Athens, Greece What a whirlwind it’s been since Tonique Williams-Darling won the 400m Olympic gold medal last Tuesday!
What touched her most. Was it her home country’s (Bahamas) first gold medal in track and field that touched her most? Or could it be the wedding ring her husband, Dennis Darling, presented her with as she came off the track from her victory lap? Either way, she is a bit overwhelmed but thrilled about the way she represented the Bahamas on Tuesday night.
Tonique, her husband Dennis, her personal coach, Steve Riddick and her former college coach, Curtis Frye, talk about the race, how she got there and what lies ahead.
First, Dennis Darling (a former University of Houston 400m runner who dated Williams-Darling since high school until their marriage last April of 2003). Well, it’s just a few minutes after she won the gold medal. Explain why you presented her with the gorgeous ring tonight after the race.
DD: Well, we saw this ring in the Bahamas when we were there for the Trials. And she talked about how much she loved it, how beautiful it was and how much she wanted it. The ring she had before was stolen so I wanted to get it for her as a total surprise. Her mother came up and I wired the money for it. Her mother brought it three days ago, but she knew I had it. It was burning a hole in my pocket the last three days. I thought ‘one more night, one more night’, but I could hardly hold it. It was a great moment. She was surprised and it was wonderful. I just want to make her happy.
How about her performance?
DD: Just seeing the sacrifice she made and how hard she worked it is unbelievable. Thank God. I can’t say much more than that – I am just in shock. But I can say she worked so hard and made many sacrifices. She has such a focus. So intense. She deserves it and I thank God for her tonight.
How will the Bahamas receive her?
DD: They will do something big, something real big.
After the race, her former coach Curtis Frye was asked to comment on what Tonique Williams-Darling’s performance.
CF: She is the Queen of Sprints at our College (University of South Carolina). She is the one who really got us rolling in that area from the start. At one point she held every record from 100m to 400m and with both relays. Some of her records have since been broken, but those people came to South Carolina because of the example she set for them. She is a wonderful person and the Gamecock family can’t wait to welcome her back.
On Wednesday, we visited with her current coach, Steve Riddick, a former gold medalist himself with the USA (4x100m relay in 1976).
Steve, I am sure it’s not a shock to you that Tonique won the medal, but how did she get to this point?
SR: It’s not a shock. She stay focused, she trained hard and we had an agenda and a plan and we stuck with it. She took each competition as a stepping stone to the big picture in terms of development and she continues to develop. Even though this is a big deal for her, she is trying to improve as an athlete which could lead to Beijing 2008. It is a lot of hard work. It won’t just stop now. She will rest for a couple of days and then begin training for the rest of the season. She is one of only four left in the running for the million dollar jack-pot. So it’s a big deal.
She came to you a few years ago and asked you to help her.
SR: I have 11 athletes but I don’t recruit them. The first year she didn’t run, she just trained. Last year was the first year she ran and then this year. So what we are seeing now are the fruits of three years of hard work so it’s gratifying. I like to see young people set goals and achieve them. That’s important. I won an Olympic gold medal and know what it’s feels like.
What have you told her about being a gold medalist?
SR: First, it couldn’t happen to a nicer person. She has a lot of style and class. It couldn’t happen to a nicer person. Her life will change because she got a gold medal for a country that has not gotten one before on the track. When she dies, she will still be a gold medalist. They wont’ ever call her a ‘former Olympian’ or a ‘former gold medalist’. She will always be a gold medalist. Until she dies. I told her when I was preparing her to relax and have fun and to enjoy the moment. She is a trooper out there. She warms up and you think she isn’t going to run well and then she goes out and ‘bam!’.
Finally, we visited with the gold medalist herself, Tonique Williams-Darling about 13 hours after her race.
First, what can you say about the ring?
TWD: It’s been a long time coming (with a big smile).
What about winning the first individual gold medal for Bahamas?
TWD: That’s a long time coming too (laughing).
Has it all sunk in yet?
TWD: No, it hasn’t. The race was really late last night. Since then I have been pulled, shoved and taken pictures of in about every position I could imagine so it hasn’t sunk in yet. Everyone here with my hometown is just so excited. They are honoured and they are really taking this medal with such pride. I know back home they are celebrating. Everyone is just so excited and it’s just exciting to just be a part of all that.
Is it a little overwhelming, all the attention?
TWD: It is but it’s been like that all year. It’s a lot of attention to be the world leader but this right here adds a whole new dimension to stuff. You have to appreciate it and it comes along with being successful. I will try to take it with ease and in stride.
Talk about your race last night. You couldn’t see Ana because of the lanes. Did you have any sense of where she was?
TWD: I knew Monique Hennagan (USA, Columbia, SC native) was going to be tough because of the way she ran the rounds at the US Trials and she was right in front of me. I like to run and kind of pick off people, but Monique got out like a bat out of hell. She went out fast and I had to pick it up a lot on the back stretch to catch her. As for Ana Guerva (Mexico, 2003 world champion) I really felt her coming on at the home stretch. She ran a totally different race than she did in Zurich a couple weeks ago. On the home stretch she was so much tougher. She gave it the effort and running for a medal. She stuck it out and I was just strong enough to get away with the win. I had Dee Dee Trotter in my semi-finals and saw her run at the US Trials so I knew she was a closer. I know she ran 50.00 out of lane one so she is definitely an up and coming star for the USA.
You went to the Olympic Games in 2000 and didn’t make it out of the first round. You toyed with the idea of retiring and getting a real job. What can you tell people around the world about preserving?
TWD: This has been the motto of the whole experience for me. You have to believe in yourself, that you can achieve. If I had given up years ago, even in 2000, I wouldn’t be standing here today.
What your plans now?
TWD: My plans are to savour the moment and enjoy the experience for a couple of days. It’s important because the Golden League races will be a challenge. This is why I am here and one of my goals. I just have to relax and enjoy it and get back on my game plan. I am still in the mix for the jackpot. At the beginning of the year I said I would have six Golden League races and three Olympic races. I am just going to ride this wave as long as I can and just see what happens.
Are you excited for the World Athletics Final?
TWD: Yes, but it seems like the season has been so long now. It’s been a really long year, very high pressure so I am looking forward to the end of it. But Monaco is a beautiful place, the best athletes in the world are there and it’s such a good feeling to compete there.
You will bring the gold medal back to the Bahamas as a hero. What will all that be like?
TWD: I know when I go home it will be an all-out celebration and I won’t sleep for weeks. I heard last night in the Bahamas that people were celebrating, going crazy, honking their horns and stuff. A month from now I will go home and that will be really great. That’s exciting for me.
Michelle Schmitt for the IAAF