The second edition of the virtual speaker series ‘Cardinal & Gold Conversations with USC Olympians’ featured track and field standouts Allyson Felix, Dalilah Muhammad, Nia Ali and Andre De Grasse. Together, these stars have won fourteen Olympic gold medals.
Felix, the most decorated female Olympian and only female track and field athlete to win six Olympic gold medals, said her secret to staying focused between Olympic cycles is the “fire in her belly” to get better each day.
“I have a whole different type of motivation now that I am a mom,” Felix said. “I think about my daughter and showing her what a hard world looks like and how to overcome adversity.”
Felix is an advocate for maternity rights in athletics and said becoming a mom allowed her to find her voice and finally stand up for all the other female athletes that have experienced hardship with motherhood and pursuing an athletic career.
While track speedster Allyson Felix did not race competitively at USC, she earned her degree in education from the university, and has been accepted into the Trojan Family with open arms.
When asked about their successful careers and path to Olympic medals, the athletes brought the conversation back to their time as student-athletes at USC and how the university and athletic program helped pave the way to success.
“USC was a part of my journey to become the man I am today,” De Grasse said.
De Grasse, the first Candian sprinter to win three medals in a single Olympics, explained the process of his recruitment and his desire to become an Olympic Champion at a young age. He was recruited by current USC track and field assistant coach and moderator Quincy Watts. De Grasse remembered the instance when Watts traveled to Canada to recruit him.
The USC men’s and women’s track and field program is credited with being one of the most successful programs in the nation, with 30 NCAA indoor and outdoor team titles and 166 NCAA individual and relay titles. The program has also produced 142 Olympians and 92 Olympic medals.
“USC Track and Field is the gateway to the Olympics,” Watts told young De Grasse.
This sold him and the rest is history. De Grasse competed for USC in 2015 and holds the all-time record in the 100-meter dash with a time of 9.92 seconds.
Muhammad, now the best 400-meter hurdler in the world, was not an NCAA champion when she ran at USC.
“I wanted to be amongst greats and become an athlete they talk about at USC,” Muhhammuand said.
Muhammad, the reigning Olympic and World champion in the 400-meter hurdles and current 400-meter hurdles world record holder, credits USC athletics for leaving her with more to prove. She explained the importance of “training with the best, to become the best” at USC and says this helped her become the runner she is today.
Additionally, the importance of never giving up and showing up each day with motivation and grit was something the Olympians described as a “necessity to succeed”.
Ali talked about the importance of staying calm and relaxed before races and training just as hard mentally as you would physically for a race.
“I’ve done all the mental preparations. I’m ready to execute when the gun goes off and accomplish the goal of whatever I’m trying to do in that race,” Ali said. “I rise to the occasion with everything I have and walk off the track knowing I did the best I could.”
Ali is a two-time champion in the World Indoor Championships and 2016 Olympic silver medalist in the 100-meter hurdles. At USC, she was the NCAA champion in the 100-meter hurdles and an All-American in the heptathlon. Ali holds a personal best of 12.34 seconds in the 100-meter hurdles.
She said once she steps onto the track and the crowd goes silent, she’s able to stay calm and take herself to a place where getting to the finish line is the only thing she is focusing on.
With the 2020 Tokyo Olympics being pushed back to 2021, all four athletes are taking the extra time to work on “the little things” and continue to get fit each and every day. Whether it’s the speed endurance workouts for De Grasse, ladders for Muhummad or hurdle workouts for Ali, the workouts they mentioned they disliked the most, these will be the ones that have the biggest benefit in being completely ready for the 2021 Olympic Trials.
The online speaker series is available to all Trojans and is sponsored by the Trojan Athletic Fund. The next edition of the series is on Nov. 18 and will feature Olympic swimmers Ous Mellouli, Haly Anderson, Kaleigh Gilchrist, J.W. Krumpholz and John Naber.