September 16, 2014

Elyria
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Family, former coaches sense it’s time for Tianna to shine

The Madisons have been thinking about this moment for years. That doesn’t mean they’ve fully realized the enormity of the situation.

“It never really sinks in until we’re in that moment — ever,” Christina Madison said. “Every state track meet since the day we started, we had always had these goals in mind to make that meet. It never sinks in to the day of that meet.

“And I don’t think it’s any different for her, so I don’t think it will sink in until London.”

The time is nearly upon us.

Elyria’s Tianna Madison will compete in the Olympics beginning Friday. She qualified for the 100 meters and the 400-meter relay.

“It’s almost unbelievable, but at the same time we all knew that she could do it,” said Christina, Tianna’s younger sister. “For her entire career we knew sometime she would be there.”

Madison decided not to comment as she was immersed in preparation for the biggest moments in her life. She left Elyria for the University of Tennessee in 2003, but there’s no denying her career was forged in her hometown. And for those who know her best, it’s been a joy and thrill being along for the ride.

“When she broke the 11-second barrier (in the 100-meter dash) this spring, she just stepped up to a whole new level. That was incredible,” said Elyria High track coach Jackie Below, who coached Tianna. “To think that this Elyria High graduate is at the same level as these other women is incredible. I’m so proud of her. We really know somebody that’s living the dream.”

The start

Madison didn’t begin her track and field career as early as some. It’s wasn’t late, just not early.

Madison started in the seventh grade, the same year Christina was starting in the fourth grade. But Tianna didn’t specialize in track until her junior year at Elyria High School. She played volleyball through her freshman year and basketball through her sophomore year.

The “slow” start didn’t hurt her. Tianna led the Pioneers to the Division I state championship in 2003 and won nine individual state titles during her career.

Christina led off and Tianna anchored the winning 400-meter relay in 2003 that set a state record (47.12).

Marita Below, Jackie’s daughter, joined Tianna on the 2002 state champion 400-meter relay. They were also teammates at Northwood Junior High and for the Speed City Track Club.

“I’m just really, really excited for her,” Marita Below said. “This is exactly what she wants. This is what her goal has always been. Thank goodness she had a second chance because for a while it looked like her career had taken a turn from what we had wished for.

“We hope that she follows through and becomes the champion we know that she is. I’m very proud of her.”

The Belows have known Madison since she was born. Tianna’s dad, Bob, graduated from Elyria High with Below in 1976.

“She’s almost part of the family,” Jackie Below said. “She would typically spend Friday nights in high school with us during track season. We’d have things like a movie night and talk about things we’d like to do as a team.

“She was so fun-loving. A lot of people don’t get to see that because she’s serious also. I was fortunate enough to get to see that — that silly side, that innocent side.

She was very supportive of her teammates. It was just a great, great atmosphere.”

Marita Below, who lives in Lorain, really got to know Madison in the sixth grade.

“She was a pain in the neck at first,” she said. “We had battles because Tianna’s always been Tianna. She’s always had an ‘I can conquer the world’ type of attitude.

She knows she can do it. We bumped heads. We both have that attitude. We ended up being glued to each other.

“We were inseparable in high school. When she came up to the high school her freshman year I was so excited. We already established the base for our track team. I knew Tianna, Maria Whitely and my cousin Margo Young were going to really bolster our sprints. It was what we were lacking at the time and it was finally going to be the nail on the head for what we needed to have a solid team.”

Madison went to Windsor Elementary School, Below to Spring Valley. They connected running summer track for Speed City when Marita was 13 and Madison 12.

Speed City was started in the early 1990s by Jackie Below and her late husband, Tom.

“Speed City pretty much molded the 2003 state championship team we know today,” Marita said. “When you’re a high-level track athlete like Tianna, every championship, every medal is really just a step to that next level. She’s been a world champion. So what does she have to do now? Be an Olympian, be an Olympic medalist. That’s exactly what I know she’s going to be.”

The two haven’t spoken in a couple months, but Marita isn’t concerned.

“I know Tianna. She’s focused,” she said. “She’s not thinking of anything other than what she has to do on that track. She’s getting her mind set. I couldn’t even bug her at this point. She knows I love her. She knows I’m rooting for her.”

Contact Paul Heyse at 329-7135 or ctsports@chroniclet.com.