Born in September 24, 1965 in Lake Charles, La 5-8/1.73m 140lbs./63kg Buena HS, Ventura, Ca '83 Cal Poly/San Luis Obispo '87 PRs (outdoor): 200 24.10 '96 800 2:09.68 '96 100H 13.07 '96 300H 43.91 '81 400H 56.79 '88 HJ 5-9.74/1.77m '96 LJ 20-10.75/6.37m '96 SP 46-8.25/14.23m '96 JT 164-6/50.14m '89 Heptathlon 6352 '96 Major Meets (heptathlon unless noted): 1987 6h)USA 400H 1988 7h)Olympic Trials 400H 9)Olympic Trials 1989 3)USA 1990 8h)USA 100H 3)USA 1991 4)USA 2)Pan American Games 1992 5)Olympic Trials 1994 5)USA 1995 5)USA 1996 3)Olympic Trials 9)Olympic Games
Perseverance can make champions, but as the word implies, it doesn't happen overnight. Take Sharon Hanson, for example. She came out of high school a 13.9, 43.91 hurdler. Solid running, and good enough to attract some recruiters. At Cal Poly/SLO, she gravitated to the heptathlon, an event that harnessed her boundless energy and love of competition.
But with a best of 5,413 points when she graduated in 1987, Hanson not only wasn't a star -- she could barely qualify for the meets to compete against the stars. "My scores were terrible," she readily admits. "With those kind of scores, you don't get handed sponsorships, you don't get handed money." Hanson had one quality that pushed her through. "The drive," she says. "That inner satisfaction was there. I could feel that I needed to continue. There was just something inside of me that said you need to keep striving."
One thing that the statistics fail to show are all the knee surgeries Hanson endured. "I knew I had the ability to compete at a high level," she says. "It was a matter of getting my knee right."
Hard work brought steady improvement. In 1988, she competed in the Olympic Trials, placing eighth. She also ran in the heats of the 400 hurdles there. In 1990, she finally cracked the 6,000-point barrier, getting a third at the USA Championships. But in the years since then, Hanson distinguished herself as the, well... also-ran.
"I've always been that one who placed fourth or who didn't make it by 5 points," she explains. "But I really believed that 1996 was my turn. I made it a habit to not let any day go by without telling myself I was going to make the Olympic team. I felt that I deserved to make it. I gave it my all, and I'm really pleased with that."
Not that the struggle was always pretty. Hanson was ranked in the top 10 Americans for the seven years leading up to 1996, but reveals, "My shoe contract with Nike was taken away in September before I made the Olympic team. It was a real eye-opening experience for me."
For her best year ever she went unsponsored, with the exception of the help the Olympic Job Opportunities Program and Home Depot provided. "Working," says Hanson, "is something that I need to do because I can go from point A to point B sometimes better with a job. I never wanted track and field to be my whole life. It's exciting to watch all the hype about the Olympics, but once it's over, I think, 'Oh. Thank goodness I have something else for people to talk to me about, or I would feel terrible.'"
Working with a support team led by coaches Norm Gordon and Greg Petrosian, not to mention orthopedic surgeon Wylie Lowery, her husband, Hanson came to the '96 Olympic Trials in the best shape of her life. "No one let me get out of line," she says. And she didn't waste time letting people know how strong she felt. On the wet track in Centennial Olympic Stadium, she unleashed the best flight of hurdles in her life, a startling 13.07. At the end of day one, the veteran stood in third place.
Day two started with a scare, as Hanson's 18-8.75 long jump fell two feet short of her best. She recovered with a strong javelin throw, and closed the competition with a lifetime best in the 800. She needed every bit of it, finishing in third by a slim margin of 25 points.
"When you make the Olympic team, after training for so long," she relates, "you feel a lot of ups."
The Games, of course, were the high point of Hanson's year, though she discovered the rigors of the big meet involved more than just competing: "I found it kind of stressful. You can't just go and stay at a hotel and go in the next morning and compete." Instead she found tight security, long bus rides, and restrictive warm-up periods. All the frustrations, however, disappeared when she stepped on the field.
"Standing out there in the pouring rain and seeing all the people who are cheering for you, that was incredible," she says. "The best part for me was having it in the U.S. and all the people who had helped me perform to the best of my ability were able to watch."
Hanson, whose father worked in the oil business, began her career as a five-year-old in Singapore. "They had an activity day there, it was a Wednesday. I just went out and competed. I got beat once, and I knew I didn't like that feeling. I ran again and I won and I remember that. It was the coolest feeling. It came naturally."
After dad's work brought the family back to the States, he entered her into an all-city age group meet. "We had a great track club. The coach, Gary Coyner, saw me standing there on the side and he asked my dad, 'How would you like her to run on our track team?' I didn't have spikes, and I won a second, a third, whatever. The next track meet I had spikes and I came home with all blue ribbons."
Hanson, who plans to continue competing in either the 100 hurdles or the heptathlon, looks back on those beginnings with fondness. "No one would have guessed that I would have made the Olympic team, but the thing that people forget is my passion for the sport. I trained extremely hard; I have to train twice as hard as others to get what I want."
It finally paid off, even if she did have to keep at it for 25 years.