Five-time U.S. outdoor 800-meter champion Johnny Gray, the 1992 Olympic bronze medalist, was notable for his aggressive running style. Contrary to the typical style of his day, Gray went out fast and dared his opponents to run him down. He discussed his running style at the Michigan Interscholastic Track Coaches Association’s annual coaches clinic in February 2012
About.com: How did you determine that you wanted to go out fast in the 800?:
Gray: “Of course, I love having someone in front of me to dictate (the pace), like a rabbit, set the pace for me. But being tall, having a high back kick, if I didn’t go out hard I would find myself in trouble. I would get boxed in, I would get tripped, and then at the end of the race I’m always frustrated because I never really got the chance to run my race because this person got in front of me, this person cut me off, this person blocked me off, this person tripped me. So I’m spending more time trying to keep my balance and stay out of trouble and I’m not racing. And I thought I could use my shape to the fullest by just getting out front and running a hard 800. And I felt more comfortable being in front…
“I approached (the 800) the way I approached it because I did have the strength and speed, and I used both my strength and speed. And then being a tall runner, I could use different rhythms to take advantage of my long strides. But then at the end a short person can use the advantage of the quicker turnover, because their legs turn over quicker than mine. So being a tall runner I had to be more proactive and start my kick a lot earlier, so that when it’s time to kick, my legs are moving to where I can turn them over.”
Did you train differently than a late kicker?:
“Probably. I mean, we all train hard, but as a front runner I’m sure my training rhythms and pace were a lot harder than someone that sits back. The one that sits back will probably run a more smoother approach in the beginning, and then pick it up. Where, I’m aggressive the whole way.”
How does a person who sits back train differently?:
“They follow more than lead. Practice is pretty much executing what you’re going to put in the race. So, because of the race style I had, I would get out and lead (in practice) because I had to learn how to lead in practice so that I could lead in the race. Sometimes I would follow (during practice), too, because there were certain times in races where I don’t get the lead and I have to follow. So I knew I had to follow so I could know when to execute on making the move – I had to follow so I could recognize when an individual was starting to tie up. I would look at the shoulders and tell when that individual was kind of losing it, and now I could go get him. So there’s all kinds of things you have to understand and notice when you’re running…
“I could sit back (in the 800). But if I sat back I had to start my kick earlier. The way I approached it with the lead, I was kicking, it seemed like, the whole time, because I was constantly moving. If I’m in the lead going into the (final 400 meters) I don’t want to slow up. … So I had to keep it going. If I ran to get that lead, I don’t want to do anything to jeopardize that lead, and at that point I have to trust my shape enough to where, if someone’s trying to catch me … once they get to where I am, I’m going to be 10 to 15 yards farther away. So if I slow down I’m going to allow them to catch me without working. So I would always generate a rhythm to make whoever’s trying to catch me have to work just as hard as I’m working, to catch me. And if they do, nine times out of 10 they’re tired and they can’t out-kick me. And if they’re in great shape then they use me as a rabbit and then I’m in trouble.”
For more on Johnny Gray's career, check out part 2 of his 2012 interview, plus his 800-meter running and coaching tips.
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