Tuesday, September 20, 2016

V.1 #44 Olympian D'Andre Hill - the Fastest Woman Ever Born in Cincinnati

D’Andre (DeeDee) Hill is arguably the fastest woman ever born in Cincinnati.  She is the sixth and final local athlete to make a 20th century USA Olympic Track and Field team.  D’Andre ran at Mt. Healthy High School with great success under coach Ken Berry.  She twice won the 100-meter Ohio State Championship and the 200 once.  Her 1990 mark of 11.77 led all high school juniors nationally.  Her 200-meter time of 24.25 was fourth among high school juniors and it ranked 10th nationally among all classes. Unfortunately, an injury during her senior season prevented her from adding to that total. 

After graduating from high school, her talents headed south to Baton Rouge where she became a member of the powerhouse sprint team of Louisiana State University. Her studies concentrated on kinesiology.  Starting in 1987, their women’s squad won eleven consecutive outdoor NCAA track and field championships.  DeeDee was to become an important contributor to that streak.

She did not compete during her freshman year.  However, as a sophomore she was a valuable component to a team loaded with seasoned stars. She earned five All-American honors that year. Three were gained at the outdoor NCAA Championships (400-meter relay, 100 and 200) and two came indoors (55 and 200).  Once the collegiate season ended, she tested herself against older athletes in the outdoor National Track and Field Championships. D’Andre made the 100-meter dash finals and placed 7th overall.  However, it was during her junior year with the Lady Tigers that her abilities prominently came to the fore.

Lady Tiger

Now she was the headliner.  She was the relay team anchor, not the recipient of the first handoff.  Her responsibility was to bring home a victory, which she did quite often that season. At the Penn Relays both the 400 and 800-meter relay foursomes, anchored by D’Andre, led the way before huge crowds. To cap the season, the 4x100 unit won both the Southeastern Conference and NCAA Championships that year.  Individual 100 crowns came at the SEC and NCAA championships. She was named the SEC’s Outstanding Female Track Athlete for the outdoor season and once again was on five All-American listings.

She had proven her capabilities against other collegiate sprinters.  How would she fare against the pro athletes?  In 1995 the World Track and Field Championships were to be hosted by Sweden in Gothenburg.  DeeDee went to the USA National Championships to see if she could make the team. Welcome to the major leagues.  Gail Devers (reigning Olympic 100 gold medalist), Gwen Torrence (4th at the 1992 Games), Carlette Guidry, Celena Mondie-Milner, Chryste Gaines and others were there to prevent her from booking passage on the European trip.

D’Andre finished fourth, which earned her a spot on the 400-meter relay squad.  In Gothenburg she anchored the team during the semi-final heat that they won.  Once having qualified for the finals, the coach replaced her with the veteran Torrence where the team again placed first.  Because she was a member of a heat foursome, DeeDee also received a gold medal.

1995 was to be only a prelude to 1996.  The Olympic Games were returning to the United States in Atlanta.  The quadrennial Games are the highlight of any track athlete’s career.  While competing for her school, she once again earned five All-American honors and claimed the short sprint titles that were indoors and outdoors.  She received the 1996 Honda Award, which is given annually to the NCAA Women’s Track and Field Athlete of the Year.

At the outdoor NCAA Championship Meet she won with a personal best time of 11.03.  For female sprinters, 11.00 is a magic mark much like 4:00 is to milers.  To dip below that time is to enter rarified territory. Two weeks after the collegiate championships concluded, the Olympic Trials were to begin in mid-June in Atlanta.

The recently constructed Centennial Stadium was undergoing a test run during the Trials.  You can visit Stockholm (1912), Berlin (1936), and Helsinki (1952) and see the Olympic stadiums, which are still operational.  Atlanta was different.  That arena was only used three times for track and field – the Olympic Trials, the Olympic Games, and the Para-Olympic Games. Afterwards, it was reconfigured for baseball and renamed Turner Field.

Centennial >Turner Field

Atlanta in June can be sweltering hot and in 1996 the thermometer was ready to explode.  Since the stands were not filled, spectators moved under the upper deck overhangs to seek shade.  While it may have been uncomfortable for those of us viewing the on field action, four years of living in Baton Rouge, Louisiana must have been the perfect preparation for D’Andre.

Lower right - A piece of the Atlanta track

Distance runners probably feel that sprinters have it easy.  Go hard for a few scant seconds and you are finished. They are wrong.  A body going at full speed withstands an intense pounding.  In the Olympic Trials one must do this four times if they are to qualify for the USA Team.  DeeDee, entering the competition, had a best time of 11.03.  All the big named athletes from the year before were returning.  Then she was fourth.  Could she nudge up that placing?

34 of America’s finest female sprinters had qualified for the Trials with the same objective. The first round heats began on June 14. D’Andre was in the first of four sections. The top four from each race, plus the next eight with the fastest times, were to advance to the quarterfinal round, which was to be held later that same day.  DeeDee placed third behind Gail Devers and Chryste Gaines, but her time was 11.00 flat.  This was an all-time best for her and encouragingly it was run into a slight headwind. The next step was to come later that day when three more quarterfinal rounds were to be contested.  The top five from each race plus the next one fastest person were to advance to the third round.

Gwen Torrence won her second race of the day in the first quarterfinal event.  D’Andre was in the second section.  When the gun sounded, the air was still.  DeeDee won over Inger Miller, Carlette Guidry, and her former LSU teammate, Zundra Feagin.  And, her time was 10.99.  Finally, a sub 11.00 century was achieved.  Gail Devers prevailed in the third quarterfinal race.

D'Andre at the Olympic Trials

The semifinals were scheduled for the next day.  Only two races remained for anyone making the team.  The top four from each semifinal section would advance to the finals, which were set for later that same day.  Mere fractions of a second would separate those who would advance to the finals and those who would disconsolately watch from the stands.  Because of the punishment to the tendons, muscles, and ligaments, accomplished and veteran sprinters tend to ease up near the end of an early round race in order to mitigate damage to the body.  This had not been DeeDee’s luxury.  She was going to do whatever was needed to continue advancing. It required setting personal records in each of the first two rounds.  She was coming off of a long collegiate season.  Would her body hold up to the strain?

Hill was in the first of the two semifinal races.  Nearby, also settling into her starting blocks, was the defending Olympic champion, Gail Devers.  As they uncoiled out of the blocks, there was a very slight aiding tailwind, well within the allowable parameter of 2.0 meters per second.  For an unbelievable third instance D’Andre set another personal record performance.  Now it was lowered to 10.97 as she won and barely nipped Gail Devers.  Gwen Torrence prevailed in the second semifinal bout as she handily won her third consecutive race.  In a couple of hours DeeDee would know whether or not she could call herself an Olympian.

The final eight had speed to spare.  Many had reputations, which warranted them shoe contracts.  DeeDee was the only collegiate in the field.  Obviously she knew that she was running well.  However, she did not know if it was fuel or fumes that remained in the tank after her hard three efforts.  They were called to the line. Moments after the starter’s pistol broke the silence in the stadium the electronic scoreboard showed that five of the eight sprinters had shattered 11 seconds.  Gwen Torrence won her fourth race in two days.  Her time was 10.82.  Gail Devers was runner-up, and only one-hundredth of a second behind her, in the third and final qualifying position, was the young lady from Cincinnati.  Her time of 10.92 was once again another PR.  She now was a member of one of the toughest teams to qualify for, both as a 100-meter dash sprinter and presumably also as a 400-meter relay runner.

Olympic Opening Ceremony

As the Games began, D’Andre successfully made it through the first two rounds.  Now she lined up for her semifinal section.  The first four qualified for the finals and unfortunately DeeDee’s position was sixth.  In none of her three Olympic races did she break 11.00.  Some have speculated that perhaps the long season (as a collegiate she was racing in January and the pros, who were fresher, only began racing in late Spring or early Summer) contributed to her demise.  Whatever the reason, Hill was on the sidelines watching Dever’s defend her gold medal and seeing Torrence get the bronze.  Now it was time to regroup and prepare for the 400-meter relay.

D'Andre at the Olympic Games

Countries need to submit to meet officials the names of the pool of runners that they will use to draw from for their relay teams.  The USA historically has used the first three 100 finishers from the Trials plus another sprinter or hurdler. The additional names, beyond those four, are necessary in the event someone becomes injured, ill or runs in the qualifying round to give someone a rest.  Atypically, D’Andre was omitted from the relay squad, even though she placed third at the Trials.  Politics comes to mind as a possible explanation.  The USA female 400-meter relay team was almost guaranteed a gold medal as long as they got the baton around the track without dropping it.  Money and fame is associated with being a gold medalist.  The other sprinters, including those individuals that DeeDee defeated at the Trials, were pros and had agents looking out for their self-interests.  Hill was the only college runner in the pool.

The official explanation by the coach was that they felt that D’Andre was a more accomplished straightaway sprinter and Devers and Torrence had already laid claim to the 2nd and 4th legs of the team which are primarily run on the back and home stretches of the track.  The selected leadoff and 3rd leg runners, which are contested on the bends, were considered by the coaches to be better curve runners than DeeDee.  The coach may also have felt that DeeDee’s peak was past and her performances were beginning to plummet.  Whatever the true reason, it was difficult for her to watch athletes that she had defeated at the Trials receive the golden opportunity that she was denied for a medal at the Games.

She ran professionally from 1997-2001 without ever ranking among the nation’s top ten.  Dayton University, Texas Christian University, and Vanderbilt University have been universities where she has coached since retiring from sprinting.

D'Andre at the 2011 Local Hall of Fame Induction

Thursday, September 1, 2016

V.1. #43 Julie Isphording – 1984 Olympic Marathoner

An argument could be made that the 1984 USA Women’s Olympic Trials marathon race was one of the most significant American female events ever. This crossroad’s occurrence marked the demarcation of female participation in our country in the sport of running. It wasn’t until 1984 that a women’s marathon was first permitted in the Olympics. The International Olympic Committee (IOC), a ‘good old boys club’ at the ultimate level, previously felt that women were physically incapable of handling the rigors of races of this distance. Through 1980, the longest contested female event was the 1500 meters. However, a variety of factors had coalesced to enable the woman’s marathon to now be added to the Olympic stage.

Newspaper headline of first women's Olympic marathon trials

Every four years some discussions arise as to how the American Olympic track and field teams are selected. The US has what can be a very brutal and cruel system. On the day of the Trials, the top three finishers in each event, if they have met the Olympic standard, make the team. No politics or intrigue is involved. Only the participants, on the track, field, or road, decide our team.

If another selection system was used, as most other countries employ, it’s doubtful that Julie Isphording would have been picked. Outside of the immediate Greater Cincinnati area, relatively few people were aware of this young lady’s potential and capabilities. Many others, starting with Joan Benoit, were much better known and seemingly had superior credentials.  However, on May 12, 1984, the second Saturday of the month, in the appropriately named capital city of Washington, Olympia, two Cincinnatians, Karen Doppes Cosgrove and the 22-year old Julie Isphording, waited, with 236 other women, for the starter’s signal to release them on their way. Each of them had met the required time standard of 2:51:16 or better. Before three and a half hours had passed, when the last person crossed the finish line, 195 of them could say that they had completed this historical race.  This contest was important because many individuals feel that it sparked the women’s running boom of the 1980s that has yet to abate.  Women saw and felt that, “Yes, they too could take to the roads just as men had been doing.”  It is typical now for more than half of road race fields, even the 2016 USA Olympic Track Team, to be composed of women.

How did Julie and her coach, Tom Grogan, confound the pundits and gain that coveted third position?  They assumed that Joan Benoit and Julie Brown, if they ran to their capabilities, would take the first two spots.  After examining the rest of the field, they developed a plan to try to run an even paced 2:30 (slightly faster than 5:45 per mile).  If they could do that, they felt that the remaining third Olympic position could be had.  Fortunately, two other highly regarded runners, Julie Shea and Betty Jo Springs Geiger, who were accustomed to running faster over shorter distances, committed the cardinal sin of marathoners. They went out too fast too early and they suffered as a result.  Each recorded a DNF (did not finish) behind their name on the official results. 

Julie approaching the finish line as she about to make the Olympic team.

Because of her more conservative approach, Julie was only in the 23rd position at mile ten.  A crowd was gathered at the Running Spot in O’Bryonville to watch the televised broadcast of the competition.  For a long time we heard no mention of either Julie or Karen.  Then, well past the 20-mile mark, Julie’s name first came into play.  A cheer erupted from our contingent.  Steadily, she glided past others to ultimately place third.  Indeed, the probable leaders occupied the first two positions.  Joan Benoit (Samuelson) won the race with a time of 2:31:04.  Later that summer she would add the Olympic crown. Julie Brown was second (2:31:41) and Julie Isphording claimed third (2:32:26).  This trio formed the first women’s Olympic marathon team in U.S. history. Karen finished 29th with a time of 2:39:35.

Julie with her parents in Olympia

On the return flight from Washington a huge throng of well- wishers congregated at the airport to congratulate both Karen and Julie. Celebrations of Julie’s achievement continued. Her celebrity grew to the point that it interfered with her preparation for the upcoming Olympics. Prophetically she said at the time, “I don’t have a handle on the full thing yet.  But I think my life is going to change.”
A beaming Julie as she leaves the airplane
Julie and Karen being congratulated
Jan Boylan, Victor Roth,  Jim and Sheila Boland in the crowd
Dennis Jansen interviewing Julie
Karen with her son Ben
Suzanne Crable welcoming Karen
Unfortunately, the immediate sequel to her race in Olympia did not go well.  She developed tendonitis in her right foot, which limited her training during the final month prior to the Games.  Grogan contacted experts throughout the country for advice. There was consideration of getting a cortisone injection but that also entailed a risk of creating a more serious situation where Julie would be unable to run at all.  After a thorough examination of all the alternatives, they decided to forego any shots and hoped that Julie could complete the race. Unfortunately, at mile 11 in Los Angeles the plantar fasciitis injury forced her to drop out.  Of course this was a great disappointment, but still, qualifying for the team was quite an achievement.  Let’s view some of the circumstances that led to her making the team in the first place.
The 1984 USA Women's Olympic Team
When Julie was born, no American female had officially participated in a marathon. It wasn’t until 1967 that Kathrine Switzer first entered and finished Boston.  Meanwhile, Julie’s sporting activities, while living in the Cincinnati suburb of Mt. Lookout, centered on swimming and playing tennis.  She was good enough to be a top player for her high school team, Ursuline Academy.
Normally, when someone of her ability appears on the national stage one assumes that she emerged through the high school and college channels of cross-country and track and field. Julie’s introduction to running differed from the norm.  By the late 1970s road races were popping up everywhere and Julie followed this path exclusively. Running was also a means to get in shape for tennis.

An older friend of hers, Pete Wilton, was very enthusiastic about the sport and he introduced Julie to the local running scene. He was very helpful during the first few years of her running career. He would bring her to races and to Clifton Track Club meetings. 

Pete Wilton, friend of Julie

After only a few short weeks of running, she entered the April 29, 1979 Springer Sprint, a 5.5 mile race, which encircled the Lunken Airport and Playfield. Pam Schroth, who was in the 20-29 division, finished 15 seconds ahead of the 17-year old Julie Isphording, who was wearing her Lacoste shirt and cotton shorts. This would be the last time Pam would ever place in front of her.  The third place woman trailed by over three minutes.

In a later interview Julie said, “I've always saved that trophy because it was the trophy of a running man — they didn't even have women trophies — and because I was so darned proud of myself.”  The next time she came into Phidippides, a running specialty store, Bob Roncker advised her to exchange her old pair of $8.95 orange and yellow Pony discount shoes for a better model.

Julie in the first Springer Sprint at Lunken wearing her Lacoste shirt, cotton shorts, and orange and yellow Pony shoes

In June the Diet Pepsi, 10,000 Meter Series arrived in Cincinnati.  Bill Rodgers was the headliner for Pepsi.  This was a much larger race and the competition among the women was more intense; Julie placed 10th.  Almost three and a half minutes ahead of her, in second place, was the 23-year old Karen Doppes Cosgrove.  During the upcoming years, the Queen City had these two gifted young women spurring each other to attain high levels of achievement. 

Julie kept feeding the voracious ‘running bug’ by attending races on a regular basis.  Dick Morath of Kroger’s was the force behind that year’s inaugural November 10k Esprit Yogurt Run.  1,193 runners crowded the street in front of the Montgomery Shopping Center.  

Start of first Esprit race.  Now we know the secret to Lee Hildebrant's racing success.

Karen, who work for and represented the Athlete’s Foot, won and Julie, now employed part time at Phidippides, was third. However, now the margin between the two of them was just shy of one minute.

Photo of Julie in the result program of the first Esprit 10k

Short note by Julie to her friend, Pete Wilton

The first big local event of the 1980 road racing season was the 15k Heart Mini-Marathon 3.  Karen and Julie went 1-2 with Karen maintaining her superiority by finishing two and a half minutes ahead (55:37 to 58:04).  However, something much larger, which would have a profound impact on each of them, was taking place.

As mentioned earlier, no exclusively female marathon existed in the Olympics.  Kathrine Switzer, of Boston Marathon boyfriend bumping Jock Semple fame, now worked for the Avon cosmetic company.  Kathrine and the company had a plan and an agenda for getting the marathon included.  In order to show the International Olympic Committee members that female participation in distance events was worldwide and popular, they created during the late 1970s and early 80’s a circuit of events called the Avon International Racing Circuit.  This was a series of women’s only races with events in 25 countries on five continents.

On April 13, 1980 the series visited Cincinnati.  A 15k race occurred in Springdale near the Avon headquarters.  For Cincinnati, this race was a big deal. Top runners arrived from out of town. Clifton Track Club members assisted with the organization of the race.  A helicopter flew overhead. During the race, the press truck maintained itself a short distance in front of the lead runners so photographers and reporters could get all the material that they needed.  Their close proximity came at the chagrin of one of the top female racers who publicly got the ‘runner’s trots’ (neither Julie or Karen). Karen tied for second and Julie placed fourth, however the margin between them was 1:15, much less than what they differed only three weeks earlier at the same distance in the Heart Mini. 

Julie returned to the scene of her first race. Her second Springer Sprint, only thirteen months removed from when she began running, was almost five minutes faster than the year before. She was 16th overall and the first female finisher. 

At the 5k Memorial Day Run, which began in Mt. Storm Park in Clifton, both Julie and Karen broke the old course record; Julie trailed Karen by only 9 seconds.  Later in June, at the Pepsi Series Race, Julie improve 4:30 from the previous year and for the initial time she placed ahead of Karen, if only by the margin of 33 seconds.

Julie and Karen after the race

Memorial Day Race Results

At this time Julie began working and training with Karen, who was the manager, at the Athlete’s Foot sports store that was located on Hyde Park Square.  Their training together proved mutually beneficial as they tied for first at the 10k Esprit Yogurt Run in a course record performance of 35:12.4.  

Photo in the second year result program.  In one year she went from eating yogurt to holding hands in first place.

That Thanksgiving Day Julie won the first of her eight Turkey Day races.  Over the long history of the event no one has won it as many times as she.

After graduating from Ursuline Academy, she enrolled at Xavier University, where her father Don was the bursar.  Xavier had neither a cross-country nor a track and field team for women at the time.  With the help of Pete Wilton and the Musketeer Club, an arrangement was made with the University where she would wear a Xavier uniform at all the 1981 races, which she entered, in exchange for a stipend for travel expenses.

Meanwhile, the efforts by Avon were succeeding. In 1981 a nine-member group of the IOC voted 8-1 to add the women’s marathon to the 1984 running schedule.  Russia cast the dissenting vote.  Women now had an Olympic marathon to strive for.  In an article in the May/June 1981 issue of the Ohio Runner magazine Julie stated that her long-range goal was to make the 1984 Olympic team in the marathon. This ambition, after only two years of running, speaks to her determination and drive.
Tom Grogan was a local marathoner and coach. On weekends he usually led a group 20-mile park run that linked Eden, Ault, and Alms Parks. Julie started to meet up with them. As he became more aware of her, he recognized her abundant talent, willingness to train hard, and erratic excessive racing schedule.  On a whim she entered her first marathon (Columbus) and ran 2:47 for second place (behind Karen). To quote Tom, “And she did it with no training schedule, no intervals, no nothing.”  He says witnessing this talent drove him and other members of his group nuts.
Tom Grogan

Success after success followed.  She qualified for the August 1981 Avon Ottawa Marathon. This was a major women’s only marathon. At this point, based on a suggestion by Tom Hock, she asked Grogan to help coach her.  They had only nine weeks to prepare for Ottawa and prepare they did!  She placed third behind runner-up Joan Benoit. Her time of 2:38:26 was a world record for a teenager.  

Julie (2nd from left) after the Ottawa Marathon.  Joan Benoit is immediately to her left and Kathrine Switzer is on her far left.

It was during this period that they developed an extended plan with the intent of possibly making the 1984 Marathon Olympic Team.  She accelerated her undergraduate accounting studies to allow her to graduate from XU in three years, in 1983, in order to allow her to train and prepare full time for the 1984 Olympic Trials and Games.

Tom Grogan now serving as the coach for Julie

By this time Julie was traveling and running throughout the country and in some cases going overseas.  However, before entering the Trials, she had to get a qualifying time.  Both she and Karen entered the October 16,1983 Columbus Marathon.  Karen finished slightly ahead of Julie for the first time in quite a while. Cosgrove’s time of 2:39:32 placed her second in the race, as she became the initial local female qualifier for the Marathon Olympic Trials.  Julie followed closely in 2:39:56.  With her qualification secure, she was off to Orlando, Florida and the home of a friend, Judy Greer. For ten weeks she escaped the harsh Ohio winter and secured a good training base of 100+ miles per week for the Trials, which loomed only six months away.

After the 1984 Olympics, while periodically injured, Julie continued racing at a high level.  She participated in the 1988 and 1992 Olympic Trials. Among her honors were winning the Columbus Marathon twice and the 1990 Los Angeles Marathon, after recovering from back surgery. She was selected to represent the USA in the 1986 Goodwill Games in Moscow by running the marathon.

Since retiring from racing, her professional career path has included a wide variety of venues showcasing her talents.  She was a sports reporter for Channel 9 and served as a hostess for a radio talk show on WVXU, which she started, that centered on running and other fitness activities. 
She was a marketing VP for Huntington Bank and has authored three books.  Her monthly column in the Hyde Park Living magazine offers lifestyle healthy tips.  P&G, Western Southern Insurance, and the Barrett Cancer Center are organizations that she has consulted with.  Currently she is director of the Thanksgiving Day Race.
Her Personal Bests are:
10,000 – 34:40.02 (1985)
Marathon – 2-30:54 (1989)