David Oliver – Just Doin’ It
One of my favorite athletes in track & field is David Oliver. I first learned who he was at the Olympic Trials in 2008. Malinda and I had special credentials from Shannon and were riding in one of the van shuttles. The shuttle stopped at Hayward Field and a large man got into the van. He hit his shin on the door and screamed out in pain. Then he and two of his friends got in the van. Malinda and I listened as this man joked around with his friends and talked about eating at Burger King in Valencia, Spain during the Indoor World Championships. We looked at his credential and noted that his name was David Oliver. Later that day I picked up a copy of USA Today and saw that there was a story about David Oliver and his mother. That’s how we figured out who he was and what event he did. Every since, Malinda and I have rooted for Oliver, for no other reason than we felt like he was a nice guy in the van even though we were much too shy, and were not sure it was appropriate, to talk to him.
Oliver was a two-sport star (football and track & field) at Denver East High School. He continued to participate in both sports while attending Howard University in Washington DC. His best NCAA finish was fourth in the 110 hurdles as a junior. After graduating from college (he was the first person in his family to graduate from college; his major was in marketing and he minored in finance) he did not have a sponsor but moved to Orlando, Florida to continue training under the tutelage of Brooks Johnson. He qualified for the 2004 Olympic Trials but an injury kept him from competing at his best.
By 2008, he was a favorite to make the US Olympic team, which he did, winning the Olympic Trials in Eugene. He went on to win the bronze medal at the Olympic Games in Beijing. Oliver battled injuries for most of the 2009 season but he has been back and on fire in 2010.
Oliver’s last three races may rank has the best series of three races in a row by a 110 hurdler in history. It all started at the USA Championships in Des Moines, Iowa on Sunday, June 27. Oliver won the race with a PR of 12.93. That night we saw Oliver at the Rock River Grill in downtown Des Moines. I was pretty hesitant to go up and talk to him but he was talking to everyone, signing autographs, and posing for pictures while sporting a big smile so finally Malinda and I went over to congratulate him. We got him to sign our ticket stub and we took a photo with him (we’re still waiting to get that photo off someone else’s camera). I asked him if he liked the Eugene track and if he thought he could get the American record (which was 12.90) at Prefontaine. He said something to the effect that he hopes to and then he pretend punched me in the stomach. I was in heaven! (for days)
At the Prefontaine Classic in Eugene on Saturday, July 3 Oliver won again. He improved on his PR, ran the fastest time ever on US soil, and tied Dominique Arnold’s American Record with a 12.90 clocking.
Two weeks later at the Diamond League meet in Paris on Friday, July 16, Oliver claimed sole possession of the American Record, running 12.89. Three races in nineteen days. Three PR’s. The American Record.
I am very happy for Oliver. He seems like such an outgoing and friendly person. His post-race interviews are always positive. He is very well spoken and never fails to praise his competitors and thank his supporters. And that smile! As one blogger put it, USATF should take advantage of Oliver’s talent as a personable speaker and build a marketing campaign around him that could really promote the sport of track & field: If USA Track and Field is looking for an athlete to provide a “face” for the sport as we head into the next series of global championships they couldn’t do much better than to start with David Oliver. This young man is personable, articulate and is beginning to dominate is event in the mold of the legendary Renaldo “Skeets” Nehemiah. I know that he has more races ahead with WR holder Dayron Robles. But even should he lose his share, it simply will set up what could become one of the sport’s biggest and best rivalries – something the sport desperately needs more of. Oliver v Robles could well become the second coming of Nehemiah v Foster, and Oliver seems well suited to play the role of Nehemiah. USATF needs to look at developing a marketing program around this AR holder that focuses on his considerable strengths on and off the track.
Oliver himself has a great blog where he writes about a variety of topics. His writing is very well done and he interjects humor and seriousness. Among the many highlights, for me, from his blog are:
– The fact that he didn’t follow international track & field until the 2000 Olympics and didn’t start meeting other elite American hurdlers until 2004.
– How the recently retired icon of 110 hurdling Allen Johnson wouldn’t give Oliver an autograph when they first met because Johnson wanted Oliver to see himself as belonging with the upper echelon of US hurdlers, not idolizing them.
– His motivation for interacting positively with fans, “because you never know how you may affect them.”
– The detailed analysis he can give about his races (e.g. hips dropping too low after hurdle six in Paris).
– The shout outs he gives to his teammates and family. You can tell he genuinely loves these people.
– And lastly, his excellent answer when asked if he’s going to set the world record: Another question that everybody wants to ask is about the world record. This is pretty funny to me, people act like you just wake up in the morning, stretch your arms to the sky and when you finish your morning yawn say “Um, I think I’m going to break the world record today.” I tell them, it’s the world record for a reason, you don’t decide you’re just going to run a time that fast, if that was the case, I would have done it several years ago!
Oliver’s next race is on Thursday, July 22 in Monaco. Could the American record go down again? How about the World Record of 12.87 held by Cuba’s Dayron Robles? The only unfortunate news is that Robles, the World Record holder and 2008 Olympic champion, is suffering from a leg injury. He has had to withdraw from the last two meets (Paris and Monaco) that would have pitted Oliver against Robles. Here’s hoping that Robles is healthy for August meets in London and Zurich so that two of the all-time best can race head-to-head.