Posted on Sat, Apr. 22,
Trash-talking just part of the sport
Sprinters take pride in running at the mouth
By MECHELLE VOEPEL
The Kansas City Star
LAWRENCE — Why haven’t track meets negotiated this promotion yet? Shouldn’t Hefty or Glad bags want to be official sponsors? You know, for all the trash-talking in sprints?
“They go hand-in-hand: trash-talking and sprints, ego and sprints, reputation and sprints,” said Justin Gatlin, the reigning Olympic champion in the 100 meters.
Fellow sprinter Rae Edwards said, “I think there’s more talking among sprinters than even in boxing.”
Today at the Kansas Relays, you will see some of the fastest folks on the planet. Which guarantees you’ll also be witnessing guys who might claim they let their running do the talking … but are never actually able to shut up.
“We can’t just sit and let something go unsaid. It’s going to come out,” said Shawn Crawford who won the 2004 Olympic gold medal in the 200. “I think it gets the fans hyped, gets the media involved, gives them something to promote. It’s fun for the sport.”
And before we get any stick-in-the-mud types worked up, understand that’s exactly what we’re doing here: having a little fun. That’s a big part of why sprinters jaw so much, especially when reporters are around. Hey, if all they talked about was putting one foot in front of the other, it would get really boring.
But there will be nothing dull about today’s marquee men’s event at the KU Relays: the invitational 4x100 relay. Among the teams is the HSI group made up of Kansas City, Kan., native Maurice Greene, Kaaron Cartwright, Leonard Scott and Allen Johnson. Coach John Smith works with them. Johnson trains in South Carolina, the others in California.
Coach Trevor Graham’s team Sprint Capitol, which trains in North Carolina, features Gatlin, Crawford, Rodney Martin and Dwight Thomas. Kansas City-based coach Al Hobson’s team of Edwards, Mardy Scales, Mark Jelks and Ivory Williams is the local favorite.
Which, to get us back to the topic of trash, was something Hobson reminded the first two teams of during their news conference Friday afternoon at Memorial Stadium. He’d talked to reporters, but Hobson couldn’t resist interrupting.
“I like the competition from both of you,” he said. “But we’re in Kansas. And even though this is not basketball, you guys got to ‘beware of the Phog,’ OK? And we’re the Phog.”
To which Smith jokingly shot back, “Oh, you had your turn.”
The concept that many sprinters simply can’t help themselves — push a button, out comes trash — was exemplified when one reporter tossed some bait at Greene. Had he heard, it was asked, that Graham predicted his relay team would just be “running against the clock?”
Smith said to Greene, “Take a deep breath …”
Remember, of course, Greene has G.O.A.T. — for “Greatest of All Time” — tattooed on his arm. Talk about a guy who’s not going to let something go unsaid.
“Well, that’s good for him … but as I recall, we’ve never lost a relay here,” Greene said. “They may be running against the clock, but the clock is going to be behind us.”
Smith added in his two cents, starting off deceptively.
“Whatever is said is fun, because we want to do this for the fans,” Smith said. “(The KU Relays) is a chance to sharpen our skills up.”
Gee, that’s tame. Smith also talked about the nice weather. Wasn’t it just a pleasant day? Yeah, sure. Come on, coach, where’s the trash?
Well, he wasn’t done yet.
“At the same time, what comes around goes around,” he said. “Be careful what you say, because you might wind up eating it.”
All right! Game on! And Greene wasn’t done yet, either.
“You know, I would say this: People have had much more success against me when you don’t say anything,” Greene said. “The success rate when you do say something before the race? You get nowhere with that. I love it. It just gets my blood boiling a little bit. Let’s go.”
Yep, as Crawford said, they just can’t help it. Heck, even hurdlers talk some smack. Johnson is a past Olympic champ in the 110 hurdles, though he’ll be running in the relay here. He’s on the first leg, as is Martin for Graham’s team.
“These 100-meter guys think hurdlers can’t run,” he said. “I get a lot of enjoyment running them down in the turn. I already told Rodney (Martin), ‘Don’t get mad at me about what happens tomorrow.’ And I told his teammates, when they get to practice Monday, do not clown him. Do not clown that man.”
Everyone roared with laugher.
Of course, there are some extremely good women’s sprinters here, too. How much trash do they toss out?
“I don’t think we usually express ourselves that way,” Torrie Edwards said. “There’s maybe a little bit going on. But I think for us, it’s more inward than outward.”
Allyson Felix is the daughter of a minister and a third-grade teacher. How much trash could she possibly talk?
“The great thing about track is you really don’t have to participate in that,” Felix said, smiling. “But I guess sometimes, mental games can work. You can intimidate someone, and maybe that’s the edge you need.”
And, yes, that is the other big part of talking trash — it isn’t all completely in fun. At times, it’s strategic.
“In sprints, it’s 90 percent mental and 10 percent physical,” Rae Edwards said. “Trash-talking is trying to get your opponent out of their mental comfort zone. If they go into the race thinking about you, they’re not thinking about their own race.
“At the end of the day, though, we all know it’s our job, and we respect each other. After the meet is over, we’re all going out to eat together. But the talk gives the crowd something to watch. Everybody likes to see that: ‘They don’t like it each other, they’re going to run hard.’ ”
Crawford added that, eventually, all chatty sprinters at one time or another have to eat some crow.
“There’s only going to be one winner,” he said. “If somebody puts you on your tail, you’ve got to be able to take it. Don’t get mad; go out and practice harder. And then come back and talk junk.”