Collins masters time

Dec. 28, 2006, 12:11AM
Houston’s Collins enjoys a year for the ages
Still going strong, sprinter puts name in the record books


Runners tend to look forward — to the next step, the next run, the next race, the next distance, the next personal record. But as 2006 ticks away, Houston sprinter Bill Collins can be forgiven for looking back.

A standout runner most of his life, Collins just had what could be called his best year ever. At 56, he was named male athlete of the year by the World Masters Athletics, the international association for masters track and field. He was the first person to be selected in a unanimous decision.

He also was recognized as masters athlete of the year by USA Track and Field and featured in a special December edition of Sports Illustrated.

“With every age group he advances to, Collins becomes the standard that all others are measured by,” USATF head Craig Masback said.

Collins, a Houston coach and fitness consultant, was a high school state champion and an All-American track star at Texas Christian, and was inducted into the USA Track and Field Masters Hall of Fame in 2003. But his success in 2006 surprised even him.

“You never imagine, from 1968 and coming out of high school, that at the age I’m at, when everyone’s slowing down, I’m getting faster,” he said.

Sweep in Austria
Collins’ great year started in March, when he swept his age division at the WMA indoor championships in Linz, Austria. He ran 23.36 seconds in the 200-meter event and 7.34 seconds in the 60-meter dash — both world records — and also won the 400-meter race in 54.22.
Then, in August, he won the 100-, 200- and 400-meter events for the fourth consecutive year at the USA masters championships in Charlotte, N.C.

The way Collins tells it, his dominance in Linz was a way to repay the audience, which donated running gear to him after his luggage was lost.

“I warmed up in a pair of hiking boots; I didn’t have flats. Every time I stepped on the track, the announcer said something. I thought, ‘I have to do a good performance to repay the outpouring of all these people.’ I equaled or broke a world record in nine races.”

Collins says he finds inspiration and support from friends, family, teammates and God. He prays before and after races, and he sometimes spontaneously waves to his late mother after a victory.

“My mother always told me, when you’re going to do something, you’re going to do it right. That’s not to say you’re going to always win, but that you’re putting your best foot forward.”

Of course, Collins trains hard, too.

“A lot of people don’t want to work out with me. I want to train to the level that when I get to a track meet, there’s no question that I’m prepared,” he said. “I eliminate the 90 percent (of competition) that’s mental.”

“I have been training with Bill for the last few years, and this year as I turned 70, I was able to bring home three gold medals at the master nationals. I give a lot credit to myself, but Bill is the one who gets behind you to see that you are doing it right,” said Bob Cozens, who has known Collins for 30 years.

“I just admire his discipline, positive attitude and ideas about running and fitness,” said Rebecca Marvil, a friend.

“I’m almost 50, and it’s motivating to know age won’t keep us from training hard in a sport; we get a lot of satisfaction from running and will for many more years.”

Honored in Monaco
Collins was honored in late November at a gala in Monaco hosted by the International Association of Athletics Federations.
“Meeting all the old Olympians from the '60s and '70s and '80s, to be honored by your peers, your coaches and the Olympic champions — it was a breathtaking event for me,” Collins said.

Collins’ own Olympic hopes were never realized. In 1976, he pulled a hamstring 60 meters into the U.S. qualifying finals for the 100 and the U.S. boycott kept him away from the 1980 Moscow Games.

“The Olympic dreams were dampered. This is my Olympic award. There are a lot of Olympic champions that haven’t had this recognition,” he said.

Collins won’t be resting on the many laurels he received in 2006, though.

“This is going to be another big year for me,” he said about 2007. “I have no thoughts of quitting.”

That’s not to say he’s not careful. He’s mindful of his years.

“At my age, running at the speed I’m running, something’s going to give,” Collins said. “I don’t sprint as much in practice. I stay out of spikes. I keep my legs warm.”

Between training, traveling to competitions, running his business with his wife, Stephanie (also a noted sprinter) and being a parent to five children, ages 15 to 33, Collins stays busy. He also coaches local sprinters and realizes his accomplishments might encourage other athletes, regardless of age.

“If I have the time, I will do whatever I can to help anyone,” he said.

“It’s our time to lead,” Collins said. “The medals and the trophies, all those are fine, I look at them. But what is the legacy I’m leaving?”

Collins knows what he wants it to be. He hopes people say, " ‘That was a pretty nice guy. If you ever got to know him, you’d say that was a pretty nice guy.’ "


Power to the oldies :stuck_out_tongue: