by Amanda Woods
Four sprinters who will compete in this year’s Olympics, many of them record-setters and breakers, trained for their lifelong dream competition in one of New York City’s most popular jogging spots: Central Park.
Erison Hurtault, who will compete in the 400-meter dash; Julius Mutekanga, who will take on the 800-meter dash; Jeremy Bascom, who is preparing for the 100-meter dash; and Moussa Dembele, who is gearing up for the 110-meter hurdles, trained with the Central Park Track Club New Balance, which prepares runners for national and international competitions.
Hurtault, who grew up in New Jersey, graduated from Columbia University in 2007 and now lives in Harlem. He was a 400-meter dash semifinalist at the 2009 Berlin and 2011 Daegu World Outdoor Championships, as well as the 2012 Istanbul World Indoor Championships. He also raced the 400 meters at the 2008 Olympics in Beijing.
“It’s a great honor to be able to compete at the Games,” Hurtault said. “Getting the chance to compete on the world’s biggest stage is exciting, demanding and a little nerve-wracking.”
For Hurtault, a typical training week with the Central Park Track Club consists of four to six running workouts and weight training sessions two to four times a week, both of which usually last about two hours.
Hurtault and other athletes involved in the club meet in front of the park’s Daniel Webster statue every Thursday night for training. They also race at the New Balance Armory Track and Field Center at Fort Washington Avenue and West 168th Street and Columbia University’s Baker Athletics Complex on West 218th Street and Broadway.
“New York City is a hidden gem in terms of running,” said Devon Martin, head coach of the Central Park Track Club. “We do have some of the best facilities in the country.”
As the Olympics draw nearer, the training becomes more focused and specific, Hurtault added.
“Rather than just about developing fitness, things are more about executing the way I need to on the track in London,” Hurtault said. “It takes more mental focus, but helps build the confidence I’ll need going into the Games.”
Mutekanga, originally from Uganda, is his home country’s top-ranked 800-meter runner, and he set records at Canadian National Track League international meets in Edmonton and Halifax. He moved to Clinton Hill, Brooklyn, in 2007 on an athletic scholarship to Long Island University.
“Growing up in Africa gave me a humble background,” Mutekanga said. “It gave me a sense of hard work. If you want things, you have to work hard for them. I’m just here for myself—I don’t have any relatives in New York. All my family is back home.”
He often thinks about his 4-year-old daughter and his nieces and nephews, who look up to him and admire his athletic accomplishments.
“They look out for me,” Mutekanga said. “They say, ‘My [uncle] is doing this and that.’ Everyone is really proud and excited for all of this.”
Jeremy Bascom, 28, is currently the fastest 100-meter runner in South America, with a time of 10.19, which tied the Guyanese national record set 34 years ago. He was born in Guyana but has lived in Springfield, Queens, for about half of his life. His father was also a runner in his youth, and both parents are glad to see Bascom continuing that legacy and showcasing it on the international stage.
“I think it was a sense of pride that my mom and dad felt when I told them,” Bascom said.
Among his family members, Bascom considers his mother his “biggest force of encouragement and motivation,” but when it comes to athletic inspiration, Bascom, like Hurtault, looks to gold medal sprinter Michael Johnson and Michael Jordan as models.
“Their competitive desire and fire, their drive and their will,” Bascom said. “That’s what I admire.”
Dembele, 22, born in Senegal, was the 110-meter hurdles champion at the Junior African Games in Burkina Faso, and was a three-time All-America for Essex Community College in New Jersey, where he is studying sports management. He also advanced to the finals in both the 2011 All-Africa Games and the 2012 Senior African Championships. This will be his first Olympic Games, and he is confident but prepared for the unexpected.
“When I get there, my challenge is to make the final. Over there, you never know,” Dembele said. “Every time I do better, I’m so proud of that.”
Mutekanga has similar goals for the Olympics.
“When you’re running, you’re looking for improving your personal best time, so it doesn’t matter whether you win or not,” Mutekanga said. “As long as you’re running faster and faster, that’s the ultimate goal.”
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