Ahead of the 2013 World Athletics Gala in Monaco, three-time World 100m champion Maurice Greene, four-time World Long Jump champion Dwight Phillips and four-time World 110m Hurdles champion Allen Johnson spoke to Ato Boldon about their careers and the 2013 World Athlete of the Year awards.
Ato Boldon: Maurice, tell us a bit about your memories of your athletics career and is there anything you think the sport should be doing differently now?
Maurice Greene: I have a lot of tremendous memories, especially from Monaco. I was just talking about the time when we were here for the Golden League meeting. We had just got off the bus and we were heading to our hotel when we saw a guy sitting outside with a blue Lamborghini. The dude just threw us the keys and told us to take it for a drive, so we did.
This sport has given me so much and I’ve put so much into it. Our era really had a lot of passion and really worked hard for the sport. I think the current athletes should give the people what they really want to see and that’s personality and competition.
AB: Dwight, you’re the most recent retiree here; was it a difficult decision to retire?
Dwight Phillips: Being an athlete, we do this our entire lives and we feel as though we can do this for ever. I really wanted to retire after 2012, but I tore my achilles that year which was a sour moment because I had been No.1 in the world for the two previous years. Luckily I had the opportunity to compete at the World Championships because I had the bye, so I told myself that I want to go out fighting and that’s what I did. I came into the sport fighting and I went out fighting.
AB: Allen, how do you assess the current health of the 110m Hurdles and where were you when Aries Merritt broke the World record last year?
Allen Johnson: I can’t remember where I was but I knew Aries had been running well and I knew that Brussels was his last race. He’d been running 12.92 and 12.93. I had the meeting record for Brussels (12.92), so selfishly I was hoping he wouldn’t break it. I thought ‘it’s the end of the year, he’s probably tired’.
I didn’t see the race but I got a text from Darrell Smith, saying ‘wow did you see that?!’ My heart immediately started racing so I went online and saw that he ran 12.80. I just thought ‘woah, that’s amazing’.
He smashed it. To see someone break the world record by 0.07 and almost get into the 12.7s, that’s a tremendous moment for the event and for Aries.
I’d had conversations in the past with other hurdlers like Tony Dees and Renaldo Nehemiah and we all felt that a time in the 12.7s was definitely possible. It was just a matter of time. As far as human capabilities go, 12.7 is definitely within reason; I’ve felt that since 1996. My personal goal was to run 12.78.
The event is in pretty good shape right now. There’s Aries Merritt and David Oliver. Dayron Robles is still around, Liu Xiang may yet come back. It’s an event where we always see head-to-head competition, which is good from a spectator’s standpoint.
AB: Now all of you are retired, what are you doing now?
DP: Currently I own a production company. I also do some work for Leap of Faith Community Outreach, where I work with adults and kids who struggle with substance abuse and behavioural problems. I’m also coaching; one of the athletes I train is Damar Forbes of Jamaica.
MG: I’ve been working for Eurosport, which is a lot of fun. I’m also working with kids in California and I’m still coaching.
AJ: I’m a sprint coach at the US Air Force Academy. There are 30 athletes in my group, which – as any other coach will tell you – is too many, but I enjoy it and I get to work with a bunch of hard-working classy young adults who’ll represent the USA in the armed forces.
AB: Who do you think should win the men’s and women’s IAAF Athlete of the Year awards?
MG: When I got the email with the shortlist, I thought ‘man this is tough’. On the men’s side, I was very excited to see what Mo Farah did. Don’t get wrong, what Usain Bolt has done is great, but no one is shocked by what he does any more. What Mo Farah is doing is more unexpected, like when he broke the British 1500m record. The things he’s been doing for the past two years have been phenomenal.
On the women’s side, I’m probably biased but I think what Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce did was tremendous and her year was phenomenal, so I’d lean towards her.
DP: I think we could make an argument for Valerie Adams in the Shot Put. She has been very dominant and has won one championship after another, so at some point she should be awarded for doing that.
Mo Farah had a great showing at home last year and replicated that in Moscow, so I think it will be a toss-up between him and Bolt.
AJ: Bolt has been setting the world on fire since 2008. That said, he’s so good now that whatever he does, whenever I see it, I’m like ‘oh, okay’. Even if he runs 9.4, I’d be like ‘oh, he ran 9.4’. So with that said, it makes me lean towards Mo Farah; it would be good to see a new face win it. But if it’s about athlete of the year, then Usain Bolt.
On the women’s side, perhaps I’m biased but I think it should be Brianna Rollins. I know she’s not shortlisted, but watching her compete this year, I was extremely impressed with how she ran at the World Championships, more so than her 12.26. She is a young athlete who was competing at her first World Championships and she got left in the blocks, but she had the composure to stay focused on her race, not panic, clear each barrier and win the race.
Of the people on the shortlist, I’d go with Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce.
AB: What about Bohdan Bondarenko? Have we all been overlooking a genuine contender?
AJ: It’s difficult to be a one-event athlete going up against people who can double up, like sprinters and distance runners. A lot of field event athletes only have their specialist event with no other events to complement it.
None of us four athletes here have won the IAAF Athlete of the Year award, which shows how difficult it is to win. To be the single most outstanding athlete of the year is incredible.
Jon Mulkeen for the IAAF