THIS APPEARED FIRST WITH PIX ON THE IAAF WEBSITE www.iaaf.org
Henderson - In no rush to get to the top
Monday 9 January 2006
Los Angeles, USA - With the experience of a World Championship 400m final under her belt, and with an Olympic relay gold medal and an NCAA title on her CV, Monique Henderson, 22, who is currently IAAF World Ranked number 10 for the women’s 400m, is finally ready to embark on her first full professional season in 2006.
Monique Henderson, UCLA, NCAA Women’s 400m winner
(Kirby Lee/The Sporting Image)
As a college junior in 2004, Henderson won a gold medal in the Athens Olympics as a member of the United States 4x400m Relay squad, however, while her relay teammates, Dee Dee Trotter and Sanya Richards relinquished their collegiate eligibility to turn professional, Henderson returned for her senior season at UCLA to bid for an elusive collegiate individual 400m title.
Henderson accomplished that mission last June and promptly signed a shoe company sponsorship deal in time for the USATF Nationals, where she finished third to earn a berth in the World Championships team for Helsinki. After a lengthy collegiate season, Henderson finished a well-beaten seventh in a rain-drenched final in Helsinki. And even before taking to her marks on that occasion, Henderson concedes that she was already looking ahead to 2006.
“My mind wanted it and I thought I had a good chance to medal but I was tired when I got there and my body wouldn’t go."
Monique Henderson running in the Pac-10
(Kirby Lee/The Sporting Image)
For Henderson, the crowning moment of 2005 came in the NCAA championships in Sacramento in June when she set a meet record of 50.10 to win her first individual collegiate title. She was more nervous before the start of the NCAA 400m final than she was to be in either the Helsinki World final or the USATF Championships where she ran a career best 49.96.
“It was the NCAA final, definitely. That was what I went to college for and it was my main goal. That race was an accomplishment I had worked for for years and set me up in my future.”
From the moment that she received her Olympic gold medal in Athens 10 months earlier, Henderson never had any regrets about her decision to return to college.
“It was easy. I never thought of leaving school. I love UCLA and when I went there, it was a four-year contract. There is a lot of stuff I want to accomplish and I want to take my time. I’m in no rush.”
“I should have been there”
Henderson began grabbing headlines in 2000 at age 17 at San Diego Morse High in Southern California when she set a then U.S. national high school record of 50.74. Henderson went on to reach the 2000 U.S. Olympic Trials finals and earn a berth on the U.S. 4 x 400m relay pool for Sydney.
However, it would be four years before Henderson improved on her high school best. As a freshman and sophomore in college, Henderson finished seventh in the NCAA meet. Henderson didn’t break 51 seconds in the 400m in college until her junior year at UCLA when she finished second to the NCAA championships to Trotter in 50.62, and helped the Bruins to their first team title since 1983.
Henderson said her turnaround in 2004 was simply about regaining the confidence that she had had in high school. “I got used to losing at some point in college. I got too comfortable in that position,” Henderson said. “I had to get my spirits back and have faith in myself .I tried to look at the big perspective. You can be really good in high school, but there are a lot of good people in college.”
The turning point for Henderson came at the USATF Nationals at Stanford in 2003 when she did not reach the final after finishing eighth and last in her semi-final. A lot went through her mind as she watched the World Championships final on television that summer. “I thought there was no way that I should not have been there,” Henderson said. “I had to get serious and regain my focus and determination.”
Under Kersee’s guidance
Throughout these trying times Henderson kept a strong bond with her collegiate coach Bobby Kersee, and she continues to train at UCLA with Kersee, the husband of the World Heptathlon record holder, Jackie Joyner-Kersee.
Henderson is part of a star-studded training group that includes Allyson Felix, the 2005 World 200m champion and USATF Athlete of the Year, as well as Joanna Hayes, the 2004 Olympic 100m Hurdles gold medallist, Eunice Barber of France, the 2005 World Heptathlon and Long Jump medallist, and Sheena Johnson, the 2004 Olympic 400m Hurdles 4th placer.
“It’s just like college,” Henderson said. “It’s really the same environment with the same girls and the coaches. There is really no big adjustment. It’s a place with a great tradition of producing professional athletes. It works for me and I can’t see how it can get any better.”
Henderson laughs about the prospect of being a senior citizen before she leaves UCLA. She would like to pursue a coaching career at her alma mater after her athletics career is done, following a similar path to head coach and Jeanette Bolden, a 1984 Olympic gold medallist in the 4x100m relay who started at her alma mater as an assistant coach in 1992. At a recent workout, Henderson joked with Bolden about taking over her coaching position. “I said ‘Jeanette. When are you going to retire? I might be in my 60s before I can coach’. I love my school and my situation. She has been a great fan and mentor.”
Overseas campaign indoors and out in 2006
Henderson took a month off after Helsinki, but hardly adopted a sedentary lifestyle with jogging and weight lifting. “I am not the kind of person who can sit around and do nothing.” She is preparing for full indoor and outdoor seasons in 2006, and recently purchased her first cellular phone with international calling capabilities in anticipation of overseas trips in the new year.
Henderson plans to run on the USATF circuit starting with the Reebok Boston Indoor Games (28 Jan). From there, it’s off to the Millrose Games in New York City (3 Feb), and the USATF Nationals in Boston (24 - 26 Feb) in hopes of earning a berth in the World Indoor Championships in Moscow (10 - 12 March).
However, she isn’t sure what to expect indoors on a tight banked track. Although she ran relays indoors at UCLA, including the Bruins’ 2002 NCAA champion distance medley relay, Henderson has only one open 400m indoors toi her credit back in her freshman year of high school.
“I want to take indoors seriously but I am not gearing up my training for it. I want to go out there and do well but my main goal is to be consistent. I feel that if I run a good race that I can compete with the best.”
Kirby Lee for the IAAF