A Dying Race

Houston boasts some of the biggest track legends in the world. Who cares? They do.

Adams is light and quick in an event dominated by thick, powerful women. Where most 110-meter hurdlers seem to power their way over the barriers, in practice Adams bobs over them like a pebble skipping across a lake.

The track is both her destination and her escape. "You come out here and you're very focused, very in control of your mind and your body. It brings you a confidence. You have to dig deep every day and find the self-discipline and the motivation to keep going. It builds you as a stronger person. When I leave the track, I always feel better than when I got there."

That's not the case for Dennis Darling. "Coming out here knowing that you're gonna hurt every day, that ain't fun," says the Bahamian 400-meter runner. "It hurts every day. You never get used to it. Your body just hurts all over. Exhausting yourself every day, I don't think that's fun. But I like when I win. I just like that feeling."

Don Glover, a Phillips Petroleum engineer, is also his wife's coach.
Deron Neblett
Don Glover, a Phillips Petroleum engineer, is also his wife's coach.

Darling, 24, sports considerable muscles piled on top of his lean frame. He has a somewhat mercenary attitude about his sport, as if he knew that European riches would soon be his. He is rather precocious, having qualified for the 1996 Bahamian Olympic team in the 200-meter relay as a 20-year-old freshman at the University of Houston. His team placed sixth. Since then he has moved up to the 400, where he has an excellent chance of qualifying for Sydney. He just graduated from UH and, like so many Tellez disciples before him, signed on with the Santa Monica Track Club.

"Sprinters have to be cocky," he says. "There's nobody else out there except yourself. Who got your back? In football, someone else got your back. In basketball, someone else got your back. In track, it's just you out there trying to survive. To make your money, you gotta work. It's not like I can sit on the bench and still get paid. You got to have a mentality of 'Forget everybody else, I gotta do this. I gotta make it.' "

Of all of Tellez's young charges, however, the coach feels Darius Pemberton has the most promise. This is partly because the long jump is wide open this year, with all three medalists from the last Olympics retired. More important, Pemberton, who graduated from UH in 1998, has reconstructed his entire approach to his event, with an emphasis on building up enough speed to fling himself the 27 or so feet needed to make it to Sydney. Most practices he doesn't even jump, instead barreling out of the blocks with the 100-meter runners or flying down the long-jump runway and running right through the landing pit. His personal best is 26 feet, 8 1/2 inches. He has been hitting the weights hard and feels strong enough to pop a real long jump any day now.

"If I can carry my speed off the [takeoff] board, everything else will fall into place," says Pemberton, 25. "It's kind of like being shot out of a cannon. Basically when you leave the board, you know if you had a good jump. It's not like you land and look at the tape and say, 'Wow, that was a good jump.' When I leave the board, I know."

On the other side of pain lies paradise.

Paradise is when your body aligns itself perfectly, relaxed and yet charged with energy. Each of your limbs moves in concert, just as God intended. Your feet rise and fall of their own volition. An effortless tension crackles through your muscles. Time stands still.

This is how you were meant to run.

"It's like putting puzzles together," says Tellez, describing three decades of study of the science of running. "Analyze film, study velocity, the angle of takeoff, release velocity, how the body hits, the angles, body movement. All the research I've done, the reading and coaching that I put together over the years, it seems complicated at first because of all this information, but all of a sudden, boom! It fits together and you say, 'My God, that's simple.' Then you've created this model, and it's simplicity."

You can boil down all of this jargon -- and all of Tellez's unparalleled success in track and field -- into one word: biomechanics. The application of mechanical laws to human biology. Combine knowledge of how the body moves with an obsessive passion for teaching, and you get a great coach.

Of course, great coaches are nothing without great athletes, and Tellez convinced the greatest ever to make Houston his home.

Coming out of high school in New Jersey in 1979, Carl Lewis had his pick of any college in the country. "The difference was, when Coach Tellez called, he was the one coach that articulated to me what he could do for me as a young student athlete. All the other coaches talked about what I could do for them," Lewis said at the dedication ceremony for his alma mater's $4 million track-and-field complex. "I know that if I had gone to any other school in the world I wouldn't be standing here, I wouldn't have this recognition. I was fortunate to be coached by without question the greatest coach not only this sport has ever known, but any sport has ever known."

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