Hall of Fame Class of 2009 Interviews


Tom Surber
Media Information Manager
USA Track & Field

INDIANAPOLIS - USA Track & Field announced on Tuesday that Joetta Clark Diggs, Andre Phillips, Randy Williams, Willie Steele and Dr. Ken Foreman have been elected to the National Track & Field Hall of Fame. Below are recent interviews with the living inductees.

Joetta Clark Diggs

Q: What are your feelings about being elected to the National Track & Field Hall of Fame?

A: When I saw the list of athletes that I was up against this year I thought it was a solid list as always. I'm honored and thrilled to see that I had been elected. I'm just glad I'm alive to see it. For my family, my coaches and all the people that have been so instrumental in my career, I'm glad that they're all still here to hear the good news and to participate in the event.

Q: How did your career in track and field begin?

A: I started in track and field by running in various camps as a sprinter when I was eight and nine years old. At that time my father was the director of parks and recreation in Essex County. So I would run the 100 and 50 yard dash, and eventually he moved me up to middle distance and distance running, and that's where I stayed ever since. I would travel to AAU meets across the country and I would run cross country as a youngster when I was 10 or 11, and when I was 13 I went to junior nationals and I ran 5:09 for the 1,500m and 2:18 for the 800. I went into high school the next year and my high school coach brought me along. I started as a sprinter and then my father wanted to dispel the notion that American blacks couldn't run anything above the quarter, so he put us in the 800 and cross country. He wanted us to travel the path of the road less taken at that time.

Q: How did the 800 become your specialty?

A: The reality is we focused more on the 800 in college because we had other girls who could run the 1,500. I could run a good 1,500 or mile, but in my freshman year in high school I ran 2:12 and then I went 2:05 as a sophomore when I was 15 (years old). So I was recruited to run the 800 and 1,500, and be the fifth person in cross country. I pretty much stuck with the 800 because once I got out of college, in order to get in the European meets, my 800 was the only thing that was even remotely close to running against the world because everyone back then was 1:55, 1:56, where 1:59 got you 10th or 11th back before the (Berlin) wall came down in 1989. In the states I could run both, but in the world market and in order to make a career out of it, I needed to run the 800.

Q: Why did you choose to attend the University of Tennessee?

A: Back in 1980 I was the top high school recruit, male or female in the country, in any sport. That was not me saying that, it was Sports Illustrated saying that. My last four schools were Georgetown, Tennessee, Indiana University and UVA (University of Virginia). I came to Tennessee and Terry Crawford (1988 U.S. Olympic women's head coach, and current USATF Director of Coaching) was the coach then. She sold me on her bringing in a great freshman class, and Delisa (Walton-Floyd) was there and she took second her freshman year at nationals, which was my senior year of high school. So I came to Knoxville and had a great bunch of girls come in with me and we ended up winning the AIAW my freshman year, and we had a top team during all of my four years at Tennessee. So we came in, we graduated, we won titles, and we're all doing well now.

Q: As an elite athlete you competed on four U.S. Olympic Teams. What was that like for you?

A: I tried out twice in high school and also in college in '84 and I didn't make that team, so when I finally made the team in '88 I was excited because it was at a point where it was still East Germany and the Eastern bloc countries and they were running fast and I had to decide if I would stay in the sport or go to work. I decided to hang around a couple more years and I'm glad that I did that. Making four Olympic teams was exciting, and when you're doing it, however, you don't realize that you're doing it. You only realize it when you start getting awards or when you retire because you're so busy trying to run fast, throw further or jump higher that you don't sit back and look at your accomplishments until you're completely done. I didn't really relish that at the time because I had more to do.

Q: You won two medals in World Indoor Championships competition. How rewarding was that?

A: I enjoy running indoors. I ran 1:59 both times at the World Indoor Championships. The first one was in Indianapolis in 1987 and I made the finals. I enjoyed the boards and it didn't have as many people as well. Outdoors you have a lot more women in those races. For me I got two bronze medals and a world record in the distance medley I think it was, or the sprint medley indoors, and that mark still stands.

Q: You're also well known for your success at the Millrose Games, where you were victorious on seven occasions. What did running at Madison Square Garden mean to you?

A: For years we would go to the Garden to see all-time greats compete and I thought that one day I'll be able to run there, and lo and behold I got my chance to run when I was 15 and I ran every year until I retired when I was 38. I missed one year running at the Garden in '84, but I ran in either 20 or 21 Millrose Games. That was special to be in the stands as a kid and then be able to go back and run in front of your home crowd was something special.

Q: The Clark family (Coach J.J. Clark, 5-time Olympian Jearl Miles-Clark, 5-time USA Outdoor champion Hazel Clark) has meant a great deal to USA Track & Field through the years. What has it been like to be a part of a family that has meant so much to track and field in the U.S.?

A: I think that USA Track & Field, and track and field period, has done so much for us as individuals. Being awarded a scholarship to college and graduating from Tennessee, my brother graduated from Villanova University where he was a fine runner himself, having run under four minutes in the mile, and then my sister graduated from the University of Florida. Track has been something that has afforded us the opportunity to go to college for free, travel across the country and around the world to meet great people and I think, when you look at everything, we are solid people and that's the way our parents raised us. Our family is a close-knit family and we believe in the sport and giving back, and I'm really thankful for the opportunities we've had through track and field.

Q: Now that you've retired from competition, what are you doing these days?

A: My life now has come full circle. I've been married for ten years and I have a daughter who is seven (years old) and I home school her. I have a foundation, The Joetta Clark Diggs Sports Foundation and we do programs for kids K through 12 dealing with obesity, life skills and nutrition. So my programs are now the programs that are in school, so instead of doing gym and health they do my program for 10, 12 or 16 weeks. I run free track and field camps in the summer from 8:30 to 3 o'clock every day. You drop them off and pick them up. I also do motivational speaking engagements with corporations, colleges, high schools and different books. And then my first book, I wrote it by myself with no ghost writers or co-authors, and that book will come out in December.

Dr. Ken Foreman

Q: What was it like for you to learn that you had been elected to the Hall of Fame?

A: Actually, having been nominated twice and passed over, I was in total shock. I couldn't believe that I had been nominated again, let alone voted in to the Hall of Fame. It's very exciting.

Q: How did you first get involved in coaching?

H: I was coaching at a private high school in 1947, and there were a couple of girls who hung around the edges and I started teaching them the long jump, and interestingly enough, the shot put as well. Subsequently I was hired at Seattle Pacific University, where my primary coaching responsibilities were men's basketball, track and field and cross country. In 1955, a high school coach called me to tell me that he had seen a young lady on the track that was beating his best sprinters, and he wanted to know if I would be interested in looking at her. My professional training had told me that if a woman sweats hard or lifted weights, her uterus would fall out (laughter). So I mulled the thing over and finally I asked them to bring her in after my basketball practice, which he did and we set a Coleman lantern at one end of a cinder strip and the young lady at the other end. I shot my gun into the night and she came flashing past the 100-yard mark in 11.5 (seconds). I had no idea what that meant. I told her to run it again and she did in the same time and that's when I suddenly realized this child was running in bare feet, and I also realized she had some talent. That was in October. In January of that year she ran in the national AAU meet and she performed very well against Ed Temple's stable of Tigerbelles; Mae Faggs, Lucinda Williams, Willye White, etc. So I suddenly became a sprint coach and I scarcely knew how to set up a set of blocks. Her name was Marsha Cosgrove and she went on to win a spot on the Melbourne Olympic team in 1956. In 1957, I went back to graduate school and taught at USC for three years, then I started coaching at Seattle Pacific again, and that's when Doris Brown fell into my life and she ran the first sub-5 minute mile by a woman, and I am suddenly a distance guru, and scarcely knew how to draw up a training schedule for distance runners. So it really was fortuitous that two outstanding young ladies came into my life and they made a coach of me. So I began working with girls and women at that time.

Q: Were you a track athlete before you became a coach.

A: In high school I was a four-sport guy. I was actually the world interscholastic rope climb champion and at 167 pounds I was fifth in the city of Los Angeles with the 12-pound shot put - I threw 54 feet, 7 inches. When I graduated in 1940, I went to work as a carpenter, but I was interested, for some reason, in the javelin. So I bought some javelins, fooled around with the javelins until December 8, 1941 when I enlisted in the Navy. When I came back I had the G.I. Bill and I went to USC and talked to their great coach Dean Cromwell and he gave me a pair of track shoes and a bonifide javelin, and so I began throwing the javelin. I also started participating in gymnastics again. I injured my heel planting the javelin and became a full-time gymnast and earned two all-American certificates at USC as a gymnast. When I went to Seattle Pacific they did not have any gymnastics equipment, so I started coaching track at the college level in 1950 and have been coaching ever since.

Q: During your career you founded the Falcon Track Club and the SportsWest Track Club. What was that like for you?

A: We teamed up with the University of Washington for a short while because it was very difficult raising funds for clubs. Sports West/Nordstrom Corporation chose to sponsor us for a couple years. Almost all the women early on were in club sports. It wasn't until 1975 that I was able to start a university team at Seattle Pacific, and we were one of the first college programs in America at that time and there were no scholarships. I got some of the best athletes available at that time at Seattle Pacific, so we had a head start and a pretty good program in an all girl club structure.

Q: You are considered one of the founding fathers of the athletic program at Seattle Pacific. What are your thoughts about your time there?

A: I guess that's true. They had a basketball team and they played only local schools. In 1953, I was appointed as the athletic director. I had what I thought was a strong track and field program. Our kids were competing at the Drake Relays and in the national NAIA meet in 1952, so we were headed in the right direction. I initiated cross country and we were beating the University of Washington and all the local schools. I hired a guy who was a baseball nut and he started a baseball program, and we also started a wrestling program. We had our club track and field program for girls and women operative right alongside. Somewhat later I befriended a great gymnastics coach at the YMCA in downtown Seattle. His name was George Lewis and he was producing Olympic quality women's gymnasts and I invited him to join us. I met a guy one day while I was running along the canal building boats and he was a crew nut and he started our crew program. I guess it's fair to say that I was involved with starting the athletic program at Seattle Pacific.

Q: You are best known to many as the coach of National Track & Field Hall of Famer Doris Brown Heritage. What made her so special?

A: She was not the most talented or most naturally gifted athlete that I've worked with, but she certainly was the most tenacious. She just wouldn't give up. She always did one more than I asked her to do. She ran the men into the ground and she was a gentle spirit. She was initially more concerned about her compatriots on the starting line than she was about herself. I have a great picture of her standing in the international cross country race in Maryland and she has her hands clasped behind her back and I'm sure she's thinking, 'I hope you do well, but I hope I do better.' She was a special lady.

Q: You coached a number of Olympians during your career. How special is it to lead someone to those heights?

A: Well it's pretty special. I make no claims about having done so unless I worked at least two years with an athlete. I could name seven such persons that I had the privilege to work with all the way to the Olympic Games. I guess, in the coaching profession, if you get somebody to stand on the top of the podium at any level it is a pretty heady experience. But seeing your athletes in a USA uniform competing in an international competition is more than heady. It frequently has brought me to tears to see my athletes performing, competing at that level. I don't know what else I can say. It's a great, great personal thrill to even be associated with such people, but to know that you might've had a little part in their lives, helping them get there is a great, great satisfaction.

Q: What would you consider to be your greatest accomplishment in coaching?

A: I would have to go back to the fact that I played a significant role in creating opportunities for women to participate in sports. As I look back at my career spanning over 62 years now, I hold that as one of the top things that I've been permitted to do. Secondly, being able to associate with such a vast number of great, great human beings, both as athletes and as fellow coaches, I don't know how anybody could want any more from their life than that.

Q: What are you doing these days?

A: I'm coaching at a high school. When we moved to Hawaii, my wife is a purser for Delta Airlines and she was moved, so I had to resign my position at Seattle Pacific in 1999. We arrived here and discovered that the local high school was looking for a track coach, and so I volunteered before actually being hired. I've coached their cross country and track teams for the last 10 years. I also spend three to four hours a day trying to write and I have a yard that needs lots of attention. I build rock walls and pour cement sidewalks. My life is as full as it possibly can be.

Andre Phillips

Q: What's it like to be a Hall of Famer?

A: For me it's humbling and I'm very honored to be in the company of all the 400m hurdlers and all the people that have been inducted prior to me getting in there. Also for me, I knew since about 1976 when Edwin Moses won in Montreal that I really wanted to be a hurdler. So that in itself is awesome. It's great.

Q: How did you first get involved in track and field?

A: I was in eighth grade and I watched my older brother run in high school as a sophomore. I think he ran the 400 meters and that's when I became interested in track and field. Also at that time growing up I was one of ten kids, so there wasn't a lot of money to play organized sports, whether it be PAL football, baseball or any of those other sports. In track and field all I needed to do was just run - have tennis shoes and just run, so it was an easy sport for me to get in to without having to pay.

Q: What do you remember most about your high school career?A: It worked out well. I started out as a high jumper and then I started running the hurdles, pretty much after seeing Edwin. I ended up winning the high school state meet my senior year and becoming an all-American, so I thought it went well. My junior and senior years were two great years.

Q: Why did you choose to attend UCLA?

A: I knew when I was 11 that I wanted to go to UCLA. I didn't know why or how. I remember Kareem Abdul-Jabbar playing in a game, and at that time he was Lew Alcindor, and I knew back then that I wanted to go to UCLA. When the opportunity arose I jumped on it. I went to a community college for two years, and then I went to UCLA my junior and senior years. My junior year wasn't as satisfying as I would've liked, but my senior year I won the NCAAs and broke the UCLA school record a couple times, and that was a good year for me.

Q: What was it about Edwin Moses that inspired you?

A: The fact that he won with class. I never heard him gloat or brag or turn around and look at us or put his hands up. I remember many times he was way ahead of the field and I always thought that was very classy. The other thing is that he revolutionized that event with his stride pattern, his long legs and the way he ran. He made that event more glamorous and exciting to get in to and I think that's the reason why it is the way it is today. Q: At the 1988 Olympic Games you beat Moses for the only time in his career. What was that like for you? A: When I came across the line and realized that I'd won, I automatically didn't think that I won the gold, it was I finally won one against Edwin. That was my initial thought. Winning the gold was the secondary thought. To me he's one of the greatest athletes - period - of all time.

Q: You held the Olympic record until four years later when Kevin Young set the world record at the 1992 Games in Barcelona. Was it disappointing to lose the Olympic record?

A: He's a former Bruin, and I remember when he first started out I did my best to help him out as much as I could with the hurdles. So if anybody was going to break it, I was glad that he did it.

Q: What do you think of first when you look back at your career in track and field?

A: I think for me it's the camaraderie between the athletes. It's also knowing that at that given point in time I did my best. Whether I was injured, sick or had a bad race, I know that I did my best. But first and foremost it's all the guys. When you first stop traveling and running you think about all the people that you traveled with and all the camaraderie.

Q: What is your life like these days for you after track and field?

A: I started off teaching special education, and then I went on to get my masters in education and became an assistant principal at a big comprehensive high school, and I enjoyed it. I knew at some point that I was going to work with kids. I didn't know if it would be in coaching at a university or teaching or doing what I'm doing now.Q: Earlier in your life you had assistance from family, teachers and coaches, and here you are many years later helping youngsters. Does it feel like your life has come full circle?A: Absolutely. I heard this great line not so long ago that "service to others is the rent you pay for living," and that's so true. I feel blessed and rewarded every time I can turn a kid around. Even those days when I have to discipline or suspend a kid, I always let them know that I still like them, but I don't like their behavior. I do whatever I can to make that kid turn around.

Randy Williams

Q: What does it mean to you to be elected to the Hall of Fame?

A: It's not quite like winning a gold medal, but it's an honor. I'm happy and elated. It finally happened and it's something you appreciate, being with the elite group of people that are in there. I'm just happy to be there and it's something you aspire to and want to happen. I don't even know if I have words for it.

Q: How did you get your start in track and field?

A: I was walking home one day in seventh grade going out the back gate and they were having a track meet and I saw it. One man by the name Eugene McDowell long jumped 16 or 17 feet and it just looked like he went into the air and never came down and I was just so amazed and I took off and ran home and told my mom what I saw and asked if I could go out for track, and she said yes, and that's pretty much what happened.

Q: What was your career like as a high school athlete?

A: I did pretty well. I started in seventh grade when I jumped 16 (feet) 3 (inches). In eighth grade I jumped 19-0.25, and then I improved another three feet my freshman year from 19 to 22 feet, and it just went on from there. My sophomore year I was third in the state meet (California). My junior year I ended up second in the state, when a guy named Lynn Swann (Pittsburgh Steeler Pro Football Hall of Famer) beat me. I didn't know who he was and that he was all-world. He beat me by a quarter of an inch, and the guy who was #1 in the nation (James McCallister), I had him beat. Then here comes Lynn Swann with a jump, which I still don't think he beat me. To this day I don't believe he beat me. I just believe they wanted him to win and I've always said that. I ended up second in my junior year, and in my senior year I won the state meet with a jump of 26 feet 3 inches.

Q: Why did you go to USC and how was your experience there?

A: I've always been the kind of athlete that enjoys competing against the best. I never once wanted to go to UCLA or anywhere else because I always felt the best athletes were there. Although in high school, I knew more about Notre Dame than I did USC. Here in Fresno, Notre Dame football was on TV every weekend and I'm not sure why. So that's who I knew a lot about, but by the time I got my scholarship, I knew a lot about USC, but growing up I knew all about Notre Dame because the Fighting Irish were all over TV. I had a really good experience at USC. I was an A, B, C, D student (laughter). Part of that had to do with, like a lot of athletes, I was so involved with the track that I didn't really apply myself (in school) as my mom would say. But I was smart enough to graduate. I enjoyed my time at USC, both academically and athletically. I enjoyed the fact that the campus was small and it only took me five minutes to get to class.

Q: 1972 in Munich you won the Olympic gold medal as a 19-year old. What was that like?

A: It was my first time overseas and I was in La-La land just from that experience. I remember when I got to the village I saw some girls from Brazil speaking a different language and they were as dark as I was. I'd never seen that, and it's something I remember that these people looked like me and they were speaking another language. I was 18-years old when I first got there and the whole experience is what I today call the Olympic flavor, so to speak, which we don't get at any other meets. Walking into the stadium, and when they announced the United States of America and the crowd was, well I've been to USC football games with crowds of 90,000 to 100,000 people, but then I was on the field and that's the first time I've ever experienced walking in and seeing the crowd just erupt. It was quite an experience.

Winning and getting up on the podium there and hearing your country's national anthem played and knowing that why the reason why the world is hearing it is because of your efforts, I don't know. These things were meaningful but I don't quite know how to explain what they made you feel like. I turned 19 the week before I competed. It's almost like I don't know how it happened. Everybody trained hard, I imagine. I know what I did, I worked hard. I worked in practice and then went home and practiced sometimes after practice. I hear a lot of guys who accomplished a lot say the same things, and that's why I tell people the ingredients of being a champion are all the same thing. Champions all talk about going above and beyond and I can tell you I did it. I would do some weird things. I used to go out and push my car for leg strength (laughter).

Q: After winning the Olympic silver medal in 1976 you qualified for the 1980 Olympic Team. However, the government imposed boycott kept you from competing. How difficult was that for you?

A: It was especially difficult because I was getting older. Now guys compete until they're 35 (years old). I was getting older and I knew the writing was on the wall, and I figured that would be my last one, although I tried to make the team in '84. It was hard. Even though we didn't go, it has no less meaning to me than any other Olympic teams I made because I worked just as hard to make that one as I did the other ones.

Q: You're part of a great legacy of U.S. men's long jumpers that includes Jesse Owens, your fellow 2009 Hall of Fame inductee Willie Steele, Bob Beamon, Carl Lewis, Larry Myricks, Mike Powell and many others. What's it like to join them in the Hall of Fame?

A: I knew about the legacy and history. I could tell you how many times we didn't win the Olympics, and knowing that doesn't add pressure, but it makes you want to uphold the tradition when you're there. I was well aware of that. Not that I knew that I was going to win, but I didn't go there to lose. In the long jump, with the tradition the United States has in that particular event, you walk in there feeling not that you're above everybody else, but you walk in there knowing that this is an event we've done well in, and if I have anything to do with it we're going to keep it going.

Q: What is the accomplishment that you're proudest of in your track career?

A: I still hold the world junior record. I set it in Munich (1972 Olympic Games, 8.34m/27-4.50). It's been 37 years now and counting. I still have that and nobody's been able to take that away.

Q: What are you doing these days?A: I just retired from the fire department. I enjoyed doing the job. I did it for 22 years and I just retired from that.

For more information on USA Track & Field and the National Track & Field Hall of Fame, visit: www.usatf.org