News10 Aug 2005

Madison boxes her way to gold


Tianna Madison of the US celebrates winning the Long Jump final (© Getty Images)

Helsinki, FinlandElyria, a small town in Ohio, is famous for a couple of innovations which have benefitted mankind: the padded bicycle seat and the coloured golf ball. The manufacturing town, population 56,000, is also the worldwide headquarters of the Ridge Tool Company, famous across America for producing the quaintly-named Rigid Tool Calender which "discovered" Raquel Welch.

Junior discovery

But now there is is another discovery, surely destined to become its most famous daughter: Tianna Madison, winner of the long jump at the World Athletics Championships in Helsinki.

Just 19, she beat the Olympic bronze medallist Tatyana Kotova, and defending champion Eunice Barber, with a distance of 6.89 metres. True, it was the shortest winning distance in the history of the championships, but the prevailing conditions were also the worst ever experienced. Madison can count herself a worthy champion, rising to the challenge with what was the last of three personal bests which she required on her way to the top step of the podium.

The only senior contest she had won before setting foot in Finland was the US collegeiate crown. Her winning distance, 6.89 metres, was a lifetime best. So was her qualifying round of 6.83m, and that was an improvement, by one centimetre, on what she did to take second in the US trials.

Owens, a club member

She surprised most watchers, but surely not those acquainted with a statistic from her home state where she is part of an elite club, whose three-person membership includes Jesse Owens, regarded by many as the finest athlete ever.

She was the Ohio High School girls' track and field athlete of the year in 2003. She had nine career state championships, including seven in individual events, and became only the third athlete in the history of her state championship to win four titles in successive years. The first was Owens, in 1932 and '34.

College or the money?

Victory presents her with a dilemma. If she takes the $60,000 prize, she will lose her eligibility at the University of Tennessee, where she is studying social work. "I'm around a lot of professional athletes," she said, acknowledging she realised the implications. Would she take the money? "I just don't know," she said. "It's not sunk in, I'm so excited. I don't know if I would give up college for prize money."

She says she wants an academic career as well as one in track and field. "Either way, I want to get my degree."

It is not simply a matter of $60,000. There are the fees she will command on the circuit, and she is articulate, personable, smart, and photogenic. Shoe companies pay well for such athletics billboards. Justin Gatlin, Olympic and world 100m champion, persuaded his equipment sponsors to guarantee his tuition fees as a condition of his deal with them. It would be surprising if Madison could not engineer that too, though she will have to do so on her own. A college athlete who signs with an agent immediately forfeits her scholarship.

Taught to box

Madison was an enthusiastic basketball and volleyball player, but was inspired into track and field by the last American to win the women's world long jump title, Jackie Joyner-Kersee, champion in 1987 and 1991. "I knew all about her."
She has two sisters who run. "The younger one broke her femur, but is the state's best hurdler," she says. Her mum is an assistant vice president in a bank, while her dad works in a local factory.

It was he who installed the missing component in her armoury. He taught her to box.

"My dad told me I was soft, because in high school I used to win a lot," she told American collegaue Dick Patrick. "He thought I'd lost my aggressive edge. He took me to the gym, and started to get me to punch the heavy bag, to create the aggression to fight."

Translating the aggression

She says she translates that to aggression on the runway, and that there is more to come: "I am still young . . . In the future, the sky is the only limit for me. I want to keep the title in the US for a long time. Everyone has to start somewhere."
Winning, she said, was "no surprise at all. I expected it. I dreamed about it. I prayed about it. I just didn't know which year."

But the aftermath of victory held one surprise for Tianna Madison. After one post-medal ceremony TV interview had been concluded, she seemed impressed by the interviewer's knowledge of her subject. She had no inkling that the TV presenter had previously held the title which she herself had now won. Yes, it was the 1983 winner, Heike Drechsler, still youngest field event champion as Heike Daute, in 1983, before Madison was born.
Doug Gillon of The Herald for the IAAF

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