Local track and field athletes watch Rio closely

Published 9:50 pm Thursday, August 18, 2016

By Henry Luzzatto


This week, audiences all over the world have watched the world’s greatest track and field stars show their abilities at the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro.


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But while watching Usain Bolt or LaShawn Merritt run is just entertainment for most people, Suffolk’s track coaches say it is inspiration to their athletes.

“It lets you see how much work goes into being a top athlete,” said Gregory Rountree, the activities director and track and cross country coach at Lakeland High School. “It lets them see what they need to do to reach that level.”

Rountree and Nansemond River track and field coach Justin Byron both said the Olympic track and field events offer potential learning experiences for their athletes. However, Byron said he does not have to convince his runners to tune in.

“The awesome thing is they’re the ones telling me about what’s going on,” Byron said. “We have a constant group chat going on about guessing who’s going to do well and finish where in each event.”

Byron said the Olympics give track athletes and fans a chance to watch their heroes live on television, since track is not a sport that normally gets a lot of air time.

“Track and field is almost like a cult,” Byron said. “Anyone who’s into it is really into it. It’s beautiful to be able to see your role models and heroes on television, not just watching on YouTube. We’re all able to catch it live and get that hype together.”

Rountree has capitalized on the hype of the games, giving Lakeland’s first Family and Friends Day an Olympic theme. He said integrating the Olympics into the athletics at Lakeland has put a spotlight on the lesser-watched track and field events.

While the majority of the attention at the Olympics has been on the world’s fastest man, Usain Bolt, Rountree and Byron said there is just as much that can be learned from athletes who are based closer to home.

Hampton Roads track and field athletes LaShawn Merritt, Byron Robinson, David Verburg and Francena McCorory all participated in the Olympic Games. Rountree said this shows Suffolk’s athletes that they can reach that level in the future.

“Any time you see local athletes succeed, it makes you think you can do it, or even one-up them in the future,” Rountree said.

Though Robinson did not qualify for the finals in the 400 meter race, and Merritt won only a bronze medal, Byron said just seeing these local athletes make an appearance on track and field’s biggest stage is an inspiration for young athletes.

“It shows how attainable it is,” he said. “Seeing athletes coming out of the 757 makes it tangible.”

Byron said he has some athletes at Nansemond River who may eventually find themselves participating in the Olympics. Star athletes like Brandee’ Johnson, who will be taking her track talents to the University of Florida, and Syaira Richardson, who ran with Team USA at the International Association of Athletic Federations U-20 World Championships this summer, will have their eyes on the 2020 Olympic Games in Tokyo.

And while the next chance to participate in the games may be far off, Rountree said, athletes should strive to realize their dreams.

“It’s something we always say: ‘Don’t let anybody kill your dreams,’ ” he said. “The Olympics show what happens when you reach those dreams.”