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Brian Diemer Interview - Preparing for the Olympic Steeplechase

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After placing second in the steeplechase at the 1984 U.S. Olympic Trials, Brian Diemer began the preparations that enabled him to earn a bronze medal at the Los Angeles Games. He began by receiving a pep talk from his college coach, the University of Michigan’s Ron Warhurst.

The following is excerpted from a presentation Diemer gave at a 2008 Michigan Track Coaches Association seminar.

On his initial talk with Ron Warhurst:
“Shortly after that Olympic Trials race, I get back to Ann Arbor and talked to Ron Warhurst from the University of Michigan and he was all fired up. ... He’s just taking this to another step and he’s getting me all excited about, okay, here’s what you can do. And I’m going, ‛Wait, Ron. Number one, you know what, I’m thrilled to death to make the Olympic team. As a matter of fact, just to toe the line, Ron, this is a really awesome experience. This is an honor. And, you know what, if I can make it through the first round, that’s going to be really cool. And, if for some reason I would make it into the finals, that would be the ultimate.’

“Ron wouldn’t have anything to do with that. Ron sat me down and ... focused my mind. He said, ‛I think you can medal.’ And I said ‛Okay, I guess I’ll trust you.’ He started developing my mind set so that I was prepared to go to the Olympic Games, not just as participant, but as someone who would go there and go for it and make a difference.

“This was the first Olympics that I watched, the one that I was in. I owe a great deal, in particular, to the people who helped form my mind set and prepare me for something like that. And a great deal of that goes to coaches.”

On his training:
“The training partners I had were incredible. The coaching was incredible. The positive, encouraging atmosphere - it was one that (said), ‛We were going to be the best that we could be.’ I also had another motivation, so to speak. I had just signed on with Nike shoe company (prior to the Olympic Trials) and, until that point, everybody that had signed on, went out to Eugene, Ore. and trained out there. And I said, ‛I really want to stay home.’ I wanted to be by my family in Grand Rapids (Mich.). And I’m getting married, and I want to work with Ron (Warhurst) and I want to train with my training partners. So they actually, until that Athletics West meet (just before the Olympic Trials) where I ran 8:24, after I ran that race, (a Nike official) told me, ‛You know what, we had lost hope in you. We thought, we should’ve had him here in Eugene, Ore. Shouldn’t have let him train on his own. But today’s race, when you ran 8:24, showed us that what you’re doing is working and that you’re going to be ready for the Olympic Trials.’ And I think I was even more ready because of the supportive atmosphere, just the dynamics of the training grounds that I was in. Makes a huge difference: positive, encouraging, ‛We can do it.’”

On his physical condition at the Olympics, after running the first round, the semifinal and the steeplechase final:
“My legs were fresh because of the base training that I had done. Ron Warhurst had me very strong, very ready to go, very confident. There was a lot of very good strength training behind that. I was able to go three rounds. The week of the race I was as physically fit as I’d ever been. I was mentally sharp and my legs were rested because I tapered just a little bit going into the final races. I was sore, believe me, I was very, very sore, very tired. And it’s a good thing you have a day in between to recover a little bit, but you spend most of the time in the bathroom because you’re so nervous.”

On controlling his emotions in front of the large crowd:
“When you’re in the tunnel walking into the Olympic Stadium, for two cents you’d go home. You’d say, ‛I can’t do it.’ Because you are so nervous and your legs are like silly putty. You think about, there’s 100,000 people out there. But that’s not the worst of it. You’re representing the United States. That’s pretty heavy. There’s millions of people all across the world that are watching it. You know that, going in. And it was the scariest time of my life. And it’s very tough emotionally to get through that point.

“Once on the track and once the gun goes off, somebody could be yelling splits at me (from close by) and I never heard it. Because I was so locked in on the task that I had to do. The one task, and that was run this race the best that I could, stay in the positions that I know I need to be in throughout this race. And do my very best. I can’t control anybody else but I can control myself and how I’m going to handle the situations like, guys jumping over the wall, guys tripping up or boxing in. I can control how I react to those things and I’m going to do it in a way that is going to maximize my ability to end up as high up as I can. I think there’s a huge power in that kind of mind set going in. And athletes that don’t think that stuff through or coaches that don’t help athletes think that stuff through are at a disadvantage.” 

More from Brian Diemer:
Preparing for the 1984 Olympic Trials
Brian Diemer’s coaching philosophy
How Brian Diemer trains his athletes’ minds

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