Interview With Glenroy Gilbert

Athletics Canada) AC: - Are you a football (soccer) fan, and have you caught any of Trinidad and Tobago’s games so far? For those readers who are unfamiliar with the magnitude of this tournament, can you tell them what this tournament means to your native country?

(Glenroy Gilbert) GG: - I used to play soccer as a teenager but I am not much of a soccer fan. I have been watching some of the World Cup simply because Trinidad and Tobago have been playing in it. I definitely wanted to support the performance of my native country. Trinidad’s involvement in the World Cup is a huge achievement for an island of that size. Just to make it into the World Cup is a monumental accomplishment and I am sure the people of Trinidad are proud; I know I am very proud.

AC: For our readers who are not aware, you are the Canadian relay coach. How is the development of the program and its sprinters coming? What are the main plans for the team in getting ready for the 2007 World Championships and the 2008 Olympic Games?

GG: I have been involved with Athletics Canada for a number of years now as the Sprints and Relays Events Leader. I believe quite strongly that the relay program is on the right track and we are making steady progress. Our ability to bring together our top athletes has really improved and we are seeing a higher level of support for the national relay program from both the athletes and the coaches. There is still a lot of work to be done in getting some of our teams to a more competitive level. The men and women’s 4x400m and the women’s 4x100 teams will require greater attention. We will need to focus on the fitness and readiness levels of the individual athletes and get them ready to compete as individuals first. We are not yet where we would like to be with these teams but things are certainly getting better; athletes are more excited about getting together to run relays and that is an awesome starting point. In terms of the men’s 4x100m team, the guys captured a bronze medal this past spring in Melbourne, Australia at the Commonwealth Games. This was the relay program’s first medal since the 1998 Goodwill Games. Things are improving for this team and I plan to continue to provide opportunities for our top athletes to get together as often as possible around relay camps and other events in order to elevate the relay program and move towards qualifying for Beijing.

AC: To the average fan, the passing of the baton is the least important thing in a relay. How much emphasis and training is put into a smooth transition of the baton? Is there such a thing as team chemistry in a relay race or is it just picking the four fastest guys/girls?

GG: The smooth passing of a baton is one of the most important factors in relay running. If the baton doesn’t get around the track successfully then that team is out. In the last few years, we have seen some clear examples at every major championship that it is not necessarily the fastest teams that win but those that are able to successfully pass the baton through the zone and around the track quicker and safer. So, as a coach and former relay runner, I put a great deal of emphasis on proper baton skill work. I try to ensure that the athletes are prepared for the stress of passing the baton efficiently when the pressure is on and the world is watching. Team chemistry is essential. It is not necessarily the four fastest runners on the track that leads to success. I believe you have to consider a number of factors to assemble a world class level relay team and be confident that you have chosen the best group of athletes. You have to take into account the strengths and weaknesses of each runner in areas such as curve running, baton passing, speed, speed endurance, poise, confidence, drive and determination. All of these elements are critical in team selection and it is not an exact science but we weigh all of the variables as best as we can.

AC: Going into the 1996 Olympics you guys were World Champions and the favorites on paper. Why is it that you were considered the underdogs, and did you feel like the underdogs?

GG: We were considered the underdogs because the Americans had history on their side. They had never lost a 4x100m contest that they had competed in. We had also never beaten them in head to head competition before. I must admit I felt we were the underdogs simply because we were in a hostile environment; we were on their turf in Atlanta and I believed it would be very difficult to beat them.

AC: Over the course of your relay career you almost exclusively ran the backstretch 100m, whereas other guys were juggled around. Did you feel more confident running the backstretch, and is that what you trained to run?

GG: I ran the back stretch because that’s where I could have the greatest impact on a relay race and the coaches supported me in that position too. I enjoyed it because it allowed me to show my speed and strength over the longest stretch of track in relay running. I also liked handling the stick twice in a pressure situation. It was a leg that just seemed to fit the type of sprinter I was.

AC: Looking back, how does it feel looking back on a career marked by 4 Summer Olympics, and 1 Winter Olympic? Do any memories stand out?

GG: I have always been a very passionate person and driven to succeed so when a challenge came my way I just went for it. But there are times when I look back over my career and can’t believe that I was able to do all of that. I was very fortunate that I had great people around me throughout my athletic career who wouldn’t allow me to settle, they continuously challenged me to strive for the next goal. Of course, my experience at the Atlanta Olympics was the greatest highlight but I also have fond memories of my time as a bobsledder at the Lillehammer Olympics.

AC: Being born and raised in Trinidad and Tobago; did you and your family ever foresee being a Winter Olympian in the 2-man and 4-man Bobsleigh? How did that come about?

GG: No, definitely not, who would ever have thought that coming from the Caribbean I would be involved in a winter sport like that. But I was struggling with track in the fall of 1993 and I was looking for a change. Sheridon Baptiste, then a member of the national bobsleigh team, approached me with this idea of trying out for the bobsleigh team. At first I had no intention of doing it. Sheridon had previously talked to me about it a number of times and my answer had always been “no”. But he changed his whole sales pitch and got Chris Lori involved in the whole shake down and before I knew it I was on my way to Calgary. I struggled with adapting to team sports but I had a great teacher in Sheridon who did just about everything to ensure I didn’t hop on a plane and return home. After a lengthy adjustment period, I really began to have fun with bobsleighing and I finally lost the fear I had of sliding down the side of a mountain with nothing between me and the ice but a piece of fiberglass. In the end, bobsleighing turned out to be one of the most amazing things I have ever done and I am glad that Sheridon persuaded me to try it.

AC: Were there any winter sports that you enjoyed watching at the winter Olympics? How was the winter experience for you compared to the summer?

GG: I enjoyed watching speed skating and cross country skiing. I found the experience at the winter Olympics very enlightening; it was such a departure from what I was used to seeing and experiencing that I savoured every bit of it. I was like a kid in a candy store when it came to trying out things in the Games’ village I also got a chance to meet and get to know some of our winter athletes which was a remarkable experience itself. It is very difficult to compare winter and summer Olympics. The winter Olympics are small and intimate; athletes all know each other, you are able spend time forging friendships and to see the same person more than once. At the summer Olympics, you would be lucky to see the same person twice. The summer Games are simply about going in and competing and they aren’t really about the athletes as much as the winter ones are. Also, with the summer Games, there is much more focus on the commercial side of things which takes away from it truly being about the athletes and the pursuit of excellence.

AC: How do you rank your personal accomplishments of winning gold at the 1995 Pan Am Games in the 100m, competing against the legendary Carl Lewis in the Long Jump at the ’88 Seoul Olympics as a 21 year old, compared to your relay team accomplishments?

GG: I believe it is difficult to rank them simply because all these achievement were leading to the Olympic stage in Atlanta. Winning the gold medal was something I had always strived for, I remember telling people that when I was 14 years old. I obviously didn’t realize how difficult it would be to achieve or at the cost required but at the some time I could have never accomplished that or been able to truly appreciate the accomplishment if I didn’t go through all the other events. In retrospect though, I believe that my focus on the Olympic Games and winning gold minimized some of my other achievements. When most people talk about my accomplishments, their focus is on Atlanta and the men’s 4x100m relay, I would prefer that they remember my athletic career as a whole.

AC: What are your future plans outside of track and field?

GG: I have been retired from the sport of track and field for 5 years and I find myself enjoying being able to be spend time with my friends and family who have had to watch me travel the globe and spend lots of time away from home. Since I retired, I have finished my university degree and I have gone back home to my native Trinidad to reestablish my family roots. I have even been playing sports that I would have never even looked at while running. My future plans will continue to evolve with time as I try out new things.

AC: Tell us about your experience at an NFL try-out. How close / far were you to making it? Did you get to line up against any big stars?

GG: My experience was simply a try out with the coaches of the San Francisco 49ers. I was invited out west to a workout so that they could assess whether I had any football potential. The experience was interesting to say the least. I showed up in California with absolutely no background in playing football. In fact, the closest I had ever gotten to a football field was the one and only day I decided to try out for my high school football team. I didn’t make the high school team because I only attended one practice. While I was in California I was in the locker room with guys like Jerry Rice who I thought very highly of. I was asked to warm up and go through a few football related drills. Later, I was asked if I wanted to tape my fingers and ankles before going out on the turf but I declined. I later regretted that refusal when I was trying to catch an 8 yard pass from a guy that throws footballs very hard and fast for a living. After lifting and running, I had to start running routes so the coach could see what kind of hands I had. After several passes I tried to catch one and it ended up hitting me between my index and middle finger splitting the webbing and requiring 8 stitches. I spent the next two days in a five star hotel eating room service until I went back to Austin, Texas to resume my track and field career. I was supposed to return for tryouts with the 49ers once my hand had healed but track started to get pretty busy so I never went back.

Rapid Fire Questions
1- What do you have jamming in your Ipod right now?
I listen to all kinds of music- Rap, R&B, Blues, Country, Jazz, you name I listen to it, and it’s all on my Ipod.

2- Who is going to win the World Cup of Soccer?
From the looks of things I would have to say Argentina

3- What is your favorite movie?

4- What is your favorite type of food?
That would have to be Caribbean

5- Rumor has it that many top sprinters have been known to snore, does that include you?
Man, I snore like mad, or so I’m told………

This article was posted with the permission of Athletics Canada.To read more from The Gold Standard, Athletics Canada’s monthly newsletter please visit: Athletics Canada.