Cougar Sprinter James McSwain: On the Move

April 18, 2005

James McSwain is used to moving and not just on a track. After growing up with a father in the Air Force, McSwain saw a lot of the country and some of the world.

Born in the Philippines, McSwain attended middle school in Colorado and high school in Las Vegas. His dad was transferred to Hawaii at the same time James joined the growing linage of notable sprinters at Washington State University. Why did this traveler come to Pullman?

'I looked at UW, UCLA and Southern Utah. I came on recruiting trip and I liked the atmosphere here,' McSwain said. 'Everyone was nice, and I'd never experienced everybody so friendly. Everyone was saying hi to me without being introduced. It was new to me.'

McSwain didn't start his competitive athletics life as a sprinter.

'I played everything growing up: baseball, basketball, football, but I was always pretty fast. There was always somebody bigger but I was faster so I just kept running,' the 5-foot, 7-inch McSwain recalls. 'I could always jump high too. In middle school basketball I used to guard the center and take the jump balls. I could jump pretty high.'

Without a fulltime track coach, McSwain mostly relied on his natural talent and speed and jumping abilities.

'I used to like running and jumping the same but I like running better now because I'm doing better in it,' McSwain said.

McSwain moved fast in his life too, married with two sons; five-year-old Quitalig James, and two-year-old Priore. James' wife, Tonisha, is from Virginia and he met her in Colorado. She is going to school in cosmetology and braids his long hair in intricate patterns before races.

'It is hard to be a student and a runner and a dad,' McSwain said. 'I'm only 21 and have all these responsibilities. After classes I get home and I'm so tired, but there are still things I have to do at home besides study. I have a family to worry about so its real hard to balance all these things and be successful at all of them.'

McSwain is majoring in Management Information Systems and compares breaking down computer programs to breaking down a race.

'I play a lot of computer games like PlayStation and Xbox. It is not as serious as when you are out there competing on the track. If I do poorly, I just erase the game, but on the track, that stays with me for a long time.'

McSwain give credit to Cougar coaches Mark Macdonald and Ellannee Richardson for helping him develop his running technique. And he admits to watching a lot of race films.

'I could watch more,' McSwain admits. 'I can see what I'm doing consistently. My starts have improved this year because I was thinking about it a lot over the summer. I felt fast running last year but my start was always inconsistent. My best start was at the Pac-10s last year in the prelims. I never really had a start as good as that one last year. I was thinking about that and how much it affects my race.'

WSU's Head Coach Rick Sloan describes the 60m dash, run indoors, as coming out of the starting blocks and leaning at the finish line. The 100m dash is really not much more complicated when run in a little over 10 seconds. McSwain has been working on his all-too-important starts.

'You have to concentrate and focus in the starting blocks,' McSwain said. 'The person next to you might not be (focused) and they might be trembling or flinching and if you let that affect you, your race is not going to be a good as it can be. You really just have to be focused on your lane and what you're going to do, what you're capable of doing and not what everybody else is doing.'

Now McSwain has moved in among the top sprinters in Cougar history. After running a time of 10.19 seconds to win the Mt. SAC Relays men's University/Open 100m dash April 17, McSwain can lay claim to running the second-fastest non-wind-aided time in Cougar men's history. His time is behind Anson Henry's time of 10.17, run at the 2002 Mt. SAC Relays, and tied with Augustin Olobia's 1991 time of 10.19 run in Eugene. In WSU all-time records, including wind-aided marks, McSwain's 10.19 mark is tied for fourth-fastest and he has had the joy of training with all of the sprinters ahead of him on the list.

Henry and Anthony Buchanan, both All-Americans and Pac-10 Champions, certainly turned heads when the sprinters from the northern - read as not warm weather - school found success in the dashes in the Conference of Champions.

'They both gave a lot to me as far as knowledge and telling me about their experiences,' McSwain remembers. 'Those guys are in the WSU history books where I want to be. They were definitely fast, as I want to be. I try to tell the same things that were told to me to Jarrell (Nelson) and Jaycee (Robertson). If they have problems like I've had then I can advise them as far as injuries or with a form and technique. I try to help them out as much as I can.'

Will he encourage his sons to pursue running? McSwain laughs as he answers.

'They're going to do something. Pri is pretty tough. He's strong but I think of him as more of a football player. Q, there's no telling with that guy. He can throw a football pretty well. His hands are pretty small but he can throw a football. I've been more of a football guy, the 49ers is my favorite team, but I really like North Carolina basketball.'

As for what the future holds, McSwain is certain about his academic goal and closer to his athletics goal.

'I definitely will come out of here with a degree in MIS,' McSwain said. 'We've held the Pac-10 100m title for the past three years and I want to be the next 100m champ. I'm having my best season so far. I guess I'll just have to wait until it actually happens.'

McSwain has several locations in mind for after graduation saying he 'loves Hawaii, loves Las Vegas, loves California,' and wants to end up someplace warm and beautiful. Cougar fans are planning on him making a few stops on the winners' stand at the Pac-10 Championships first.

Now on Pac-12 Network
8:00 AM PT

Airing on:

  • Pac-12 Network