Wednesday, August 27, 2014
Inquirer Daily News

Drummond's advice is music to top sprinters

Jon Drummond is helping sprinter Tyson Gay and others.
Jon Drummond is helping sprinter Tyson Gay and others. ANDY FRIEDLANDER/For the Daily News
ARLINGTON, Texas - The most relaxing 3 hours of Jon Drummond's typical week are spent some 30,000 feet in the air, on a nonstop flight out of Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport.

Most of the time, it's Drummond's life that is nonstop. The owner of Olympic gold and silver medals and three world championships might not be moving quite as fast as he did in his days as a world-class sprinter, but he remains in constant motion.

Working as trainer and consultant - don't call him coach - for a small group of elite sprinters, including 100- and 200-meter world champion Tyson Gay, keeps Drummond busy enough. Add in his lower-profile clients, his countless charity ventures, and his assignment as a relay team coordinator for USA Track and Field, and his life is a blur of workouts, competitions and meetings, not to mention regular appearances at his son's soccer games and his daughter's ice-skating events.

On the airplane, though, there is nowhere he has to be. There are no distractions. There is time to think and plan, time to get a little paperwork done, time to watch a movie or maybe catch a nap.

And, best of all, there is the destination.

Philadelphia. Home.

While his residence has been elsewhere for years - since 2006 he has operated his business, With Purpose, out of a friend's storefront workout facility in Arlington, midway between Dallas and Fort Worth - the former Overbrook High star's heart hasn't gone anywhere. His presence in Philadelphia is felt through his foundation's numerous events for the city's children, and especially at Noville Memorial Church of God in Christ, where Drummond remains pastor, even though he has to take that long flight from Texas most Saturday afternoons in order to be able to deliver his Sunday sermons.

"I fly to Philly every weekend when I'm not at a competition," Drummond said. "Philly will always be home. I still live at my mama's house when I go back there.

"I come back for the simple reason that, with all the things I've experienced around the world, I want to share that with other people, especially young people, to let them know there's more to life than the four corners of their block."

But it will be a while before Drummond is able to make it back to town. For the next week his presence is required at the U.S. Olympic track and field trials that open Friday in Eugene, Ore., and the 39-year-old "Clown Prince of Track and Field" will be there, just as he has been for every trials since 1988.

The difference is this time he won't be the first man out of the starting blocks. Instead, he'll be shepherding Gay, 2004 Olympian LaShaunte'a Moore and 2005 NCAA 100 champion Marshavet Hooker through the nerve-wracking selection process of the team for this summer's Olympic Games in Beijing. From the deepest pool of sprinters of any nation on earth, only the top three finishers in any event earn spots on the team, making the trials perhaps the most pressure-filled meet in the sport, moreso than even the Olympics themselves.

Handling pressure, though, has long been a Drummond specialty. As an athlete, his laugh-a-minute style earned him notoriety that often outpaced his individual performance. A perennial second fiddle to sprint legends Carl Lewis and Maurice Greene, Drummond won headlines instead by flexing for the crowds and taking humorous verbal jabs at some of his often dour rivals.

"On the track, I was a character," he said. "These guys weren't signing autographs. They weren't interacting with the crowd. These guys barely did any interviews. So I'd stick around where the cameras were and be like, 'I'll talk.' And they'd say, 'Who are you?' And I'd say, 'I'm the guy who's about to beat those guys tomorrow.' And that's how I got in. I took that and ran with it. I started running into the stands. I had the kids chasing me. I ripped my shirt off. Even if I didn't win. People would say, 'Why is he taking a victory lap if he didn't win?' Because I didn't care. I was having fun."

As a coach, the motormouth and quick wit that defined the Clown Prince have become Drummond's tools to keep his charges loose in the tightest situations.

During practices, Drummond doesn't bark orders, he sings them. His nonstop chatter includes a steady stream of one-liners and playful barbs aimed at keeping Gay and the rest of the group smiling and chuckling.

"That's still his personality," said Gay, who came to Drummond in February 2007 for help with his start but has since become a regular with the group. "He's just a funny guy. Every day he's going to have a joke or a song or something . . . You need that sometimes. You need your coach to be funny and loose. But at the same time, he knows when to be serious. He's very knowledgeable about the sport, and when it's time for business, he can give you all that knowledge he has stored upstairs."

There is plenty of that. For all of the jokes and antics that defined Drummond's career, there was always a serious track technician deep inside.

"People looked at him as an entertainer and assumed he was a clown," said Drummond's longtime coach, John Smith. "But in order to be as good as he was, he had to be serious. He was always serious about what he did."

"Jon always had the appearance that he was carefree, but underneath all that, he did understand. He researched the things he did," added Bubba Thornton, who coached Drummond as a collegiate star at TCU. "It's not just because he's done it. He really understands what he's teaching. He understands the science, the technology, the mind."

And, more than anything, he understands the start. That's what carried Drummond through 15 years at track's highest level, and what gave him his lasting legacy.

No one has ever come out of the blocks faster than Drummond, which is why he is considered the greatest relay leadoff man ever. He led off five of the eight fastest 4 x 100-meter relay teams in history, including the winning U.S. team at the 2000 Olympics and the 1993 world championship team that still holds a share of the world record (37.40 seconds).

That start is also what brought Gay to Texas. Gay was an obvious talent on the rise, but he was adrift. His coach, Lance Brauman, was serving a prison sentence for embezzlement, theft and mail fraud, leaving Gay to work out on his own. Drummond, meanwhile, had drifted away from competition after injuries kept him off the track in 2005 and '06, and had quietly begun his training business, working mostly with high school athletes.

Realizing his start was the weakest part of his race, Gay sought out Drummond, hoping to learn "some of his tricks." He wound up spending the spring in Texas, using Drummond as a mentor, technical guru and full-time motivator on the way to his dominating wins at the world championships.

"That's where he really came into play," Gay said. "When I would get lazy at times, he reminded me what it takes to be a champion. Unfortunately, my coach couldn't be there. I talked to my coach frequently on the phone, but it's a lot different to have someone actually there."

Gay still considers Brauman - who was released last summer - his primary coach and spent the fall working with him in Florida. But by the opening of the outdoor season in March, Gay was back in Arlington, listening to Drummond's trash talk as he prepared for the trials and a shot at his first Olympic berth.

"He just enjoys the atmosphere," Drummond said. "It's a very cool, laid-back environment, and he enjoys that. I work on the technical aspect and the strategy of his races. I'm the technical support. He needed to change the way he ran, technically, so he could do it consistently. It wasn't just the start. He needed an overall makeover for the start to matter."

It might never matter more to Gay than over the next few months, first at the trials and later, he hopes, in Beijing. Through all of it, Drummond will be on hand to help keep Gay calm and focused under the intense pressure. Keeping himself calm, however, is another matter.

"It's way worse now than when I was running, because I have no control over any of it," he said. "The anticipation of the race and all that stuff at once, it just kind of sends you into a frenzy.

"At the [2007] world championships, I was a nervous wreck. But Tyson was nervous, so I had to keep my cool in front of him. So, basically, I was like a piece of hot ice. I kept my cool in front of him, but as soon as he wasn't there, I was practically screaming." *

ANDY FRIEDLANDER For the Daily News
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