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Posted: June 7, 2009  : Add to Mixx! Subscribe to stories like this

Athletics: Richards, Merritt, Harper & Willard ready for Nike Prefontaine Classic

EUGENE, Ore. - 2008 Olympic women's 400m bronze medalist and 4x400m relay gold medalist Sanya Richards, two-time Olympic gold medalist LaShawn Merritt, Olympic 100m hurdles gold medalist Dawn Harper and 2008 Olympian Anna Willard on Saturday appeared at a press conference held in conjunction with Sunday's 2009 Nike Prefontaine Classic at historic Hayward Field on the campus of the University of Oregon in Eugene.

The fifth event of the 2009 USA Track & Field Outdoor Visa Championship Series, the Nike Prefontaine Classic will be televised live Sunday on NBC from 2:00-4:00 p.m. Eastern Time. Excerpts from this afternoon's press conference follow: Anna Willard:

On her success the last two years: I feel like every year I've built up a little bit on the last year. Last year, obviously, was a big step in making the Olympic team, breaking the American record (women's 3,000m steeplechase) at one point and progressing in the sport. I feel like this year I've gotten my feet wet at that level and I'm looking forward to moving forward as much as I can.

On her success this year in the 800m and 1,500m: I've always been more of an 800 and 1,500-meter runner. It's different than the steeplechase, which is not usually very tactical. It's more of a flat run with not much thinking going on, where in the 1500 and the 800, a lot can happen in a short amount of time. So they're different events but I think I'm probably more genetically made for those types of events, and I'm really enjoying it. It's fun.

Which events will you run at the USA Outdoor Championships: I'm going to try to double in the 1,500 and the steeple, and see how that goes. It's been the plan all year and we're going to stick to it.

How does training for all three events affect your performances? I think they all help each other and complement each other. I feel like my speed has been there all year and it's more about having the strength to use my speed at the end of a race. So it's all coming together really nicely right now and we have workouts that incorporate all different speeds, so I think they all help each other.

On currently having the fastest 800m time in the world this outdoor season: A world-leader at this point doesn't mean that much. I did get excited about running 1:59 because that's a good step for me, but I know I can run 1:57 and I keep looking for it. I'm not too excited about the little bumps along the way.

What are your goals this summer at the World Championships? Really we're looking for medals. Why go to this level, why do this if you're not willing to go all the way? That's why I joined our group at Mammoth Track Club. I'm doing this to be the best. I get really fired up about competition and right now that's the major goal. Whether it happens this year or not we're trying to get there, and that's what it's going to be every year.

Could you talk about what your coach Terrence Mahon means to you? Well he's had such great success, particularly in the longer distances and it's really exciting for us to see what he's doing now with the middle distances. I feel like we help each other and he's done tremendous things for me as a person as well. He really gets me and we click really well. I like him a lot.

Dawn Harper:

What did last year's success mean to you? The season started out great, and my training had been the best it had ever been. I had knee surgery at the end of February and that was kind of a shocker there, and Bobby Kersee (her coach) kept telling me that it was possible for me to come back from that. I thought that if Bobby Kersee thinks that, than it's definitely possible and I stayed positive. Going into the (Olympic) Trials, Jackie Joyner-Kersee told me that no one was expecting me to do anything, and the pressure that you have is what you put on yourself, and she was right. I went out there to show what I was capable of and I made the team by .007, and I'll take it any day. I didn't feel any pressure going into the Olympics because it really was about Lolo Jones. It was Lolo Jones and two other Americans that made the team, and Damu (Cherry) and I went in to show what we were capable of. Going into the finals Bobby Kersee told me that I was on the podium and that the color of the medal was up to me, so I went out there to not prove him wrong.

What does working with Bobby Kersee mean to you? He means the world to me, especially in track and field terms because he started to notice me when I was in high school. Then he kind of pointed me out to Jeanette Bolden (UCLA head coach) and got me to UCLA, and then he helped me get ready for the professional world. When I got to the professional world we knew that staying healthy for me was going to be the key because at UCLA I was dealing with hamstring issues, knee issues and once again, last year, another knee issue, but that's okay because we now know, pretty much, the key to keeping me healthy. He sees something special in me and I appreciate that, and we both have a good relationship.

You're in the blocks in Beijing, the gun goes off, and then what? You run for your life! (laughter). You execute your race and you put it all out there. You don't want to walk away from the Olympic final saying 'I didn't do this, or I didn't execute that.' That's why I leaned across the line the way I did because I didn't know where I was and I just wanted to get there. I didn't know when I first crossed the finish line, and I thought maybe I got second, or maybe I got third, and then Damu came over and said, 'no Dawn, you won,' and that's when I saw it.

What are your goals this year? I'm definitely looking for a personal best. I feel like I'm already there ready to run a personal best, especially the way my training's been going. Bobby has really been pushing me with the goal of keeping me healthy. This year I'm ready to roll, and I'm rolling.

LaShawn Merritt:

How ready are you to run the men's Nutrilite 300m Sunday at the Nike Pre Classic? I'm feeling good and excited about this 300. It's 100 less than the race I usually run, so I can't complain about that. I'll bet I run it fast, though.

Do you like this race? Oh definitely. I ran a 300 here two years ago and I ran well. I'm feeling stronger now than I did then, so we'll see. I have a couple 200-meter guys in the race and a couple quarter-milers, so it's going to be interesting.

What was it like for you last year to take over as the best 400m runner in the world? It let me know that in this sport that you have to be patient and hard work will pay off. I've been working hard to get where I am, and I'm working even harder now to stay where I am. My coach and I set plans, set goals and everything's falling in place. I just have to stay hungry, stay motivated and healthy, and keep doing the things that I want to do.

With so much success at such a young age, is there any chance of you easing up a little? Not at all, not at all. I'm all about forward movement. I'll be 23 the final day of Nationals on the 27th, and hopefully that will be a birthday present to myself.

We've all been hearing rumblings of Usain Bolt moving up to the 400 meters. Is that a challenge you welcome? Yes. There's a thought that he's going to come on up and run the 400, and we're inviting him. If he wants to come up, come on and get a lane and let's go at it.

What goals do you have for this season? I look forward to coming back here in a couple weeks and defending my national title, and then going on to Berlin and winning gold in the 400 and also the 4x400.

Sanya Richards:

Many people look at last year as a down point in your career, but you ended the season ranked #1 in the world, so do you look at it like that? No I don't. In the moment (at the Olympics) it was difficult for me right after the race, of course, because I had put all my hopes on finally getting my first gold medal and it didn't work out, but I left with two medals, a gold and a bronze, and I'm pleased with that. Of course I'm going to keep working hard because I want two gold medals, in the individual and in the relay. It was a good year. I'm ranked #1 in the world and I'm going to keep building on that.

You've been ranked #1 in the world four years in a row. What does that mean to you? I can't believe that it's been four years since I took over as the best in the world in 2005, and I'm not going to rest on those laurels at all. I'm going to keep working hard and try to get better and better and run faster, and hopefully lower my American record because I haven't PR'ed in a while, so to me that's what I enjoy about running is getting better.

At this stage of your career what are you focusing on the most in order to improve? I think for me I train really well and my workouts are fantastic, and I just think sometimes it doesn't translate exactly to my race day. I've been working on my mental preparedness for specific championship races and just trying to put exactly what goes into my training on to my race day. I have some key points I want to work on for my race tomorrow. I feel I can run a stronger curve than I've been running, and I feel that can take off some time. So tomorrow you're going to see me go out like a bat out of hell on that curve and just hold on. I'm going to be having fun, which I feel is most important at major championships where you forget about that because the pressure just overwhelms you, so tomorrow I just want to have fun and see what happens.

Tickets for the 2009 Nike Prefontaine Classic may be purchased by calling 1-800-WEBFOOT or go online to www.goducks.com. USATF welcomes you to pay with your Visa.

For more information on the 2009 Nike Prefontaine Classic and the USATF Visa Championship Series, visit: www.visachampionshipseries.com.

About USA Track & Field
USA Track & Field (USATF) is the National Governing Body for track and field, long-distance running and race walking in the United States. USATF encompasses the world's oldest organized sports, some of the most-watched events of Olympic broadcasts, the #1 high school and junior high school participatory sport and more than 30 million adult runners in the United States.

For more information on USATF, visit USATF.org.


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