When L.A. track stars Quincy Watts and Kevin Young set the gold standard 30 years ago

The following is an excerpt from a story about Quincy Watts and Kevin Young, their LA roots and their ascent to athletics 30 years ago.

If it were up to Olympic gold medalist and former world record holder Kevin Young, he would have spent the night of August 6 with his wife Marion Laeuppi and three teenage stepchildren in an Airbnb they recently rented in Inglewood.

But thanks to Marion and a friend, the evening was an intimate celebration of a magical moment 30 years ago this month, when he and two other Los Angeles City Section alumni stood at the forefront of the athletics world.

Three decades ago, Young became the first man to break 47 seconds in the men’s 400-meter intermediate hurdles at the 1992 Barcelona Olympics, a world record time that would stand for nearly 29 years.

“I was ready to let the day go by without making a fuss about it,” said Young, a UCLA graduate student who now lives in a village outside of Zurich, Switzerland. “But I’m glad it worked out. That was the first time Q and I did anything together in relation to Barcelona.”

Q is Quincy Watts, now director of men’s and women’s track and field and women’s cross-country athletics at USC, his alma mater. At Barcelona, ​​Watts set two Olympic records in the men’s 400 meters, topped by a career-best performance that was the second-fastest performance in history.

Young and Watts had not seen each other for several years until Watts gave Young and his children a tour of USC’s facilities a few days before the surprise party at the rental house.

Steve Lewis, the 1988 Olympic gold medalist in the 400 who finished second to Watts in 1992, and Johnny Gray, the 1992 bronze medalist in the 800, were the first guests to arrive.

Famous US sprinters and coaches pose for a photo during Kevin Young's birthday celebration.

Famous sprinters and coaches pose for a photograph during a celebration of the 30th anniversary of Quincy Watts and Kevin Young’s gold medal triumphs at the Barcelona 1992 Olympic Games. From left: Quincy Watts, Derek Knight, Steve Lewis, Johnny Gray, John Carlos, Kevin Young, Jeff Williams and Eugene Driver.

(Courtesy of Marion Laeuppi)

Next came Derek Knight, a college teammate of Young’s who helped Marion put the party together, and John Carlos, the 1968 Olympic bronze medalist in the 200 and the man to be remembered forever – along with gold medalist Tommie Smith – for raising a black-gloved fist during the awards ceremony in Mexico City to protest racism against black Americans in the US

Then came Eugene Driver, a former Masters sprinter, Jeff Williams, a bronze medalist at the 1995 World 200cc Championships, and Watts, who won a second gold medal at the 1992 games by running a searing second leg in the 1,600 relay, to help the US beat a then world record.

“We talked about a lot of things and shared a lot of stories,” Young said. “As the wine was poured, the conversations grew longer and louder.”

The story of how Young, Watts and their trainer John Smith – all three City Section products – achieved Olympic greatness does not follow a straight line.

Young grew up on a playground in the Watts area of ​​South Los Angeles and played basketball.

Quincy Watts celebrates as teammate Steve Lewis finishes the 4x100m relay to claim gold.

Quincy Watts celebrates as teammate Steve Lewis finishes the 4x100m relay to secure gold at the 1992 Summer Olympics in Barcelona.

(Dennis Doyle/Associated Press)

The youngest of seven children, he credits a “sixth sense” he had to avoid the problems that engulfed some children around him, including an older sister, Carmen, who died in 1990 after being addicted to PCP for many years was.

Young had a solid track and field career at Los Angeles Jordan High School, finishing runner-up in the 110-meter hurdles at the 1984 state championships as a senior. Without a scholarship, he went to the UCLA team and transferred for fear of being cut the event.

“I got serious about middle hurdles as a sophomore because we had a lot of good hurdlers and I wanted to make the team,” Young said.

After placing second at the NCAA Championships that year, Young won titles in 1987 and 1988 and placed fourth at the 1988 Seoul Olympics. From 1987 to 1991, he was ranked among the top six players in the world by Track & Field News and went undefeated at the 1992 Olympics.

Meanwhile, basketball-loving Watts had never walked the track before his Detroit mother sent the eighth-grader to live with his father in the San Fernando Valley. During his career at Woodland Hills Taft High, he won three state titles — and finished second twice.

He missed much of his senior season with a strained right hamstring, and injuries slowed him through the early part of his junior running season at USC. While sidelined, he even tried his hand at football as he sought camaraderie.

“Athletics is a team sport, but when you get injured on the sidelines it’s lonely,” he said. “It’s pretty lonely and frustrating when you get hurt year after year.”

In 2012, Quincy Watts reflected on his Olympic gold medal triumph.

Hamstring problems led Watts to focus on the 400 as a junior, finishing second at the 1991 NCAA Championships before winning the title in 1992 and finishing third at the Olympic Trials.

Watt’s quest for a gold medal in Barcelona began with a win in his first-round qualifying run. But he felt “out of rhythm” when he finished second in his quarterfinals 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 off when he got off the blocks.

After the race, Smith asked for the sunglasses, which he threw away and crushed. He then challenged Watts to send a message by dominating his semifinals, and he did: his 43.71 clock lowered the Olympic record of 43.86 set by American Lee Evans in 1968 and was second fastest in history, although he slacked off in the final 20–25 yards of the race.

Kevin Young raises his right arm in victory as he wins the 400m hurdles in a world record time of 45.78 seconds.

Kevin Young crosses the finish line in the 400m hurdles at the 1992 Summer Olympics in Barcelona in a world record time of 45.78 seconds.

(Deither Endlicher/Associated Press)

Two days later in the 400 final, Watts trailed former UCLA star Lewis out of the first turn but made up ground down the backstretch to gain a four to five yard lead over his closest pursuer, who immediately drove home.

“I knew I had won the race after the corner, but I didn’t want to take any chances,” said Watts. “At about 50 meters to go. . . I went to muscle it. I wanted to give everything I had and my form kind of went out the window. I just let it all out because I had the amazing Steve Lewis in the running and I didn’t want to look back.”

Watts’ time of 43.50 was second to American Butch Reynolds’ world record of 43.29 in 1988, and his lead over Lewis (44.21) was the widest at the Olympics since 1924.

The win was a wonderful gift for Smith on his 42nd birthday birthday, and Young gave him “something even better” the next night in the intermediate hurdle final.

Jamaican Winthrop Graham and Frenchman Stephane Diagana led through the first hurdle or two of the 10 barriers. But Young was clearly in the lead after the fifth hurdle and by the end of the stretch was so far ahead that he raised his right arm in triumph eight meters from the finish line.

His time of 46.78 broke American Edwin Moses’ world record of 47.02 set in 1983, leaving him well ahead of Graham in second place (47.66).

“I was super, super happy,” Young said. “I felt like I had achieved a lot from where I came from. I grew up in Watts, worked at UCLA as a lateral transfer student, and took the intermediate hurdles at UCLA because I wanted to make sure I would make the team.”

Although Watts would help USA set a world record of 2:55.74 in the 1,600m relay in Barcelona, ​​he and Young would forever be linked by their winning performances in the 400 and intermediate hurdles.

Kevin Young celebrates after winning gold in the men's 400m hurdles at the Barcelona 1992 Olympic Games.

Kevin Young celebrates after winning gold in the men’s 400m hurdles at the Barcelona 1992 Olympic Games.

(Denis Paquin / Associated Press)

Young won the 1993 World Championships in Stuttgart, Germany, and Watts ran one stage in a 1,600-strong relay team that set a surviving world record of 2:54.29 at that competition. But they split with Smith after the 1993 season and their performances flagged thereafter.

Smith, a 1968 graduate of Los Angeles Fremont High and a 1971 UCLA junior ranked No. 1 quarter mile in the world, has coached a number of elite sprinters. But he’s not worried about what could have been.

“I look back on what we have achieved together. I mean, Quincy has set two Olympic records in the 400m and won two gold medals. And Kevin won a gold medal and ran what was a world record until last year. We were all proud of what we did.”

John Ortega is a former Los Angeles Times sportswriter who now writes Track & Field Informed (TFI) with Johnny O at trackandfield.substack.com.

https://www.latimes.com/sports/olympics/story/2022-08-16/quincy-watts-kevin-young-anniversary-barcelona-olympics-gold-medals When L.A. track stars Quincy Watts and Kevin Young set the gold standard 30 years ago

Emma Bowman

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