Olympic gold medallist Jeremy Wariner speaks to Peak Performance
Jeremy Wariner talks about sprinting, BBQ and Michael Johnson
By: John Shepherd
Texan double world 400m champion and three time Olympic gold medal winner Jeremy Wariner explains how he runs his races, what would happen if he raced Michael Johnson (at his best) and why he loves to Bar-B-Q
At the Beijng Olympics Jeremy Wariner was defeated surprisingly by fellow American Leshawn Merritt – has he got over this?
The 25-year-old Texan says he has, ‘Last season I was disappointed with the Olympic Games, but a lot of people would have loved to have got what I got, the silver medal, but it did not meet with my expectations. I wanted to go in there and win.’
However, he went on to explain that he has learned from last year, and is using it as his motivation to retrieve his number one ranking this year as well as defending his world title. ‘I know what I did last year and this year I’m focused and I know I can get back to where I was. I’m confident that I will run a real good time this year.’
So what makes him a great 400m runner?
‘I believe my strength is my ability to have both strength endurance and speed endurance… fortunately I am one of those guys who has both these qualities and I can put them all together in the one race.’
In terms of his preparation he explained that it is a careful balancing act with both these qualities. However, it seems that for the moment he’ll be working on his speed. Wariner will be seen a lot more this season over the half lap distance. He explained that he’ll run around six races over this distance before the US trials – and he’ll actually run this event at the trials (as defending World 400m champion he’s already selected for the quarter mile in Berlin).
What time are you aiming for?
‘I don’t really have any ideas right now but I want to be shooting for my personal record, which is 20.19 (in 200m), so I’d like to go faster than that and maybe dip into the 19’s this year.’
However Wariner explained that despite a sub-20 goal, his ambitions are more modest over 200m compared to his one time advisor and now agent Michael Johnson, who ran both events equally well.
‘Right now I’m just using the 200 as practice to get better at the quarter.’ However, he did say that once he gets his 400m time to where he wants it, he will run more 200s and hopes to be fast enough to get into some top European races over the distance later in the season.
Would you have liked to race Michael Johnson over 400m?
‘Time wise we’re running similar times, but he’s run more 43s than me. Yeah, he has the world record, but I’m right there on his heels. I think it would have been a good race to watch.’
Laughing he then added, ‘Yeah, he might get out a little faster than me, but it might be the first time that you ever see him get walked down in the home straight.’
You are very wiry compared to other sprinters, weighing just 155 pounds (70.5kg) and standing at 6’3” (1.90m). How do you generate so much power?
Another laugh, ‘I don’t know how it happened, but I’m glad that it did.’
He then more seriously explains that he has a long stride and a quick turnover, ‘A lot of the taller runners find it harder to get a quick turnover and they use their (long) stride to their advantage, but I’m fortunate enough to have fast twitch muscle to be able to pick up my speed when I need it.’
Has weight training helped him in this respect?
Wariner believes it has. He trains with weights three times a week in the off-season and interestingly the competitive season as well, although if he has a meet he’ll cut it down to two workouts during the latter.
Wariner does not do any of the Olympic lifts as he does not want to put a lot of pressure on his knees, but includes hamstring curls, biceps curls and triceps dips, for example in his workouts. He lifts heavier in the winter and lighter and faster in the summer, so nothing really different there compared to other athletes.
But experience has taught him how to run the 400. He explained that in a race he does not just kick, but gradually winds up the pace and knows exactly when to do this.
‘We practice on a buzzer system (in training), so I’ve built a clock in my mind that tells me what pace I am running at.’
Basically his runs are paced by time, with the distance covered being secondary – he may run for, for example, 36 seconds, the buzzer will sound, and he will stop the rep then. This will develop his neuromuscular system to run fast for a period of time. As the training year progresses, and as his speed increases, he’ll run faster and further for the pre-set times. This contrasts with most other athletes of all distances, who run reps with distance and the time they record for the distance as their and their coach’s prime consideration.
Analysing the competition
The treble Olympic gold medallist studies the abilities of his competitors and uses this information during a race, for example, to decide whether to go with them or hold back, ‘If I get out and I’m running up on someone, I’ll look at the next person, to see if the other guy is getting out a little slower to what I’m used to seeing him and I’ll react accordingly.’
However, by the back straight he explained that he was more concerned with running his own race.
What about the finish and the pain that comes with the race?
‘It’s hell, you know, when you finish, (but) it hurts more in practice than in the meets,’ said Wariner, adding, ‘We work on fighting through the pain in practice, so that when you get to the meet you don’t feel it as much.’
The Diamond League
We talk about the meetings set up around the world and the forthcoming Diamond League (in 2010), ‘Honestly I don’t really know much about it… I think it’s good to move it around a bit (there will be more top meetings in the US and Asia as well as Europe Ed), knowing how the sport is here (in the States) where we’re not that big on track and field, this might help us develop the sport and bring more international athletes over.’
The 400m runner explained that most Americans only focus on track and field during Olympic year and almost forget that athletes are training and competing in the four years in between.
Back to the format, ‘As an athlete it’s going to be difficult with 12 (Diamond League meetings a season). The Golden League jackpot was hard, with just 6, so with 12…. I know it’s going to be exciting, but we’ll have to see how it goes.’
So with the sport being less popular in the States why did he take it up?
‘Going into college it was between American football and track and field and I just saw more potential being my size for track.’
But he knows he made the right choice, ‘It’s something that I love to do, when I’m on the track my life is just put on pause in practice and at the meets. It’s a great living and I love travelling.’
Warriner explained that he has yet to make his mind up as to whether he will run in London this year – his racing plans are only made up until the US trials (25-28 June). But if he does he’ll be wearing his trademark shades, even if it’s raining.
‘Running with the glasses started in 2004, just at a small track meet and I was doing it for the fun of it (wearing shades) and I seem to be more focused. So I just kept doing it.’
Away from the track
Off of the track, as befits a Texan, Wariner likes to Bar-B-Q and the outdoors. ‘I’m learning different ways of Bar-b-Quing, and I’m sautéing chicken and fish, to get away from the fast food as much as possible.’
On the subject of specific dietary preparation he explained,
‘I don’t have a (specific) diet, I eat what I want when I want when I have the time.’ I ask whether if he paid a little more attention to his diet whether he would run faster,
‘It depends on the person, there are some athletes who can eat what they want and will be fine, like me because of my high metabolism and then there are others who have to watch their nutrition, because they might gain weight a little faster than me.’ He did however, say that he has cut back on fast food, as it was ‘wearing him down’ and making him feel sluggish.
Come this August at the Berlin World Champs we’ll see if the Texan’s desire to get back to being on top of the world has been achieved and whether his rejection of fast food has made him even faster.
Pb’s: 200m 20.19; 400m 43.45
Olympics: Beijing 08, silver 400, gold 4x 400: Athens: 400 and 4 x 400m gold
World Champs: 400 and 4x 400 gold 07 Osaka, and 05 Helsinki
Thanks to adidas
This interview was enabled by adidas
In November 2008, adidas announced its 10-year partnership with the IAAF, becoming the official sponsor of all IAAF World Athletic Series events through to 2019, including the 2009 World Championships in Berlin.
This sponsorship continues adidas commitment to track and field leading up to the London 2012 Olympic Games, where adidas will also be the Official Sportswear Partner.
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