of 13.29, but he had been beaten badly by an American field at the New York Games. His prospects didn't look great. But in the final he sped a wind-aided 13.26, comfortably making the team. He only dared race twice more before the Worlds. Once there, he ran his fastest time of the season, 13.27, in both the semis and the final. That the rest of his season was miserable--his average time only 14.05--showed how amazing his Gothenburg performance was.
"At the Olympics, at the Worlds, there's so much drama, there's so much hype when you have 80,000 people cheering you on," Pierce explains. "You've got to get accustomed to that. The adrenalin takes over. No longer am I looking around to see how I got out [of the blocks]. It's, 'I'm going to get out; you guys have to catch me.' That's the attitude you have to go into a big meet with. It's not easy to keep that attitude all the time, because I've run so many races.
"But when I come to a big meet, I'm always feeling that adrenaline. That's what puts me over the top. It's like, 'OK, here we go. You give it your best and I'll give it my best.' I just like the competition. That's what keeps me doing it."
A star at Morgan State more than a decade ago, Pierce kept hurdling in the thin years afterward. He made ends meet by working as a slot machine cleaner at Harrah's Casino in Atlantic City. Later, when he hit it big, the media focused on his casino past as if it were all he ever did. "That seemed to take over my career," he says. "It was a nice job. I give Harrah's all the credit in the world because they were real flexible with me. It just came to the point where I thought, 'Am I going to work in the casino all my life or am I going to try one more time in track and field?'
"That was really the beginning of my career when I quit that job and started training full-time." When he's through with track, it's unlikely that Pierce will head back to the casino. He's not far from his degree in business administration. "That's what I'm going to finish up on now," he says.
In the meantime, he works the track circuit, a choice that has made life tougher for Pierce and his wife, Marva, since the arrival of their first child, Sydnee Simone, in September 1993. "I tell you," Pierce says, "it makes it harder to go away from home. That's killing me. It's like, time to go on a European tour, but my daughter's just learning to talk. I always wonder what she's doing. I always want to come home."
That's part of the reason Pierce is considering making 1996 his last serious season. "This is the last year that I'm going to be training like I'm training now," he says. "I had big plans for last year and they didn't go the way I wanted, so it just gave me more incentive for this year coming up."
The season will hinge on his recovery from back surgery in December: "I thought maybe a little rest and a cortisone shot would alleviate some of the pain and the pressure, but it didn't work. Now they have to go in and put a tube in my back. It's not as bad as it sounds." With a recovery period of about a month, Pierce expects to run a few indoor races before the season really takes off.
"I want to give it one last good go," Pierce says, "being that the Olympics are here in Atlanta this year. It's something that you always look forward to. It's a real dream. And I'm going to try everything available to reach that dream."
Born September 23, 1962 in Cherry Hill, NJ 6-1/1.85m 180/81kg Woodbury HS (NJ) '80 Morgan State '84 Mizuno PRs (outdoor): 200--20.90 '84 110H--12.94 '96 PRs (indoor): 50H--6.51(A) '95 (low-altitude-6.56 '89) 55H--7.04 '89 60H--7.52 '95 Major Meets (110H unless noted): 1981 3)USA Juniors 1982 1)NCAA Indoor 60yH 1983 5)USA Indoor 60yH 1983 dnc-f)NCAA Indoor 60yH 1983 6)NCAA 1983 6)USA 1984 4s)USA Indoor 60yH 1984 9)NCAA Indoor 55H 1984 5s)Olympic Trials 1985 5)USA Indoor 60yH 1985 dnf-f)USA 1986 4)USA Indoor 60yH 1986 3)USA 1987 4h)USA Indoor 55H 1987 3)USA 1987 4)World Championships 1988 5s)USA Indoor 55H 1988 5)USA 1988 8qf)Olympic Trials 1989 4)USA Indoor 55H 1989 2)USA 1989 5)GP Final 1991 2)USA Indoor 60H 1991 8)World Indoor 60H 1991 2)USA 1991 2)World Championships 1991 2)GP Final 1992 1)Olympic Trials 1992 3)Olympic Games 1993 5)USA Indoor 60H 1993 1)USA 1993 3)World Championships 1993 7)GP Final 1994 dnf-s)USA 1995 3)USA Indoor 60H 1995 3)USA 1995 4)World Championships 1995 6)GP Final 1996 dnf)Olympic Trials (fell) Major Relays: 1986 1)USA Indoor SMR  (Karamu Flyers)