The last six years had been a brutal stretch for Tianna Madison. Without question, the most challenging segment of her 14-year track career.
Her last medal of renown before 2012 was the silver for long jump at the 2006 IAAF World Indoor championships.
Then came the drought.
Many in her position might have walked away, but Madison, a 2003 Elyria High School graduate, refused to abandon her goals.
The persistence and dedication paid off with a dream come true — a berth on the U.S. Olympic team. She will compete in the 100-meter sprint as well as the 400-meter relay.
“Tianna was sitting in my kitchen a few summers ago and said she would love to run the leadoff leg for the 400-meter relay at the Olympics,” Elyria girls track coach Jackie Below said. “We were just talking casually, but she said that would be the greatest thing ever. Who knows? She might get to do that.”
Madison’s second-place finish June 23 in the 100 meters at the U.S. Olympic Trials in Oregon guaranteed her an Olympic spot in the 100 and on the 400 relay. With the second-fastest 100-meter time of the trials (10.96), leadoff seems the most likely position for Madison, although the relay order won’t be announced until right before the event.
Madison’s return to prominence took an unexpected detour. She switched from the long jump to the sprints.
“Obviously, she’s a great long jumper, but I thought she was a sprinter,” Below said. “T. always loved it. To be able to fall back on that was great.”
Prior to her Olympic berth, Madison’s career zenith was the 2005 IAAF World long jump title in Helsinki with a career-record 22 feet, 7¼ inches. She won three state long jump titles in high school, including a state-record 20-5¾ inches as a senior, but a change was needed to resurrect her career.
She missed time in 2011 after injuring both hamstrings and decided to skip nationals for the first time since 2004. She was a forgotten woman in the world’s elite meets.
“She never gave up,” Below said. “Sprinting is a part of long jumping. She just seems to put it all together.”
A coaching change in September 2011 was huge in Madison’s transformation. She switched to Florida’s Rana Reider, the 2011 Nike track coach of the year.
Madison, who declined numerous requests for interviews saying she was just focusing on competing, returned to the sprints with regularity in the 2009 season after concentrating on long jump after turning pro following her sophomore year at Tennessee in 2006.
But it wasn’t until she hooked up with Reider that her sprinting abilities went to a whole new level.
“She was frustrated,” said JoAnn Madison, her mom. “The program (under earlier coaches) was counterintuitive to what her body could handle. It was counterproductive. She had to go through that until she found a coach with a program that was a good fit.”
Tianna had been coached by Caryl Smith Gilbert (2003-06 and 2008-10), Bob Kersee (2006-08) and Brooks Johnson (2010-11).
Reider wasn’t new to Tianna. The Madisons have known him since 2002 when Tianna and her father, Bob, visited the U.S. Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs.
“We called Rana in 2008 when Tianna decided to leave Kersee’s training camp in California and move back to Florida,” JoAnn Madison said. “He was a referral from before. We knew Rana’s a renowned coach from Randy Huntington at the Olympic Training Center.”
Reider’s training camp is at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University in Daytona Beach. Among the other elite athletes he coaches are 2008 Olympic gold medal decathlete Bryan Clay and four-time world long jump champ Dwight Phillips.
“Rana gave us a new view on how to train in high school,” Bob Madison said. “The way he trains his athletes is so intense. Even Bob Kersee doesn’t have that type of program. Neither does Brooks Johnson. It didn’t fit her. Rana’s program fits. And it’s a good fit. He works on the nervous system, the energy system — all the things that you need.
“You don’t just train for high school state championships. You train for the world championships and Olympics. You don’t think about all these small meets. When I was training Tianna, that was our goal. Even back in high school: world championship and Olympics.”
In 2002-03, Madison was the first Ohio athlete to win state titles in the 100, 200, long jump and 400 relay at back-to-back state meets since Jesse Owens in 1932 and ’33.
Switch from jumping
“She’s always loved long jump, that’s why we didn’t focus on sprints that much in high school,” Bob Madison said. “Even though you had to work the sprints to do the jumps, it all went hand in hand. But mainly the focus was the jumps. When she went to college, it was the same thing, but she was good at sprinting.”
A great indoor season this winter set the table for Madison’s Olympic hopes. She opened with a 7.02 in the 60-meter dash to defeat two-time defending world champ Veronica Campbell-Brown (7.08) of Jamaica at the USATF Classic on Feb. 11 in Fayetteville, Ark.
“Tianna initially approached Rana as a jumper,” Bob Madison said. “When she pulled out of long jump at Arkansas to focus on the 60, I knew she was serious. The long jump was on the backburner and she loves long jump.
“She made the right decision.”
Madison won the U.S. national indoor title for 60 meters with a time of 7.02 on Feb. 26 in New Mexico.
“I think the jumps would have jeopardized the national championship,” JoAnn said. “She needed every competitive edge she could. There was stiff competition indoors.”
Madison’s strong season continued with a third in the 60 at the World Indoors on March 11 in Turkey. She ran a 7.09, finishing behind Campbell-Brown (7.01) and Ivory Coast’s Murielle Ahoure (7.04).
Madison’s younger sister Christina, 24, has been in Florida with Tianna for a year. She’s seen the revival of her career.
“Even when there were times she thought she was going to give up, I knew she was going to keep going,” Christina Madison said. “Tianna’s not a quitter. We all knew that this was definitely going to be the year. You could tell with the change in her workouts and the change in her diet and everything that she was more focused.
“You just knew that this was going to be the year. Even when she was down on herself, we just knew. It’s not been easy. There’s always development, even when you’re moving around changing coaches. But she’s always had that same determination and drive.”
Madison’s road to the Olympics started at Elyria High, when she won six of her nine state titles in the sprints. Despite the years of success, there was plenty of work to do when she reconnected with Reider.
“A lot of things had to be corrected with her running form,” Bob Madison said. “Her technique was bad. She had backside mechanic problems. Somebody told her to run like she was running downhill. You have no power like that. She just wasn’t ready.”
At her peak
The clock was ticking for Tianna as she tried to make an Olympic team.
“For some reason, age 26 seems to be the prime age for female athletes,” Bob Madison said. “That’s when you peak and you keep peaking for the next eight years. It’s a possibility it could go on for another eight years. That’s no joke.”
It’s likely the U.S. team will need Madison’s services for an extended period as it tries to regain its Olympic supremacy in the sprints.
The U.S. women haven’t won a medal in the 400-meter relay since 1996 in Atlanta. A dropped baton on the third exchange in the last two Olympics cost the team medals, and a bronze medal in 2000 was stripped from the books when Marion Jones later tested positive for blood doping. Other relay members were allowed to keep their medals, but the finish time was expunged from the record books.
The U.S. hasn’t fared much better in the 100. The American women have only one medal since 2000 — Lauryn Williams’ silver in 2004.
That followed a stretch of four straight golds — Gail Devers (1992, ’96), Florence Griffith-Joyner (1988) and Evelyn Ashford (1984). Jones’ gold medal in 2000 also was struck down.
For the first time in Summer Games history at Beijing in 2008, the U.S. left an Olympics 0-for-6 in the sprint races: the men’s and women’s 100, 200 and 400 relays.
After her journey, Madison is in position to change that.