“This event is a beast!” exclaimed Tasha Danvers furthering, “You’ve got to be able to be a beast to be able to perform in it.”
One of only two British women in history to stand on the Olympic 400-meter hurdle podium, the 2008 Beijing Games Bronze Medalist has certainly performed at her personal maximum in the event. Seeking to improve upon that personal best in 2012 and again redefine her “beast-like” maximum potential, Danvers does so with the daily reminder of her birth city’s Olympic Park as the London Summer Games backdrop for her training. “I’ve been all up in that stadium, it’s looking amazing in there,” revealed Danvers gratefully aware “this is a once in a lifetime opportunity for an athlete like myself being, born and raised in London … having a Games in your home country, let alone your home city, it’s fantastic, it’s really just a dream come true.”
Moving quickly from the dream to the reality of her event, the 2006 Commonwealth Games Silver Medalist, recognizes recent “times are phenomenal 52 lows” and demonstratively states “this is serious running,” adding in no uncertain terms, “You are going to have be a tough chick to get up onto that stage.”
The often injury-plagued 34 year-old veteran hurdler, no stranger to Olympic level competition having run her event’s final in the 2000 Sydney Games as well as the aforementioned Beijing Games, primarily focused on “keeping [her] body in one piece," firmly understands the podium standard to be “52 seconds, that’s it; if you can’t run 52 seconds you are probably not going to get on the podium … I think it’s going to take a 52 second low run to win, no doubt; a mid 52, maybe 52.7 at the highest for a silver medal, and bronze, depending on how the previous rounds go, I think it will be a very low 53; if it’s higher than that, I’ll be surprised.”
Danvers herself, no stranger to ‘surprise’ performances, delivered a lane seven 2008 Olympic Bronze Medal winning 53.84 personal best seconds validating an, at the time, deemed unpopular somewhat controversial selection committee decision to place her on the British Olympic Team over a young, emerging Perri Shakes-Drayton, who bested Danvers at the country’s trials but failed to reach the IAAF A-standard for the event.
Four years later, now approaching the fourth Olympic cycle of her career well aware of needing to set a new personal best and dip below the 53-second barrier to see the podium in her home country, Danvers trains under the tutelage of legendary coach Malcolm Arnold. “My thing has always been speed endurance, that’s where I need to work on,” explained Danvers having originally been a 100-meter hurdler added, “speed was my natural strength, so to carry that speed around four times where my natural talent lies is a bit of challenge for me.” Additionally, the former USC standout, elaborates that while her “hurdling is technically good” it is the final 150-meters of the race where form gives way to fatigue causing her “technical side to fail” pointing out they specifically “will work on how [her] hurdling is during those times of fatigue.”
And as far as the subject of “athlete fatigue” is concerned, UK Athletics Head Coach Charles van Commenee has announced, citing the potential fatigue-inducing nature of the Olympic Game opening ceremonies, that the British Track and Field athletes will not be in attendance for the ceremonial introduction of the Games of the XXX Olympiad despite being the host city.
“I know for the younger athletes or first time Olympians, this is like death to them,” likened Danvers who herself has been both present and absent for opening ceremonies. “I been through it a couple of times … that’s very, very tiring let me tell you,” jokingly recalled Danvers further explaining, “people don’t realize that behind the stands, athletes are standing for practically half the day waiting to walk out onto that stadium.”
The decision on van Commonee’s part is most certainly an astute one, as Danvers correctly defines his “job is to get the best performance out of every athlete,” informing “the team is not going to be in the UK when the opening ceremony happens. He’s thinking ‘fly back, stay for a couple of days and then fly back for their competition’ this just doesn’t, to him, sound like a plan that’s conducive to good performances; … his ultimate goal is getting those medals and to him that means everything else must be sacrificed.”
Of those good ‘sacrificing’ performances, van Commonee will hope to produce at least eight great including one gold medal performance having set the medal count at eight for the UK Team. “We got four in the last Olympics, but if you put that aside … the team did well at World Championships, did well at European Championships; so as a UK team, we’ve really gone from strength to strength,” explained Danvers furthering, “if you add into the mix the fact that we’re a home team, there’s been no home team, as far as I remember in the history of Olympics, that’s underperformed … so from the outside it may seem like a stretch but I don’t actually see why it’s not possible.”
And what was has been impossible for nearly the last decade, which now after a recent reversal from the Court of Arbitration for Sport, will become possible is the potential for, until very recently, drug-banned British sprinter Dwain Chambers to be competition eligible for the 2012 Olympic Games.
“Watching the whole saga with Dwain… has been difficult for me as someone who grew up with Dwain in the sport,” expressed Danvers revealing the UK athletic community to be a close one as the country “is not deep, deep, deep with loads of talent.” Of the reversal, “Everyone’s sought of been very extreme about it, it’s either a lifetime ban or no ban” noted Danvers admitting that response peeks her interest because she “actually feels there is an in between.”
With her personal questions as to “actually …how much of a deterrent a lifetime ban is?” Danvers believes there exists a more effective “middle ground” suggesting a “combination of having to miss two consecutive or three consecutive Olympics plus … community service where [the suspended athletes] go into sports organizations or schools and talk about the downsides and severe effects to your life of being a drug cheat.” A remedy she contends would be most appropriate for the sport’s integrity and preservation by “[educating] the next generation.”
Depicting Chambers as an “invaluable” source “because [of] the information that he can pass on to the next generation,” Danvers remains resolve in her focus on the future generation suggesting “what needs to be done is that when somebody is found guilty of a drug ban, that they educate the younger generation by telling them what they actually experienced when they got caught;” moreover, Danvers asserts, “This is probably going to be more convincing to someone who may one day get approached for drugs then just saying you’ll be banned for life.”
Chambers, who by Danvers account, “has been through hell by his own making,” warns of the perils of drug bans which included for Chambers being “blackballed from the sport" for a time as well as having to make financial restitution for what "he made during that time.”
Restored to Olympic eligibility just this April 30th, after nearly a decade of turmoil following the confirmation of his positive test for THG (tetrahydrogestrinone) on November 7, 2003, Chambers still has paid the ultimate price. “Dwain is human and he definitely made a massive mistake that I completely don’t condone,” expressed Danvers understanding that her fellow compatriot is “forever Dwain Chambers ‘the drug cheat’ [and he’ll] never be able to remove that tag from [his] name.”
And this harsh truth alone bolsters Danvers' case as to the importance “for people coming up in the sport to know that, that risk, the damage, that you can do to your family and to your reputation and to your country is probably far worse than you not being able to compete again.”
And when Chambers does compete again this season, now for the first time on British soil with 2012 Olympic eligibility, which will be May 20th at the Great CityGames in Manchester, Danvers, who, like all Brits, will be intrigued by the response, surmises “the country seems to be very split … I do seem to find that younger people are more appreciative of Dwain than say the older generation [which is] very cut and dry, ‘he’s a drug cheat, he’s a disgrace’ despite the fact that “the UK and BOA …have already said that they will support him.”
And although that may indeed be quasi-support from the governing bodies, Danvers intimates of Chambers ability to handle media and public scrutiny, “He’s probably found a way that he can compete and cope … but it will definitely be a lot of pressure on him … so it’ll be interesting to see how he’s received should he make it into the Olympic Stadium.” Danvers comically but with compassion adds, “I don’t think any athlete in the history of Olympic sport has been booed at their own home Games, hopefully that won’t be the case for Dwain.”
In a somewhat similar capacity, although his 2012 Olympic eligibility was no longer threatened when his August 22, 2006 drug-ban was reduced from eight years to four years, 2012 World Indoor 60 meter Champion, American Justin Gatlin, will also look to be among the finalist in the Men’s 100-meter event in Olympic Park. “It’s definitely very similar to Gatlin’s story; how they handled it and how it was received is definitely slightly different because Gatlin said that he didn’t know what was going on and it was put up on him as opposed to him intentionally doing anything,” recalled Danvers acknowledging in contrast that Chambers’ scenario in which he reversed his initial response from unknowing to guilty left the athlete’s steadfast supporters feeling “betrayed a second time.”
Moreover Danvers asserts, “I think for Dwain things went a little bit differently because of how massive that story was …because it was a lot of other athletes involved in the whole BALCO scandal and … because he was the only British athlete,” adding “there was always this thing in the UK about athletes going to America; it was not something that was looked too favorably upon,” which Danvers explains “was just even more reason” to reinforce the stigma.
From the punitive sentences and subsequent outcomes for both sprinters, entrenched stalwarts of the sport who find disgruntlement with the Olympic eligibility-affording decision, perhaps they may reconsider a modicum of support for Chambers from this greater standpoint. “A lot of people don’t even realize that it’s only the UK; they think that the rest of the countries also have a lifetime ban and it’s really not that way,” explains Danvers suggesting it “makes it quite unfair if Dwain is part of the host country team watching other past drug cheats compete while he sits at home, that is a bit bizarre.”
Danvers herself, an unfortunate and arguably unwarranted recipient, is equally familiar with the unenviable position of “unfair” sentiment from the home country having experienced in 2008, through no fault of her own, discontent from the fan base after being afforded the sole 400-meter female hurdler spot on the UK Team. “In Dwain’s situation, I think it, maybe, will be a little bit different for him because he’s dealing with his own mistake,” assessed Danvers adding, “My situation was more, ‘it hasn’t been a great performance but I had a good track record', and that’s why I was selected and that wasn’t in my control," concluding, “the selectors selected me because that’s what they wanted to do whereas Dwain did what he did and everything that happened since is his own doing.”
Although the contributing internal factors of both situations are vastly incomparable, Danvers relating to the external outcome states, “It’s difficult to have a feeling that you’re not wanted, or they don’t want you to compete or think you’re worthy; that’s definitely a difficult thing to have to deal with while you are competing.”
And in some sorts, Britain’s current 100-meter hurdle hope and UK Team Captain, U.S. based Tiffany Porter also has endured the rigors of athletic competition coupled with British media challenges bringing into question the validity and credibility of her national allegiance. “You bring someone in, that by our own standards, has the right to compete for the UK, who actually performs, who can actually have the potential to get medals … and instead of saying ‘great we‘ve got medal hopes’, instead of getting behind that, they’re complaining,” expressed a frustrated Danvers further explaining “our population is not that big where we’re going to have so much talent ... so if somebody is talented enough and has the standards and the right to compete for the country, what is the big deal!”
And make no mistake the 2012 opportunity to medal in front of the home country fans is a paramount deal for all British athletes. “You can’t under estimate the sheer magnitude of what this would mean for a British athlete,” states Danvers noting “for athletes that medal and make finals, it’s going to be a life changing experience for them!”
At peace with what she has thus far accomplished during her twenty years in the sport, Danvers is more than content with her achievements to date and is preparing to let the chips fall where they may in 2012 proudly stating, “There’s no way you can have an Olympics in your home country and have the ability and potential to compete there and not go for it.”