Fenton’s 'going for gold this year'


Fenton’s ‘going for gold this year’

Monday 3 May 2004

To some, finishing runner-up means losing the gold. To others, finishing second means earning silver. Lorraine Fenton, who sped to medal-earning efforts in the 400 metres at the last three World Championships and a silver at the Sydney Olympics, prefers to take the latter, more upbeat approach.

“I think not winning the gold is like a cloud hanging over you,” the affable 30-year-old explains, not at all trying to hide her laughter. “Because people are always saying, ‘you always get the silver’. But I’m always going for the gold. I’ve been getting silver and I’m happy with it.”

Certainly Fenton’s is a fitting attitude for an athlete who prefers the uplifting rhythms of reggae music. But also apropos for a competitor whose role model in life is Nelson Mandela is her quiet patience and calm insistence that there are plenty of battles to be won. Athens among them. “I’m going for the gold this year.”

Wonderful championships record

After a semi-final appearance at the 1997 World Championships, Fenton has not missed a medal finish in a major championship. She made her first major splash after winning the bronze at the 1999 World Championships, running 49.92 for her first sub-50 performance, and she’s remained near the pinnacle of her event ever since.

In Sydney the following year, she led heading off the final turn before being passed by Cathy Freeman and her legendary run. In that Olympics’ most memorable race, she finished second in 49.58, then a personal best. What does Fenton remember most about that race?

“Everybody chanting ‘Cathy Freeman’,” she recalls, again laughing. But the collective clamour of 110,000 frenzied Australians didn’t affect her performance, she insists. “Oh no, not me, that didn’t matter at all. Nothing like that really affects me.” With her Jamaican teammates, she earned another silver in the 4x400 relay.

Narrow loss in Edmonton

With Freeman out of the picture the following year, Fenton was among the favourites in Edmonton, but lost by the narrowest of margins - 49.86 to 49.88- to Senegal’s Amy Mbacké Thiam. Finishing third was Mexican Ana Guevara, who has not lost a race since. Despite a hamstring strain that had lingered the entire season, she helped the Jamaican 4x400 quartet improve upon their finish in Sydney, bringing Fenton her first World Championships gold medal.

Faster than ever

In 2002, Fenton won five of her 12 races - in the others, she was second to Guevara. In their closest battle, she improved to 49.30, breaking Grace Jackson’s 14-year-old national record, while finishing a mere one-one hundredth of a second behind the Mexican heroine in the Monaco leg of the Golden League. Last year she lost just twice in eight finals, again on both occasions to Guevara. Her 49.43 to garner Paris silver was her second fastest clocking ever.

“I did my best and got silver so I’ll take it,” she said after her race at the Stade de France. “I have no regrets at all, even though, once again I was forced to settle for the silver and didn’t win the gold medal I was hoping for. So many athletes never get any medal in major championships so I really can’t complain. Gold will soon come to me.”

“I never really think about Ana Guevara”

While Guevara has been the event’s dominant force the past few seasons, Fenton says her fiercest rival doesn’t even enter into her training equation.

“I never really think about Ana Guevara when I train because she’s not the only one in the race. So I don’t think about her, and I don’t think about anybody else. I think about training, and staying healthy, and staying fit.”

Avoiding injury, she says, was the highpoint of her 2003 campaign. Hobbled by knee, back and hamstring problems in the past, last season was the first that included no unintentional doctor’s visits. Four sub-50 clockings, the most in her career, resulted.

With Athens on the horizon this year and the 400 a Golden League event, Fenton says she isn’t changing any part of her routine. Why, after all, change a good thing? She isn’t expecting to change her competitive load either, which over the past four seasons has ranged from eight to 12 finals per season.

New home base in North Carolina

The only thing that has changed is her home base. Just three weeks ago, Fenton moved from Carbondale, Illinois, where she’s been based since graduating from Missouri’s Lincoln University in 1997, to Greenville, North Carolina, a change that suits her just fine. “It’s a lot warmer than Illinois.”

“Nobody knew I could run”

It was a fluke of sorts that brought Fenton from her home in St. Andrew, Jamaica to Lincoln where she would eventually win two NCAA Division II 400 metre titles. When she was 17, a friend challenged her to a footrace, a dare she at first refused, answering in typical teen fashion, “I could beat you anyway.” They eventually raced, Fenton won, and her Physical Education instructors decided they had a viable sprint talent on their hands.

“Nobody knew I could run,” Fenton recalls. She began in the short sprints, but was later convinced that her strength was in the full lap. She still keeps in touch with her childhood friend whose dare would ultimately shape her adult life, but do they still race? “Oh no,” Fenton laughs. “She doesn’t want to race me.”

A game of pool to relax

When she isn’t training or recovering from workouts, she enjoys watching films and reading, and she also likes to unwind with a game of pool. She still trains with former 400 metre runner Darroll Gatson, who brought her to Lincoln when he revived the school’s women’s track and field program in the mid-90s.

Kingston and then Mexico date

Fenton will make her season’s debut a memorable one for Jamaican fans with her appearance at the May 7 Jamaica International Invitational in Kingston. After that comes her first head-to-head of the year with Guevara on the Mexican’s home turf at the Banamex Grand Prix in Mexico City on May 22.

She hasn’t given much thought to when she might hang up her spikes. “I’m not sure yet,” she says. “I’m still healthy and I’m still running well, so I haven’t made up my mind yet.”

She expects to run faster as well.

“I can go pretty much 49-low,” she says, but refusing to set any limits, quickly adds, “and then I’ll take it from there.”

Bob Ramsak for the IAAF