At the Night Of Legends celebration staged as part of the national governing body’s Annual Meeting, the 3 members of the Class of 2018 were inducted into the USATF Hall Of Fame: Dwight Phillips (modern athlete), Kathy Hammond (veteran athlete) & Bob Hersh (contributor). Said CEO Max Siegel, “Dwight, Bob and Kathy represent excellence in each of their respective pursuits, spanning decades in the sport. Their contributions have made an impact far beyond their competition days.”
USATF’s Hall Of Fame has 4 categories. Modern Athletes are eligible after they have been retired for 3 years. Veteran Athletes are eligible after being retired for 25 years. An athlete (or athletes) is inducted from each category every year. The Contributor and Coach categories alternate years. Meet this year’s 3 inductees:
Dwight Phillips—Modern Athlete
Phillips, the ’04 Olympic long jump gold medalist, also won 4 World Championships golds outdoors to go with 1 indoors. A 9-time T&FN World Ranker, he was 5 times No. 1 (’03, ’04, ’05, ’09 ’10).
Phillips didn’t originally see himself as a long jumper. He was recruited to Kentucky for his 400 skills (he has a PR of 46.80 from his frosh year) and the triple jump. Then-UK assistant Edrick Floréal told him he could be an Olympic champion if he focused on the long jump but Phillips demurred: “I said, ‘No disrespect, coach, but I’m a quarter horse. I run the 400. The jumping is cute, but I’m a 400 runner.’ ”
But after not making progress in the 1-lapper, he transferred to Arizona State, where coach Greg Kraft gave him an ultimatum. “He said I could jump or go home,” recounted Phillips. “Every day I dreaded going to practice, but I gave it all I had.” He won the Pac-10 title at 26-10 (8.18) that year. The following season, he was NCAA runner-up indoors and out, took 2nd in the Olympic Trials and placed 7th in the Olympics. “I found a new confidence,” he said. He added that his experience in Sydney shaped the rest of his career. “In 2000, I was immature. I was excited about seeing my teammates perform well and spent a lot of energy supporting everybody else instead of staying in my zone. It was a huge learning experience. I learned to put the focus on myself, and it paid off very well.”
In 2011, the year of his final WC gold, he lost every competition all year except for the one in Daegu. His tale: “I believed in myself so much, all the studying and technique that I had executed over and over and over again. To not have to rely on my athletic ability, but my knowledge of the sport, I was able to beat athletes who were far superior to me at the time. I would say that was probably the most memorable moment of my career.”
Phillips has been active with USATF’s Athletes Advisory committee and since his retirement from competition has started a company called The Winners Circle that offers training and other services to athletes.
Kathy Hammond—Veteran Athlete
Hammond, double Olympic medal winner in ’72, recalled that it wasn’t love at first sight with the event that made her famous, the 400: “My coach told me when I was going to turn 14 that I was going to run the 400. I ran one, and I go, ‘Oh, gosh, I’m never going to run this again.’ ” A year later, in ’67, she won her first national Senior title— the AAU Indoor 440—at age 15. That summer, while still a soph at Sacramento’s Mira Loma High, she placed 2nd outdoors in 52.6. She ended up ranked No. 5 in the world.
In ’68, with strong early season performances in both long sprints, Hammond decided to go for a double in Mexico City, but a hamstring injury hit just before nationals, where she was unable to finish the 400. “For a 16-year-old, that was pretty devastating to me,” she said. “Even to this day I think, oh gosh, I could have gone to Mexico at 16.”
The next year, healthy again as a high school senior, she won the AAU title outdoors and broke the American Record in the 400 twice, ranking No. 2 in the world.
In ’72 she won the AAU title and set another AR (51.8) in capturing the Olympic Trials. At the Munich Games she claimed bronze with an AR 51.64, breaking her own record of 51.92 from the heats. Then she anchored the U.S. 4×4 with a blazing 50.2, grabbing silver behind an East German World Record. “I had been a little disappointed in my time in the open 400 and I was just going all out,” she said. “I’ve always been a really good anchor leg making up distance. Once I get that baton I just go after the person that’s in front of me.”
Hammond, though she had hoped to qualify for the ’76 Olympics, was forced by financial constraints to leave the sport at age 21. In the course of her too-brief career at 400, she had World Ranked 5 times and set 5 American Records.
Hersh has been active for decades under a variety of hats. So many, in fact, that HOF trackwriter Jim Dunaway dubbed him “Hats Hersh.” A long-time T&FN correspondent (writing news, features and opinion pieces), the New Yorker became a track official after his time at Harvard Law School. He was chair of USATF’s Records Committee 1981–88, Rules Committee chair 1989–01, General Counsel 1989–97 and a member of the Board Of Directors 1981–15.
At the international level, Hersh was a member of the IAAF’s Technical Committee 1984–99 and an IAAF Council member 1999–15. In ’11 he was elected as senior VP—the only American ever with that standing in the international governing body. A legendary meet announcer as well, he was the voice of 6 Olympic Games and 9 World Championships, as well as many Nationals.
In the ’80s, Hersh—affectionately called “The Commish” by track insiders—designed the Mobil Indoor GP that brought order and prize money to the indoor circuit. The concept was a forerunner of the IAAF GP and the later Diamond League.
At age 78 Hersh is still among the sport’s most diehard fans. He has seen countless World Records and attended the last 50 NCAA Outdoors, and every IAAF World Championship indoors and out, along with every World and Continental Cup.
It all started innocently enough: “When I was 12 years old, a good friend suggested that I might like track & field, so my father took me to a track meet at Madison Square Garden, and I just went nuts. I couldn’t believe it. I really thought, ‘This is the greatest sport in the world.’ ” □