Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Angelo Taylor Wins 400-meter Hurdles Gold in Beijing

Angelo Taylor takes GOLD in BeijingThe fleet footed high-stepping Angelo Taylor was nurtured just outside Atlanta in Decatur as a star athlete at Southwest DeKalb High School and later in downtown Atlanta on the campus of Georgia Tech. After competing in the 2000 Olympic games, poor decisions made Taylor a pariah in his sport, often with him being forbidden from track meets.

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution provides riveting insight into the long road that Angelo Taylor has had to travel from being an Olympian in 2000 to his return to gold in Beijing:

The alarm would go off at 4. The work would start at 5. The alarm used to trigger the athlete's training day. Now it was talking to an electrician: "Get up. You need the money. You lost your Nike deal. Get up. Now."

"I did mostly low-voltage stuff," Angelo Taylor said. "Up and down the ladder. We did the new dorms at Georgia Tech."

Did they know him? How often would somebody walk by at Tech, Taylor's [alma mater], and never realize the guy on the ladder doing the low-voltage work used to be a world-class athlete?

How many times did somebody walk by the parked Honda ... behind Turner Field in the early afternoon and see a man asleep in the car? A coach would arrive at 2 p.m. and bang on the window so the man would wake up. Another alarm. "Get up. You're not that fast anymore. You're not that young anymore. Do you really want to go back to the Olympics? Get up. Now."

The alarm went off in Angelo Taylor's head.

He is up now. Against a backdrop of physical, emotional and legal problems, the two-time gold medalist from Southwest DeKalb High made his third Olympic team in the 400-meter hurdles.

He is 29 years old. Of the other 25 athletes in the 400, 21 are younger than Taylor.

It wasn't that long ago when he was the young one —- 21 and four years out of high school, he won two gold medals in Sydney. He won the 400 hurdles and ran a prelim for the 1,600 relay team. U.S. track officials named him winner of the Jesse Owens Award as the sport's outstanding athlete.

Taylor made the Olympic team again in 2004. But soon after, his career deteriorated and his life went with it. Hurdles, the literal and figurative kind, nearly destroyed him. He had stress fractures in his shins. Doctors suggested surgery but Taylor passed, opting to take a year off.

Other damage was self-inflicted. In 2005, Taylor was arrested for having sex with a minor. He eventually pleaded guilty in 2006 to contributing to the delinquency of two underage girls and was sentenced to three years probation and fined.

"Sometimes in life you have your ups and downs," Taylor said. "In my life, I've always had to go down that rocky road. But I've tried to stay positive."

At some point, he realized he needed to grow up. He felt he needed to be a better example for his twin sons, Xavier and Isaiah, now 3. He knew he wanted to get back to the Olympics. He met with a coach, former Nigerian sprinter Innocent Egbunike. The two formed a partnership. Taylor became more spiritual. He worked in the morning and trained in the afternoon.

But these things never start out well.

"He was out of shape," Egbunike said. "To be honest, he would throw up a lot and lie flat on the ground. But when I would say, 'Let's stop right here,' he would say, 'No, I'm going to continue.' And he would still be throwing up. He struggled, but he did it. He had a vision."

Taylor was asked what he considered the low moment. Easy answer.

"It would be [getting up at] 4 in the morning and going to work," he said. "I was like, 'I can't do this.' But I kept praying, asking the Lord to please just give me another chance. I never thought I would make it this far."

It took a while. Promoters wouldn't let him into meets, mostly because he hadn't been competing. The sport seemed to turn its back on him.

"It embarrassed me at first," Taylor said.

He left the electrician job in early 2007 to devote more time to track. His times dropped. Remarkably, he finished third in the trials with a time of 48.42 to make the team.

Don't trust the time? Taylor wears a bracelet that reads, "Test me. I'm clean." He's an advocate of cleaning up the sport. Unfortunately, it's too late to save one of his golds. Antonio Pettigrew, a teammate in the Sydney relay, admitted using EPO and HGH. The IOC has stripped the team.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Angelo Taylor stood in the light in the Bird’s Nest stadium in Beijing on Monday, the rays dancing off his trademark sunglasses and the twinkling studs in each ear.

Taylor had just won the 400 meter hurdles, needing a tick less than 48 seconds to become the first Atlanta resident to win a gold at this year’s Summer Games.

“I feel so blessed,” said Taylor, a graduate of Southwest DeKalb High and former Georgia Tech student.

Teammates Kerron Clement and Bershawn Jackson took silver and bronze for a U.S. men’s sweep of the event.

While there had been talk of the U.S. team taking all three medals, Taylor coming out on top might seem unscripted.

At 29, Taylor is older than nearly everyone he competed against, but the years didn’t hold him back. Starting in Lane 6, he sliced through the air like a bullet Monday night, taking an early lead to finish in a personal-best 47.25 seconds.

“I was so happy, I had to throw my hands up in the air in the end,” said Taylor, the first 400-meter hurdler since Edwin Moses to take gold medals eight years apart. “It was just a great race.”

Back home, former Southwest DeKalb track coach Napolean Cobb was thrilled at the news.

“Knowing how well he competes when it’s on the line, I’m not surprised he won,” Cobb said.

The school sent Taylor and fellow alum Terrence Trammell off to Beijing with a rally (Trammell won’t compete, it turns out, due to a hamstring strain).

If Taylor felt trepidation about his comeback, it hasn’t shown lately. A heat race went so well the other day he said it felt like practice.

“When I’m at practice I’m by myself,” he explained. “I got out well. I looked back and didn’t see anybody.”

For once, it felt good to be alone. Taylor repeatedly has been answering questions about the legal problems that isolated him from his sport (for a while, he couldn’t even get into meets). He pleaded guilty in 2006 to contributing to the delinquency of two underage girls, drawing a fine and three years’ probation.

“Any mistakes I made, I put the blame on me,” he said recently.

Monday night was all about celebrating and looking forward, his troubled past hopefully left behind. He says he looks forward to hugging his 3-year-old twins and giving back to his community.

Read the AJC articles about Angelo Taylor's quest for Beijing gold here and here.

plez sez: taylor has certainly gained redemption and exorcised the demons that plagued him for the past 4 years. and he certainly represented Atlanta, DeKalb County, plezWorld, Southwest DeKalb High School, and Georgia Tech on the world's stage.


Angelo Taylor takes GOLD in Beijing

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