The following is an excerpt from a story about Quincy Watts and Kevin Young, their LA roots and rise to track and field fame 30 years ago.
If it were Olympic champion and former world record holder Kevin Young, he would have spent the night of August 6 chilling with his wife, Marion Laeuppi, and three teenage children at an Airbnb in Inglewood they had recently rented.
But thanks to Marion and a friend, the evening was an intimate celebration of a magical moment 30 years ago this month when she and two fellow Los Angeles City Chapter students stood at the top of the track and field world.
Three decades ago Young became the first man to break the 47 second average in the men’s 400 meters at the 1992 Olympic Games in Barcelona in a world record time that would stand for nearly 29 years.
“I was ready to go through the day without doing anything big,” said Young, a UCLA graduate who now lives in a village outside Zurich, Switzerland. “But I’m glad it came together. It was the first time Q and I did something together about Barcelona.
Q is Quincy Watts, now the director of men’s and women’s track and field and women’s cross country at USC, his alma mater. In Barcelona, Watts set a pair of Olympic records in the men’s 400 meters, with a career best that was the second fastest performance in history.
Young and Watts hadn’t seen each other in years until Watts visited Young and his children at the USC facility a few days before the surprise party at the rented house.
Steve Lewis, the 1988 Olympic champion in the 400 who succeeded Watts in ’92, and Johnny Gray, the ’92 800 bronze medalist, were the first guests to arrive.
Then Derek Knight, Young’s college roommate, who helped Marion put the party together, and John Carlos, the 1968 Olympic bronze medalist in the 200 and the man who will forever be remembered – along with the prizewinner gold medalist Tommie Smith – to raise a medal. A hat with a black glove during an award ceremony in Mexico City to protest racism against black Americans in the United States.
Then there’s former masters athlete Eugene Driver, Jeff Williams, bronze medalist in the 200 at the 1995 World Championships, and Watts, who won a second gold medal at the ’92 Games and played Burn the second leg at 1,600 to help. The United States of America set a world record at that time.
“We talked about a lot of things and told a lot of stories,” Young said. “As the wine poured, the conversations started to get longer and louder.”
The story of how Young, Watts and their coach, John Smith — all three products of the City Section — reached Olympic greatness doesn’t follow a straight line.
Young grew up playing basketball on the playground in the Watts neighborhood of South Los Angeles.
As the youngest of seven children, it gives him a “sixth sense” to avoid the distress that surrounded some of the children around him, including an older sister, Carmen, who died in 1990 after being was addicted to PCP for many years.
Young had a solid track career at Los Angeles Jordan High School, finishing in the state championship as a senior in 1984 in the 110-meter high hurdles. Without a scholarship, he went to the UCLA team and changed for fear of becoming an event. cut off.
“I took the middle hurdles seriously as a sophomore because we had a lot of good high hurdlers and I wanted to make the team,” Young said.
After finishing second at the NCAA championships that year, Young won titles in 1987 and ’88, and placed fourth at the 1988 Olympics in Seoul. Ranked among the top six performers in the world by Track & Field News from 1987-91, he was an underachiever in the 1992 Olympic Games.
Meanwhile, the basketball-loving Watts had never let go before his mother sent the Detroit eighth-grader to live with his father in the San Fernando Valley. He would win three state titles — and finish second twice — during his career at Woodland Hills Taft High.
He missed much of his senior season with a sprained right ankle, and the injury slowed him down at USC in the first part of his junior track season. Because he was looking for friendship, he even sent him in football.
“Track and field is a team sport, but it’s lonely when you’re injured on the sidelines,” he said. “When you’re injured, it’s very lonely and sad year after year.”
In 2012, Quincy Watts showed off his Olympic gold medal win.
Hamstring problems prevented Watts from focusing on the 400 as a junior and he placed second at the 1991 NCAA Championships before winning the ’92 title and finishing third at the Olympic trials.
Watts’ quest for the gold medal in Barcelona began with a win in his first round qualifying heat. But he felt “out of rhythm” when he finished second in his quarter-final in 45.06.
Smith, who first coached Young at UCLA and began working with Watts in the summer of 1991, blamed Watts’ sunglasses for slipping when he was coming off the blocks.
After the race, Smith asked for sunglasses, which he threw down and broke. He then told Watts to send a message with his semifinal dominance, and he did: His time of 43.71 eclipsed the Olympic record of 43.86 set by American Lee Evans in 1968 and made history. the second fastest although he eased over the last 20-25. meters from the race.
Two days later in the 400 final, Watts started in first place behind former UCLA runner-up Lewis, but he put it on his back to gain a four-to-five meter advantage over his closest pursuer going into the home stretch.
“I knew my race was out, but I didn’t take any chances,” Watts said. “About 50 meters left. . . I went to her muscle. I wanted to give him everything I had and my form kind of went out the window. I just quit because I had the great Steve Lewis in the race and I wasn’t going to look back.
Watts’ mark of 43.50 was second only to American Butch Reynolds’ world record of 43.29 from 1988, and his margin of victory over Lewis (44.21) was the largest in the Olympics since 1924.
The win was a wonderful gift for Smith at the age of 42 birthday, and Young gave him “something even better” the following evening in the intermediate hurdles final.
Jamaican Winthrop Graham and Frenchman Stephane Diagana led the way in the first hurdle or two of the 10 hurdles flights. But Young was clearly in the lead after the fifth hurdle and was so far ahead near the end of the home straight that he raised his right arm in triumph eight meters before the finish line.
His time of 46.78 broke American Edwin Moses’ world record of 47.02 from 1983 and moved him ahead of Graham in second place (47.66).
“I was super, super happy,” Young said. “I felt like I got a lot from where I came from. Growing up in Watts, walked at UCLA, took the middle hurdles at UCLA because I wanted to make sure I made the team.
Although Watts would help the United States set a world record of 2:55.74 in the 1,600 relay in Barcelona, she and Young will forever be linked with their winning performances in the 400 and middle hurdles.
Young won the 1993 World Championships in Stuttgart, Germany, and Watts ran a leg on a 1,600 relay team that set a still-standing world record of 2:54.29 in that event. But they parted ways with Smith after the 1993 season and their performances ended after that.
Smith, a 1968 graduate of Los Angeles Fremont High and the No. 1 quarter-miler in the world in 1971 as a UCLA junior, has coached a number of elite athletes. But he doesn’t care what happens.
“I look back on what we accomplished together. I mean, Quincy set a pair of Olympic records in the 400 and won a pair of gold medals. And Kevin won a gold medal and a time that stood as the world record until last year. We were all proud of our work.”
John Ortega is a former Los Angeles Times sportswriter who now co-writes Track & Field Informed (TFI) with Johnny O at trackandfield.substack.com.