August 09, 2012
By Joy Childs
Sentinel Contributing Writer
“… I’ve raised an Olympian …Wow! …”
—Statement by Natalie Douglas, mother of gold medal gymnast Gabby Douglas, to the Huffington Post upon her win
Delores Griffith knows that feeling. As the mother of Florence Griffith-Joyner, that’s much like how she felt when her daughter won Olympic gold in the 100, 200 and 4x100 relay at the 1988 Olympics in Seoul, Korea.
Griffith-Joyner would no doubt be in London for the Olympics right now. She would have gotten a kick out of Sanya Richards-Ross and Dee Dee Trotter’s performances there. “Flo Jo,” who still holds the world records for the 100 meters and 200 meters — and who was dubbed the “fastest woman alive” — might have even been their coach.
Though she passed away in 1998, Griffith-Joyner is still a huge presence in track, her feats, her aura, her spirit still mentioned at the recent Olympics track and field events.
But it takes her mother to give us her truth about her famous Olympian daughter, called Dee Dee by family and friends.
Hailing from Henderson, N.C., Griffith came to California to be with a sister, who was working on her Ph.D. at UCLA, and to go to school but ended up getting married to a man from Nashville, Tenn., and having 11 children. Asked their names in order, she consults a clock that bears their names on the wall and ticks them off: Bobby, Weldon, Vivian, Kathleen (a successful real estate agent), Robert (a successful businessman), Elizabeth aka “Cissy,” Florence, Joseph, Lemuel, Gale and Eugene.
Were Griffith-Joyner’s talents genetic? Even in her 80s, Mrs. Griffith, whose slender build and beautiful brown skin bear the visage of someone who may have been yesteryear’s track star, explains — “Yes — but we didn’t call it ‘track’ back then … We ‘ran’ at gym time … And my mother ran a beauty shop, and she would give me one minute to get from home to that beauty shop … and I would run all through town …” She laughs at the memory.
Though she and her husband and children lived in Littlerock, CA (which is 11 miles southeast of Palmdale) for a bit, Griffith and her children eventually moved to the Jordan Downs projects in Watts to a five-bedroom residence.
Asked how she managed as a single woman to instill values in 11 kids in a Watts housing project, she recalled fondly the “family pow-wows.” They were held every Thursday and each week a different child was tasked to pick a Bible verse to speak on. Also, each child got a chance to confess their wrongdoing that week as well as what Griffith had done wrong.
Now some mothers could have easily focused their attention and resources on Griffith-Joyner — something Griffith had seen other mothers do, which she loathed. She says she promised God that if she had children she would be a mother to each of them and never compare them.
There’s one funny story about Griffith’s earliest memories of her track star daughter’s talents as only a mother could remember: “When she was in the walker, we called her “Lightening” because when she started to walk, she did not walk — she ran all through the house! … And then — oh — and when they were young and we lived in the desert, in the backyard, I would play racing with them …I would line them up … I was the starter and they would run to me …”
The following is an excerpt from a recent interview Griffith had with the Los Angeles Sentinel:
LAS: So you knew way back then she could run fast. [Both laugh.] … And so when did she get serious about track?
DG: When she was about 7, she started running at 102nd Street School … And Mrs. Annie Hall asked if the kids could join the Sugar Ray Robinson Organization. And I let them join. And every weekend she’d come and pick them up and take them to their track meets, and as they grew, they just enjoyed it so much … They couldn’t go if they didn’t get their work done on Friday. So on Saturday mornings, they got up to be ready to go with Ms. Hall …
All her years at Jordan High School, she did very well. And then she went to [California State University at] Northridge because she was working at a bank. And that’s where Bob Kersee confronted her [about running track] … And she came home and told me about it and she asked me what I thought about it … and I told her that I believe that at 18, it’s the first day of the rest of your life …You have to make your own decision ... and Bob talked to her, and she transferred from Northridge to UCLA.
LAS: Did she ever say straight out that she wanted to go to the Olympics?
DG: My cousin was out here from New York, and he talked to her a lot … And he told me she told him she was going to the Olympics when she was 12 or 13.
Her greatest achievement
LAS: To you, what was her greatest achievement?
DG: I still think 1980 — the year she went to Eugene, Oregon. That was her first tryout for the Olympics and, though she came in fourth place, I expressed to her, ‘You’re still a winner because to think that you went out there — you went to Eugene Oregon! Think about how many people are trying to do things now and they don’t succeed.’ But she didn’t give up. It was still her dream to go to the Olympics.
LAS: And she qualified to go to the Olympics in 1984? … That wasn’t her greatest achievement to you?
DG: To be truthful with you, I never thought of the Olympics as thee Olympics. I never thought of it being as big as it was. It wasn’t until she really got into it and she talked to me and told me different things that I realized what she was doing ..
At this point Mrs. Griffith brought out one of Griffith’s many bibles, explaining:
“I told her when she started traveling overseas and everything, I told her, ‘Baby, you have to take your Bible with you and take God with you.’ I said, ‘Momma cannot be with you always.’ I said, ‘The only thing you can do is pray.’
Moving on to the allegations of steroid/drug use, Griffith, responding to the question of how all that affected her, sighed and said:
“It made me very, very angry and hurt ’cause you would have to have known her to know that this was not true … And as much time as we spent together, as a mother, you would know if your child is taking drugs. Every drug test she took, she had a little something they gave her that was legal so …
“I was cleaning up her house one time and I found all these little things on a hook [film], and I was gonna throw them away but she said, ‘Momma, no — don’t do that. That’s the result of my drug test …’ so she kept all of them so after she told me that and I saw them for myself, it just really unnerved me ...
LAS: Would you ever allow for [the possibility of] there being another side of her that you as a mother just couldn’t have seen? A hidden side of her?
DS: Like I say …having talked to her and all, if there was a hidden side of her, it was really a hidden side … but she always respected me and gave me the honor [of the truth] as a parent.
President Barack Obama is joining NBA legend Michael Jordan and an array of basketball stars to raise money for his re-election campaign later this month.
The Obama campaign is planning a fundraising ''shoot-around'' and dinner in New York on Aug. 22 featuring several NBA stars, including Carmelo Anthony of the New York Knicks, Rajon Rondo of the Boston Celtics, John Wall of the Washington Wizards and others. Jordan, who played for the Chicago Bulls, Obama's favorite NBA team, and NBA Commissioner David Stern are co-hosting a $20,000-per person fundraising dinner with the president later in the day
Obama is a longtime basketball fan who regularly plays pickup games with friends and aides. His campaign held a fundraiser last February at the Orlando-area home of NBA player Vince Carter, who is also involved in the New York events.
The campaign is holding a ''shoot-around'' with players at New York's Chelsea Piers sports complex, including Anthony, Rondo, Wall, Paul Pierce, Kyrie Irving, Joe Johnson and former NBA centers Patrick Ewing and Alonzo Mourning. WNBA stars Sheryl Swoopes and Dawn Staley are also participating in the event, which will cost $5,000 for a parent and child or two people to have a ''shoot-around skills session'' with the players. A $250 donation provides an autograph session with the players.
Obama's campaign plans to raffle off the chance for grass-roots supporters to attend the events.
A similar ''Obama Classic'' basketball event planned for last December was postponed after team owners and players reached a labor deal following a lockout.
By JOHN PYE Associated Press
Caster Semenya perched herself on a lane marker behind the start of the 800 meters and took a few moments to absorb what it feels like to be an Olympian.
She took some deep breaths, then got up, walked to the stagger start and went straight to work. Making her Olympic debut three years after being forced to undergo gender tests that cast doubt over her future in track and field, Semenya finished second in her preliminary heat on Wednesday morning.
The 80,000-seat stadium was almost full, but she’s used to big crowds. The whole experience, though, was something new.
“It was a very important race,” Semenya said. “It was a tactical race. I wanted the race to be a fast one. To be a good contender, you have to run under 2 minutes.”
This is the Semenya of 2012 — she’s 21 and she’s reserved, almost guarded, and generally restricts her public comments to topics of competition.
And who could blame her?
She was still a teenager when she had no choice but to endure having her most intimate details debated and discussed in the global media.
Semenya was sidelined for 11 months — while track and field’s governing body decided whether or not to allow her to compete — after she won the 2009 world title at age 18, posting a stunning time of 1 minute, 55.45 seconds.
She was tested and eventually cleared to compete in 2010, but she struggled with a back problem for a while before returning to the world championships at Daegu and winning a silver medal.
The backing she has from the South African federation was in evidence when she was selected to carry the flag at the opening ceremonies at the London Games, where she’s a genuine medal contender.
And she wants to return the support.
After posting an Olympic qualifying time at the national trials earlier this year, Semenya said: “I have to win a gold.”
“My dream is to win the Olympics,” she said, “and that’s my plan.”
She will find a fierce rival in defending champion Pamela Jelimo. She said she feels for Semenya, but she has a title to defend and is fit to retain it.
“I know it’s hard,” Jelimo said. “We all train hard, every day. When I am in shape, I am in shape. So why should I care if somebody did not train for the past year?”
Semenya ran her heat in 2:00.71, finishing just behind the 2:00.47 run by American Alysia Johnson Montano, the fastest qualifier from the preliminaries. Jelimo won her heat in 2:00.54 to advance with the second-fastest time.
Semenya ran a controlled race, hanging back with the pack while Montano went out quickly, then relying on a late kick to cut down the gap and secure the second automatic qualifying spot from the heat.
She knows she has to run a sub-2 minutes to be competitive, and appeared to have a lot in reserve after her opening run in the first of the 800 heats.
And even though she’s only new to the Olympic scene, Semenya has recruited a coach with almost unsurpassed experience in Maria Mutola, who retired in 2008 with an Olympic gold medal and three world titles to her credit.
Mutola was among those who tabbed Semenya to break the world record when the young South African burst onto the international scene in 2009. Now they’re working together to achieve it.
And while there’s still plenty of public attention on Semenya, her presence is simple for other athletes to quantify.
“She’s just like any other competitor for us,” said Canada’s Jessica Smith, who also progressed to the next round Wednesday. “The faster she runs, the faster we have to compete with her.”
Like other athletes in the 800, Smith wanted to leave the gender issue to the experts.
“I have confidence in what the IAAF has done to ensure that she’s competing at the right level,” Smith said. “I trust in what they’re doing and hopefully she’s just like any of us.”
By JOHN PYE |
LONDON (AP) — After leaving the most important decision of her career up to her persuasive mother, Brittney Reese knew there was only one place to start looking when it was time to celebrate her Olympic gold medal in the long jump.
Reese claimed one of the three gold medals the U.S. track and field team won Wednesday night at the London Games, becoming the first American woman to win the Olympic long jump title since Jackie Joyner-Kersee in 1988.
“It’s a surreal moment,” she said. “I got very emotional — you do when you’re representing your country.
“My mom and aunt are here, so this is a great moment for me and my family.”
Within the space of a half hour at the packed, 80,000-seat Olympic stadium, Allyson Felix finally won the 200-meter title that had eluded her at Athens and Beijing, Aries Merritt won the 110-meter hurdles gold medal and Reese won the long jump.
The two-time world champion went into the competition with the best jump of the season and put down the best mark in the final with 23 feet, 4 1-2 inches (7.12 meters) on her second attempt. Russia’s Elena Sokolova took the silver medal at 23-2 1-2 (7.07) and Janay Deloach earned the bronze for the United States at 22-7 1-4 (6.89).
It was a major achievement for Reese, who could easily have been lost to track and field. She was considering offers for basketball scholarships when her mother, Carla Young, made a fateful decision for her: Stick with track and field, at the University of Mississippi.
“My mom fell in love with Ole Miss and they were still in contact with me while I was in my community college,” Reese said. “I sat down with her and she told me track is what I needed to do — and Mamma knows best, so that’s what i did.”
Now that she’s the reigning Olympic and world champion indoors and out — and is third all-time in the U.S. behind Joyner-Kersee and Marion Jones in terms of longest jumps — she could be excused for thinking about another career change.
But that’s not likely before the 2016 Games in Rio.
“I feel like this is just the beginning,” the 25-year-old Reese said. “I am going to train four more years and come back and hopefully defend my title.”
She dedicated the London Olympic title to the people of Mississippi and others who are still rebuilding in the wake of the deadly and devastating Hurricane Katrina in 2005.
She does what she can — during the 2011 Thanksgiving season, Reese purchased 100 turkeys to be given away to help the homeless near her hometown of Gulfport, Miss — but the gold medal is special.
Reese lived through the disaster that damaged her house, but was conscious that she got off lightly and wanted to do something significant at the Beijing Olympics four years ago to give her friends and neighbors a boost.
“In ‘08 my goal was to come out there and get a medal. And when I placed fifth, I was devastated and cried the whole way back to the (athletes) village,” she said. “I had the whole Gulf coast behind me. I got a lot of emails, a lot of Facebook and Twitter about my Gulf coast family representing me, being there for me, and I wanted to come out here and do that for them.”
Reese and her family had to sandbag their home to avoid flood inundation during the disaster, but the ceiling of the house collapsed and forced them out.
“We were out of the house for like two months because we had mold and we were living out of mobile homes and trailers,” she said. “It was a tough time and (makes) you realize how blessed you are to have necessities.
“It was a real true eye-opener and my city is now rebuilt and we have most of the stuff back. But we don’t have a lot of the homes back. This was a great way for me to bring something home to them to show that we can all do this together.”
By KENNETH MILLER
LA watts Times Correspondent
TYSON CHANDLER: The 7’1 starting center on the United States gold medal seeking Olympics basketball team was born in Hanford, California but grew up in Compton starring for the Dominguez High School where he was named USA Today California Player of the Year.
JESSICA CROSBY: A graduate of Reseda Cleveland High School and UCLA, she competed in the Hammer Throw and finished 7th representing African Americans and the United States of America.
ALLYSON FELIX: The Southern California native through and through captured Olympic gold in the women’s 200 meters clocking 21.88. She prepped at Los Angeles Baptist High School and redeemed herself for a fifth place showing in the 100 meters.
JAMES HARDEN: A pivotal reserve performer with the powerhouse Olympics men basketball team. He is a Los Angeles native who attended Artesia High School before starring at Arizona State and now Oklahoma City Thunder. His mother Mona attended Jefferson High School and is the most influential person in his life.
CARMELITA JETER: Captured Olympic Silver in the 100 meters and crossing the finish in 10.78 and then earned a bronze in the 200 meters. A graduate of Bishop Montgomery in Torrance and resident of Gardena. She also attended Cal State Dominguez Hills and is the sister of professional basketball player Pooh Jeter who played in the NBA with Sacramento.
RUSSELL WESTBROOK: A rising superstar and among the elite players on the favored United States Olympics basketball team. Attended Leuzinger High School in Lawndale and played for Reggie Morris Jr. before attending UCLA where he became an NBA player after just two seasons.
SERENA WILLIAMS: The colorful of the two tennis star Williams sisters captured Olympic gold on the heels of winning Wimbledon defeating Maria Sharapova in dominating fashion 6-0,6-1. She celebrated her victory performing the C-Walk reminding many of he roots in Compton where she grew up and learn how to play tennis. She also joined with her sister Venus to become the first players to win four consecutive Olympic gold medals in tennis.
VENUS WILLIAMS: Sister Act I didn’t fare well in singles competition, but redeemed herself when joined by Serena to make history winning doubles for the fourth straight Olympics. Born in Lynwood and raised in Compton she is as close to hood as one can get.
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