RECENT MONTHS HAVE FEATURED a steady drumbeat of announcements of major athletes moving to LA to work with noted coach Bobby Kersee, who had already been training Sydney McLaughlin-Levrone and her brother, 48.85 hurdler Taylor McLaughlin, among others.
Athing Mu is now working out alongside the 400H World Record holder, as is the AR holder in the 100H, Keni Harrison, plus Jenna Prandini and Brandon Miller.
Says Kersee, “I’ve not had a group like this since 1984, to be honest. I’ve got my older group actually discussing right now, probably as we speak, which group is better, the ’84 group or this group [laughs].
“They’re all good-character people. They love the sport, they want to compete in the sport. They’re looking to make USA track & field teams, get onto the international stage, win medals and hopefully get on top of the podium. That’s what I see in this group.
“They have a similarity in terms of competition and competing, but they also got the respect of one another to be able to go to their separate corners and get their work done and divide my time between them with no animosity and no jealousy.”
With the promotion of the upcoming LA Grand Prix, Kersee acknowledges that fans love to see the stars compete. But in ’22, their chances to see McLaughlin-Levrone — only 4 finals in her specialty — were limited.
Explains Kersee, “We were in a pandemic. So every time we moved and every time we’re going somewhere, there’s a fear of getting sick, dealing with the traveling and the restrictions and what have you. If it wasn’t that, we would have competed a little more and I would adjust the training around that.
“Having the experience of coaching over the years and getting athletes prepared, to use a boxing analogy, I’m not going to use heavyweight sparring partners every week leading up to a championship either. There’s some things that need to be done in the gym to get them trained and ready for the championship.
“I’m with you more, and the fans. I would like to see Sydney compete more, and Sydney wants to compete more.”
He says the pandemic forced him to design their training around multiple obstacles: “We had to go back and forth. One day UCLA was open and the next it was closed. We had to go to Arizona, we had to train on grass, we had to train in Santa Monica. I had to design a program that was less about traveling and competition and more about preparation for competition. That was the switch.
“This year, it’s going to be totally different. We’re going to probably be doing more if the situation remains the same or keeps getting better in terms of coming out of the pandemic.”
Ostensibly, that may mean we also see more of Mu this season. In ’22, under her previous coach, she too competed at her specialty in just 4 finals.
Kersee addresses the likelihood of seeing the reigning world/Olympic champ run more 400s, an event where she holds the Collegiate Record of 49.57, by saying, “The 400 and the 1500 are part of her training, so she’s going to have to see how good she is in the 400, she’s going to have to see how good she is in the 1500. That’s how I’m going to balance it. She’s gonna get her ass on the track and she’s gonna run both.”
As for Sydney and her much-talked-about move to the flat 400, Kersee says, “She’ll run 400s this year if she’s healthy. She’s already qualified [for Worlds] in the 400H, as well as Athing [in the 800]. As a coach that gives me the luxury of knowing that they’re already in the event that they’re capable of dominating. It allows us to go ahead and look at other meets and opportunities, in Sydney’s case to run the 4, or I might even have her in a 4×1 at Mt. SAC prior to our meet on May 27.
“The luxury that I have is that we already have the bye, so now I can use my full coaching repertoire in terms of getting them prepared for the World Championships, which is our toughest meet. Neither one of them has to go to the national championship and have to qualify. Next year, for the Olympics it’s a different story, but for this year, this is really great, because now it gives me another full year working with them, knowing I can really coach them and see what’s working and how it’s working.”
Should McLaughlin-Levrone have the 400 season that her fans want to see, it may raise the possibility of a 400/400H double at the ’24 Olympics. The current Paris schedule, however, has the two events intertwined, meaning 6-straight days of racing, and 7 if she runs the 4×4 final. Would Kersee lobby for a tweak to the Paris schedule?
“They changed the schedule for Michael [Johnson] in ’96 because they thought that, ‘Hey, that’s a better ticket.’ So it’s not Bobby or Sydney begging for a seat at the banquet table. They should realize that — USATF, World Athletics, the Olympic Games, NBC — they should realize, ‘Hey, we have a good product here, how do we package this so the public can see the most?’ They’re the ones that have the ability.”
He adds, “We keep that amateur belief part of us in terms of track & field, but it’s a professional sport with good professional athletes, and fans want to know that Sydney is going to be there, that Athing is going to be there, that they’re shooting for something.
“You know, I have no problem letting the people know that we’re going after the 400 World Record, and we’re trying to take it down as low as possible. I believe that it could be done.”