Catching Up With Quincy Watts

By Kevin Danna

Standing on the podium in Barcelona, Watts couldn't help but reflect on what he had gone through to get to this point. Growing up in Detroit and moving to Los Angeles. Being raised by his father, who at the time was separated from Watts' mother. Coming to USC, only to be injured the first half of his collegiate career.  And then finally: winning a Pac-10 title, NCAA title, and ultimately, an Olympic gold medal.

"I looked back at how my dad was the one who was the reason for all my success because he taught me commitment, he taught me character, he taught me leadership, he taught me work ethic," Watts said. "I thought about my struggles at USC, my first couple of years, how frustrated I was. Then I thought about how I conquered those struggles.

"It was just a great, great time to reflect on all the ups and downs of life, and now here I am representing my country, and I'm about to receive a gold medal around my neck, which was my lifetime dream."

The London Olympics are right around the corner, giving thousands of athletes the opportunity to fulfill their lifelong dream of winning a gold medal. Twenty years ago, Quincy Watts was fast enough to do just that, taking home gold in the 400m and 4x400m relay at the 1992 Olympic Games in Barcelona.

But if you thought Watts would be an eventual medalist in those events a couple of years prior, you would have been one of the few. Watts was a sprinter in high school and was recruited to USC as such for the 100 and 200 meter dashes. During those first two years as a sprinter at USC, however, he was injured and didn't have the chance to compete.

Healthy and thirsting for competition at the beginning of his junior year, Watts decided to go out for the football team, a sport he hadn't played before. He played one year as a wide receiver for the storied Trojans' football program.

"I had never played football before and I was frustrated with my injuries of my first two years, so then I had decided, 'Hey, you know what? Maybe I ought to give football a try,'" Watts said. "USC's football team is so rich in tradition with the Rose Bowl and just success as a winning program, I just wanted to be a part of it. I just needed to be a part of something that had to do with winning. It was my first time trying it, but I loved it."

His junior year also meant something new on the track as well- the 400. Thanks to a rededication to training properly, Watts excelled in the lap around the track, winning the NCAA Championship in the event with a time of 44.00, a record time. Just a couple of months before the 1992 Olympics, winning the NCAA title gave Watts a lot of momentum going into Barcelona.

"That showed me that not only could I compete a collegiate level, but that showed me where I was on the world stage," Watts said. "I still had to make the US National Team, but at least it showed me that I was among the elite in the US and I had a great chance of making the Olympic team."

The night before the Olympic finals, Watts went for a light jog on the beach in Barcelona. There it hit him: he was going to be a gold medalist. His premonition came true, eventually winning the 400 with a new world record time of 43.50 in the finals, as well as posting a 43.10 in his leg of the 4x400 relay finals as part of the team that took home gold.  

"I remember going on a light run on the beach and just having a sense of serenity out there and at one point as I was jogging on the beach I realized that, 'You know what? I'm going to win tomorrow. It's mine,'" Watts said. "I just remembering being in a great, surreal place in Barcelona."

Perhaps he is almost as famous for what happened to him at the 1993 World Championships in Stuttgart, Germany. Watts was expected to challenge his relay teammates Michael Johnson and Butch Reynolds in the 400m individual final (he was part of the world champion 4x400m relay team that year), but there was one problem - there was this incessant flapping sound as he was running, and he couldn't figure out what it was until the race was more than half over.

Then he realized his shoe was coming apart. Despite a disintegrating pair of Nikes, Watts still finished fourth.

"When I tried the shoes on in warm-ups, I kept hearing this funny popping sound," Watts said. "I checked my spikes and everything was tight and nothing was loose. So then once the race started I realized 'Hm, after the first 100, I'm normally in better position and I'm not catching these guys, and not only am I not catching these guys, they're actually moving away from me!'

"And then all of a sudden I hear this flapping sound again, and I look down and I see my shoe opening and closing, flapping like a banana peel at the bottom. And I said, 'Oh my God, it's my shoe.' And at that point with about 140 meters to go, I just sucked it up and gave everything I had."

With his competition days over, Watts is now a coach, recently accepting a job as an assistant at Cal State Northridge under head coach Avery Anderson after spending the better part of a decade coaching at Harvard-Westlake High School in Los Angeles. He works primarily with the distance runners, but also helps out with conditioning with the sprinters.

"Being an Olympic gold medalist, people think you're fast and they have a lot of questions," Watts said. "I've always liked coaching; I've always liked helping out people."

Though Watts is still closely involved with the sport, don't expect him to go out and try to break a world record anymore.

"I promised myself that I was never going to see lactic acid again," Watts said, laughing. "I do a lot of walking, I try to eat healthy, but I told myself I will never see lactic acid again."

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