Johnson, Hayes, Perry & Richards press conference excerpts from Helsinki

08-05-2005

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Tom Surber
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USA Track & Field
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A Team USA press conference was held Friday in advance of the 2005 World Outdoor Track & Field Championships, August 6-14 in Helsinki, Finland. Athletes participating in the press conference included 2004 Olympic gold medalist and four-time world outdoor 110m hurdle champion Allen Johnson, 2004 Olympic 100m hurdles gold medalist Joanna Hayes, 2005 USA Outdoor 100m hurdles champion Michelle Perry, who owns four of the top-five times in the world this year, and 2005 Visa Championship Series women's champion and 2005 Olympic 4x400m relay gold medalist Sanya Richards, who posted the fastest time in the world this year of 49.28 seconds in winning the 2005 USA Outdoor title.

Excerpts from Friday's press conference follow.

Allen Johnson

Q: How would a fifth world 110m hurdles title sound to you?

A: A fifth title would sound great. But this one would be the most difficult one because there are so many people running fast. It's harder as you do things more. I guess it gets more difficult. I'm just looking forward to this one.

Q: Within the last couple of weeks, you've had a little minor injury. You stayed out of a couple of races of late. Could you talk about the injury and how you're health is right now?

A: When I was in Lausanne my calves spasmed. If you don't know what a spasm is, that's when the muscle just tightens up. I wouldn't clarify it as an injury per say, but if I would have continued to run on it, it probably would have torn some of the muscles on it. I pulled out of Lausanne and I pulled out of Rome, and just went home and trained. I was training the next week at 100 percent. I'm 100 percent healthy now just ready to run, waiting for Wednesday so I can start and Friday for the final.

Q: What was your reaction to Ladji Doucoure (of France) running 12.97 seconds?

A: My reaction was 'That's pretty quick.' I wasn't shocked. He ran 13.02 in Paris. Anytime you run 13.02 or 12.97 that's not a world apart. 12.97 is fast. I probably expect him to run even faster here. I'm expecting anything here.

Q: Being one of the senior members of the team and one with a lot of world experience, what do you tell some of the rookies who are experiencing their first worlds what to expect?

A: I don't know. What have I told some of you guys? (laughter) I tell them to do what they did to get here. I don't believe in experience. I don't think its experience that makes you win. A lot of people that show up first, second time they win. When you're prepared to win, you win. The fact that it's your first time or your fifth time pretty much has no bearing on whether you win or lose. It's about how you're prepared and what you're mind is like. When you're prepared to win, you win. Take Sanya Richards for example. Two years ago at 18, she anchored the 4x400 team to victory. Where was her experience at the Worlds? She didn't have any. I'm a strong believer in experience is something that you guys talk about.

Q: What do you think of the Chinese hurdler Liu Xiang. Who do you think are your main rivals, Doucoure, or Liu Xiang?

A: Liu Xiang is fast. Who do I think is my main rival? There's no main rival. I don't know how deep a field this is. I guess there are about 40 or 50 of us out there. I guess I have 39 or 49 main rivals. This is the World Championships. Everybody is going to rise to the occasion. If you focus on one person, you're making a mistake, a huge, huge mistake. This is where new stars are made, old stars fade away, current stars continue to be stars. That's what we are here for. We're going to find out who the main rivals are.

Q: Is this the most competitive field you have known for many years?

A: From my point of view, this is the most competitive in terms of people running fast in the current year. There have been past years where I have competed where Mr. (Colin) Jackson back there, he's the world record holder, you had him and Tony Jarrett. ,Not everyone was running fast in one particular year. This year, 13.05 is the fifth or sixth fastest time in the world. I've never experienced anything like that. That's what's making this event so exciting. That's why everyone is kind of gearing up, wanting to watch the men's hurdle finals because everyone is so tightly bunched up. They have a .02 seconds separating one from two, from three, from four.

Q: You and Liu are a like in a way. He's the Olympic champion. There's going to be a lot of expectations on him. You had your unfortunate fall last year in the quarters in Athens. What did that do you for you? Did it motivate more for these world championships or is that all in the past and is this meet what's happening right now?

A: It's a little bit of both. Anytime you have a failure, you want to come back the next year and try to make up for it. There is no way for me to make up for the fall. But I'd be lying to you if I said that wasn't on my mind. I felt like I had to do something to make up for that. It's a little bit of motivation. But at the same time, this year is different from last year. This world championships, no matter what happened last year, I would have been geared up and really motivated to try and perform well. The motivation this year is to try and win a fifth title. As far as I know, no one has ever won a fifth title on the track. I know it's happened on the field with (pole vaulter Sergi) Bubka. But on the track, nobody has won more than four titles. That's something that really motivates me to try and accomplish it.

Joanna Hayes

Q: Talk about your preparations leading up to the World Championships and how are you feeling coming into this big event.

A: I'm feeling pretty good now. Like Allen in Lausanne, I had a little hamstring thing going on. So, I went home and skipped the meet that I really wanted to run in and just rehabbed and got prepared to come back here. Now I feel great. I feel ready to run. I'm excited.

Q: The weather forecast for the next week calls for rain. Can you talk about running the high hurdles in the rain? What adjustments do you have to make?

A: I believe you have to make a lot of adjustments because you are looking at something, you're not just running straight. I can't wear glasses because in the rain because it sticks on the front and I can't see. Other than that, I figure as long as its not just raining in my lane, then all eight women have to go through the same thing. It's just a matter of focusing just as you do in every race. You just want to really, really concentrate on the not trying to be too fast in between the hurdles. Once we step out on the track we'll be able to adjust and we'll be able to understand how to really work in the rain, or not in the rain.

Q: How did last year's success change your life?

A: After the Olympics victory, your life does change a bit, especially after it's your first one. More people want to talk to you, more people want to see you. It changes a lot of your training habits and a lot of your traveling habits. You eat a little better. People are watching you more. It's harder. Sometimes it makes it better. You have a target now. You can't sneak up on anybody now. I welcome the challenge, and I'm excited.

Q: What's it like to have a strong American rivalry like you have (with Michelle Perry)?

A: It's great, especially since Michelle and I have trained together for about eight years. When you have that, you know what she's doing in practice. You don't wonder how she's training now, you know how's she training now. You can see it. You know what they are prepared to do. You might make the mistake of thinking about that person too much. Once you're on that track, it's one lane per person. Every person in every lane is running for themselves. I know Michelle is prepared. She knows I'm prepared. I'll focus on me and she'll focus on her. Hopefully we'll go 1-2 and bring some medals home for the US.

Q: Last year when you won in Athens, you threw your glasses off. Will you not be able to wear your glasses if it rains, and if not, how might that change your race?

A: No. I didn't wear glasses in Paris and I actually won the race in freezing cold. That was a pretty good race for me. I'm going with my mood these days. I put on or don't. If it rains, I won't wear them. It won't cause a problem. The only thing I'm going out to do is run fast.

Sanya Richards

Q: Last year, you finished sixth at the Olympics Games. I know you're anxious to do better this year. What are the chances of seeing you on the podium?

A: I believe they are very high. I want it so much. My preparation for the meet has been very good. I showed that at the U.S. Nationals. I'm really confident and I'm really excited. At the Olympics I got sixth and I was so disappointed, because I knew I could have run better. I wish I could have run better. Now I'm coming out here to take care of business. I'm going to do my best and hopefully stand on the top of the podium.

Q: That belief that you could have done better, is that a pebble in your shoe for this year?

A: Oh yes. At the World Championships in 2003, I didn't make it to the finals and last year at the Olympics, I finished sixth. I'm definitely progressing. This year, hopefully I would be able to win the finals. That's my motivation all year. Every day I think about that in practice. I think about what it takes to beat them.

Q: A lot has been made of the youth on the team, but that youth now has a lot of experience. What does that mean to you?

A: I think it's very important. I'm happy that I was at the World Championships and the Olympics last year because it's a whole different story. I remember Allen telling me that my first year it takes time to adjust. I was like, 'What's the big deal about being in Europe?' I thought it was the same as being in the United States. There's a big difference with the time adjustment. I'm happy that I had the experience. Now that I'm prepared to run fast, I think it will come in handy for me.

Q: How did winning the 4x400 (at the Olympics) take away the sting from finishing sixth in the 400?

A: I really enjoyed being a part of the team, and bringing home a gold medal for the United States. But nothing takes the place of individual success. You train by yourself every day. We come together and form a team here. I was really excited about the gold for the 4x400. I really want to have a medal in the 400 this year to get over the Olympics.

Q: What was behind your change to Clyde Hart as your coach?

A: I think it's been an excellent transition. It was a very tough decision, but Coach Hart has been proven in the 400, and I figured that if I wanted to be the best quarter-miler that I needed to hook up with the best coach. The changes have been great. He's an excellent coach and I'm running a lot more comfortable, and I'm running almost exactly the same every time, so it's been a great change for me and I'm excited about my progress.

Michelle Perry

Q: You've shown tremendous improvement this outdoor season. What do you attribute that to?

A: I think the biggest difference for me this year is no heptathlon (laughter)! Around the time of the New York meet we stopped training for the heptathlon and we've found a balance this year. Last year Bobby (coach Bobby Kersee) placed a special emphasis on the heptathlon and me making the team in the hept. This year he gave me free reign of what I wanted to do, and people that know me know that the hurdles are my favorite event. In New York we decided to back off of the heptathlon, so I wasn't spending time with the javelin or the shot, which kind of locked up my back. After New York I decided to go full force in the hurdles and things took off for me.

Q: As well as you've done in the hurdles in such a short amount of time, what do you think your long range potential is in that event?

A: I think I have a lot left in me. For myself and my own expectations, like with any athlete, you go for a record and the best time possible and I want to go as far as I possibly can go, and not withstanding I'm not going to eliminate the heptathlon. I'm going to continue to train for that, but in years where Bobby gives me free reign I'm going to continue train for the hurdles.

Q: Have you surprised yourself at how well you've been able to do?

A: It wasn't a shock to me. Most people in the world are shocked, but it is not a shock to me because I know what I can do in practice, and because I wasn't able to spend great amounts of time on the hurdles it made a huge difference once I was able to step away from the heptathlon for a while and give a 100% energy to the hurdles. I knew that's what it would take to get to an elite level in that event.

Q: When you stopped training for the heptathlon, did you realize that you could do something special with the hurdles this year?

A: I knew in my heart from day one that I could do amazing things in the hurdles. I've always believed that. Now I have the opportunity to prove that to the world.

Q: When you return to the heptathlon, what will it take for you to beat the great Carolina Kluft?

A: Wow. In order to defeat the lady from Sweden you're going to have to be basically #1 in as least six events, or challenge her in at least six events. For me, I would really have to step it up in the field events, track events are not my concern.

Q: Is Bobby Kersee becoming more mellow as a coach these days in letting his athletes have more of a say?

A: He's not as much of a tyrant (laughter). For me we've opened up our relationship where I can tell him this is how I'm feeling and this is what I want to do, and he's never been the type of person where if you're not going to give your all for something, he's not going to force it. We decided to do the hurdles only because I needed a break.

For more information on Team USA at the World Outdoor Championships in Helsinki, visit www.usatf.org.