By Jeff Balke
By Aaron Reiss
By Angelica Leicht
By Dianna Wray
By Aaron Reiss
By Camilo Smith
By Craig Malisow
By Jeff Balke
"When he would line up to run something at practice, everybody would stop what they were doing to watch him run," Davidson says. "The girls, the guys -- it was something to watch."
Bronson won the Olympic trials in 1996 -- and then ran out of gas at the Atlanta Games, coming in last in the semifinals in a lethargic 50.32 seconds. The disappointing finish only seemed to energize Bronson. After a U.S. championship and a bronze medal at the world championships in 1997, he absolutely dominated in 1998, clocking the five best times in the world that year, including a 47.03 that was the third-best time ever. Kevin Young's world record of 46.78 seemed but a few races away. Bronson also hit the big time in 1998 on the Grand Prix circuit. He went undefeated in the Golden League, winning $15,000 for each of his half dozen first-place finishes.
Bronson was shepherded through Europe by his agent, Bob Pelletier. "He was very calculated, always planned everything out," Pelletier says. "He had goals, and he made sure they were attainable."
Bronson's Grand Prix tear led up to another huge letdown. Bronson stood to earn $250,000 for winning the Grand Prix final, but he was caught at the final hurdle by an unheralded Frenchman and lost the race in the final few meters.
No one knew it at the time, but several weeks before that race, at the July 14 Grand Prix meet in Rome, Bronson had tested positive for what the International Amateur Athletic Foundation called "abnormal steroid concentrations." Bronson provided a letter from his doctor and lawyer saying he had a "medical problem," so the IAAF allowed him to keep competing. But when Bronson failed to provide further documentation of his illness, he was suspended in March 1999.
"I was very surprised," remembers Davidson, who says Bronson had told him earlier that he had Hodgkin's disease. "He would never take anything while he was here. Creatine was considered okay, but he wouldn't take it. He never even liked to take aspirin."
Bronson, already a recluse, completely vanished after his suspension. "He broke off relations with his friends, his relatives, his teammates, his coach, with everybody," his coach Kim Wrinkle said at the time. "He's done that before. He's a very private person. He goes into periods of seclusion."
How long will this period last? Pelletier says the IAAF has yet to resolve some issues about Bronson's suspension, and that the fallen superstar remains in the Houston area. "He's here in Houston somewhere," confirms Davidson. "There are rumors that he's training, but all you hear are rumors. He's like a ghost out there somewhere."
Sure, you've won a few meets, beaten a few people. So what. No big deal. That was supposed to happen. The real test is the U.S. Olympic trials this July in Sacramento. Top three at the trials go down under to the Olympics. Now that's a Big Deal.
Those who train with Chris Jones call him Psycho.
"Let's see, a few weeks ago I did eight 200s in 24 seconds each, with two minutes of rest between each one. I was pretty much crawling to the training room after that," says the 26-year-old Dallas native. "Yesterday I did a breakdown, 400 yards in 47.5 seconds, 300 in 35 flat, 200 in 21.7, 150 in 16.3. After a workout like that you can't really do much else."
Jones competes in the 400-meter dash, perhaps the toughest, most painful, most competitive event in the world today. His personal best is 44.87; the world record of 43.18 was set by the indomitable Michael Johnson last year. After graduating from the University of Houston last winter, Jones joined the Santa Monica Track Club and kept training under Tellez. He's one of the young athletes trying to extend Houston's tradition of track-and-field dominance.
Santa Monica helped Jones secure a modest sponsorship deal with MET-Rx nutritional products, which covers travel to meets and pays bonuses based on media attention. But Jones has to establish a name for himself, win some big meets and lower his times before he can earn any serious money on the European circuit. "I know for a fact I would be on somebody's NFL team right now had I chosen football," says Jones, who at six foot one and a slimmed-down 185 pounds would be a speedy, powerful wide receiver or defensive back. "If I was in it for the money, I'd be long gone. But I love running, I love to achieve, and I'm not gonna give it up. I figure my pay time will come."
Jenny Adams doesn't care if her pay time ever comes. The 110-meter hurdler is considered the UH women's team's best hope for an Olympic berth. After that, she plans to run long and fast enough to compete in the 2012 Games, which she hopes will take place in Houston.
"I can't really worry about money," says the 21-year-old Tomball native. "I hope that I make enough to put food on my table; if I have to work part-time I will. I'm not trying to get rich. I'm just happy to be doing what I love. So even if it's $12,000 a year, that's fine with me, because I still get to come out here and do what I love. How many other people can say they're living their childhood dream?"