Olympic Games: 2004 in Athens,
Medals won: Silver in the 4×100 men’s relay
On a windy Sunday in June, the world watched Arkansas sprinter Tyson Gay become the fastest man to ever run a 100-meter race.
And just .14 seconds behind him, Lake Highlands graduate Darvis “Doc” Patton shot across the finish line, beating his own “personal best” time and earning a spot on the 2008 U.S. Men’s Olympic team alongside Gay and Walter Dix.
It’s a far cry from what might have been for Patton. Were it not for Lake Highlands track coach Buzz Andrews’ keen awareness and well-intentioned pestering, the Adidas-sponsored track star might not have even made it through high school.
“I’ve always known I was fast, but the first two years of high school, I was ineligible for sports due to grades.” But early during his junior year, Patton says, Andrews spotted him. “Buzz was like, ‘Uh uh. You are not going to fail anymore.’”
Under Andrew’s auspices, Patton hunkered down in school and then became one of the best long and triple jump competitors in the district. Patton wasn’t thrilled with his senior-year performance, but he still earned a scholarship to Garden City Community College in Kansas. Though he’d come a long way in the several years, he wasn’t happy about where he’d landed.
“I hated it there, big time,” Patton says, laughingly. But back then, he wasn’t laughing. “It was just a real culture shock. No fun.”
At Garden City, Patton was relegated to jumping, but his heart was set on running. When it was time to return for a second year, he nearly didn’t go.
Mainly because he wanted to make his mom happy, Patton entered his sophomore year with a renewed determination. First, he pleaded successfully with the athletics coach for a spot on the 4×100-meter relay team. And then he used his situational discontent as performance fuel.
“Getting out [of Garden City] became my motivation. I was going to be so strong and so fast that every college around would want me.”
It worked. Patton wound up with a “mailbox full of letters” from universities offering him a ride, including University of Alabama, University of Florida, University of Arkansas and University of Houston. He ultimately chose Texas Christian University “because it was close to home.” And then he was on the fast track to top tier competition.
Patton has won three World Championship medals. In Athens, 2004, Patton and the rest of the 4×100 relay team brought home the Olympic silver medal. It took some time for it to all sink in.
“All those fans were hollering and screaming, and I thought to myself, ‘I am actually here. I am actually competing in the Olympics.’ It was amazing.”
He will feel the thrill of Olympic competition again this month. At 30, the charismatic athlete isn’t even close to being finished. He’s getting faster every day and says training with guys such as Gay make him a better athlete. As he said into television cameras following the trials, he and his teammates are ready to “shake up the world a little bit … make a little noise.”
Olympic Games: 1960 in Rome, ; 1964 in Tokyo,
Medals won: Two gold in the 800 meter and one gold in the 1500 meter
Athlete of the 20th century. “It has a nice ring to it,” says Peter Snell, the native New Zealander who holds the title.
As a youngster in , Snell dabbled in a slew of sports. “Track wasn’t exactly one of the country’s ‘glory sports’,” he says. “Rugby. That was where the glory was.”
But when a well-known coach noticed Snell, telling him he had the potential to be one of the world’s best mid-distance runners, Snell honed his focus.
“When someone tells you that you could be the best, well that’s just music to an overachiever’s ears,” Snell says with a smile.
At age 19, he embarked on a rigorous training program consisting of daily 15-mile runs. Life for Snell was a cycle of working, running and sleeping. His tenacity and steady improvement gained him a spot at the 1960 Olympics in Rome, , though he assessed himself as only a “marginal” runner at the time.
“No one really expected me to win.”
So when he garnished a gold medal and set a new record in the 800 meter, Snell says, he felt like he was in a dream.
But that was just the beginning. Snell went on to the Tokyo, , Olympics four years later, where he won the gold and set another record in the 800 meter, and won gold in the 1500 meter.
Snell has set five individual world records along with a relay record. Some were shocked when Snell retired just a year after the Tokyo Games, but he says it makes perfect sense.
“There are considerable sacrifices you make when you’re working that intensely. There’s no money in it. And once you’ve done what you meant to do, there’s no real incentive,” he says. “I wanted to do other things … like play a bit of golf.”
A legend in New Zealand, Snell has his image on a postage stamp, a statue in his honor, his shoes on display in a museum — he was just this summer named second on an annual New Zealand Reader’s Digest “Most Trusted Person” list. Yet here, in Lake Highlands, Snell enjoys relative anonymity. A Ph.D. now, he has turned his physical genius into scientific practice. He is an associate professor of medicine at the UT Southwestern medical center, where he conducts studies mostly related to exercise and its effects on health and aging.
That’s not to say he has given up physical exercise entirely. Several years ago, Snell and his wife Miki Hervey, also an acclaimed athlete, took up orienteering, a sport that mixes cross-country running and navigation; both achieved champion status in this sport, too. At age 71, Snell and his wife still cycle at White Rock Lake regularly.
And what must New Zealanders think of the man they named Athlete of the 20th century moving to the ?
“I’m not sure what they think,” he chuckles. But he does know, he says, that he likes his life here just fine.
Olympic Games: 2000 in Sydney,
Lake Highlands graduate Erin Aldrich is hurting a bit, both in mind and spirit, as she watches the 2008 Olympic trials from her home in Lake Highlands, where she is recovering from surgery.
Aldrich, a member of the 2000 Olympic track team, sustained a knee injury that ended her run for the 2008 Olympic Games during a professional volleyball match.
That’s right. Volleyball. Aldrich is in fact one of the world’s foremost dual athletes, known as much for her high jumping as her spiking.
“Every coach told me I needed to focus on one sport. Sometimes I wonder how far I could’ve gone had I done that.”
But her uncertainty is only fleeting; she wouldn’t trade her experiences for anything, she says.
“I love both sports. I knew I could do both. I didn’t want to know what it felt like to not try.”
In 2003, she went to to pursue a professional volleyball career and had spent the last year playing in .
“I’ve learned new languages and traveled, and I make a pretty good salary doing what I absolutely love to do — the gym is my office. Now, how many people can say that?”
She has no real regrets. “I would have regretted not doing it far more.”
Playing several sports as a girl, it wasn’t until she was in seventh grade that Al
drich realized “the high jump would be my ticket to the Olympics.” And competing in the Olympics was certainly one of Aldrich’s aspirations.
“At 6 years old, watching the 1984 Olympic opening ceremonies, I turned to my parents and told them I was going to be an Olympian. And I meant it.”
And though she comes from athletic roots — her grandfather Charles “Ki” Aldrich, an NFL legend, played for the Washington Redskins until 1948 — she needed to work tirelessly to reach her Olympic dreams.
After missing the 1996 USA team by a hair, Aldrich says she was determined to leave no stone unturned while training for the 2000 trials. “If coach told me to do 60 sit ups, and I got to 35 and lost count, I would start over, just to make sure I did everything I was supposed to [do]. I didn’t want to have any reason to look back and say, ‘Oh, that’s why I didn’t make it.’”
She remembers her Olympic-qualifying jump like it was yesterday. “I knew exactly what I had to clear to make it. As I was going through the air, I knew it was a solid jump … all that hard work since the age of 7 was coming to fruition in that moment.”
Aldrich doesn’t pretend to know exactly where her career will go from here, but she has no plans to halt the hard work once she recovers from knee surgery.
“I don’t want to end on this note, which could be the motivation I need to give [the 2012 Olympics] a shot. But I can’t say anything for sure right now.”
Anything is possible — that’s what she wants to share with the world.
“I want to prove that there are no limits. Did anyone ever make a rule that said you can only be good at one thing? Obviously no one I know.”