Watch Program SCV NEWSMAKER OF THE WEEK:
Mark Crear
Olympic Medalist, 1996 & 2000

Interview by Scott Galetti
Signal Sports Writer

Sunday, April 3, 2005
(Television interview conducted March 23, 2005)

Mark Crear     "Newsmaker of the Week" is presented by the SCV Press Club and Comcast, and hosted by Signal Multimedia Editor Leon Worden. The program premieres every Wednesday at 9:30 p.m. on SCVTV Channel 20, repeating Sundays at 8:30 a.m.
    This week's newsmaker is Valencia resident Mark Crear, who won silver in the 100-meter high hurdles in the 1996 Olympics and bronze in 2000. The interview was conducted March 23. Questions are paraphrased and some answers may be abbreviated for length.

Signal: You grew up in the San Gabriel Valley and went to Rowland High School. Then you went to Mount San Antonio College and USC. What was your life like as a member of the track team in those days?

Crear: Well, I didn't start track until I was in the 12th grade. I was a late bloomer. People ask me, how did I get started in track and field? One day I was sitting at the lunch tables and a security guard by the name of Frank Gerdine said, "Hey Mark, you should run track." Back then I was just thinking about girls and tights and shorts, so I went out there and fell in love with the sport. I got recruited to run the high hurdles, and ever since I've been overcoming hurdles throughout my life.

Signal: Tell us about your time at the University of Southern California.

Crear: USC was a wonderful experience. It was a dream come true. I worked hard to get there, but I was under the tutelage of Jim Bush. ... It was just an experience of learning world-class, learning how to be professional and just representing the Trojans and, you know, fight on.

Signal: What originally got you into track and field?

Crear: I was recruited, like I said, in the 12th grade, and it was something that I did well. The more I worked, the better I became. It was something that nobody could take away from me at that time. The results of hard work paid off, and it was sort of symbolic to what I was going through in my life at that time.

Signal: It takes a lot of drive and determination to keep up that dream. What kept you going?

Crear: Well what kept me going? It's an itch that you can't really scratch. It's that deep-down voice that you're hearing constantly. It was Roger Kingdom who was in the 1984 Olympics and he won the gold medal. I remember they had these astronaut outfits on. And I said, "Well, if he could do it, I can do it." And I just buckled down and worked hard.

Signal: The 110-meter high hurdles was your event. You won silver in the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta.

Crear: 1996 was an awesome year for me. Two weeks before the Olympics, unfortunately, I broke my arm. Two weeks before the Olympics, my first daughter Ebony, was born. And two weeks before the Olympics was the high hurdles finals. So I was juggling all of these life-changing events, if you will, but I came out on top.

Signal: How difficult was it to compete with a broken arm?

Crear: It was very difficult, but at that time I was so focused, I was in the zone, all the hard work. It was more mentally challenging than physically challenging. Just the task of overcoming the hurdles once again. To be honest, it was the lack of sleep because of my two-week-old daughter, more so than a broken arm.

Signal: After winning silver, you took your daughter for a victory lap.

Crear: It was truly an awesome experience, not just for me, but for her. Many years from now she can look at the tape and say, "I made history." The funny thing about it was that she got more publicity out of it than I did. But it was just an honor to be able to incorporate her in one of my dreams.

Signal: Most athletes would be happy to get through one Olympics, but you kept going — another four years of preparation for the next one.

Crear: You know, I had a dream that I wanted to take my daughter back to the Olympics. It's one thing to do it once, but it takes consistency and determination to do it twice. And I was honored with a double hernia, mind you, to make it to the Sydney Olympics and once again take her on a victory lap.

Signal: How do you run with a double hernia?

Mark Crear Crear: You don't run with a double hernia. But once again, all the preparation and all the determination and the adrenaline, the support — it was just awesome. You could have shot me, and I would have been still able to run that race.

Signal: How difficult is it to be a single parent of two while traveling around the world and perfecting your craft?

Crear: It's been very challenging to be a parent because whatever I do, I want to be the best. I made a commitment to my athletics, but also I have a commitment to my two children. But I've been blessed with support and just being able to be good at doing both.

Signal: Has Li'l Mark been able to attend any of the Olympics?

Crear: (Last) year I tried to bring little Mark to Athens. I came two spots short from making my third Olympic team, but he can look it on TV. He'll look at the tapes.

Signal: How many years have you been working on your dream of going to the Olympics?

Crear: I started my world-class career (in) 1992. You really never stop training for the Olympics; it is always in the back of your mind. But every year, every month, it's something that you need to work on. It just takes focus, determination and discipline.

Signal: What brought you to the Santa Clarita Valley?

Crear: I moved out here to Santa Clarita in 1994. The earthquake actually brought me out to here, because I was displaced from my apartment, and got a loan, and boom — here we are in Valencia. It was a good family community where I can focus on my athletics, stay out of trouble and just settle down and be a family man and train hard to get to the Olympics.

Signal: You do a lot of training at College of the Canyons. How did that come about?

Crear: Lindy Caine — now, she's the track and field coach at College of the Canyons. She and the whole track program have been so good to me. And I give back to them, helping their athletes and just being a figure out there to encourage the athletes to say, "If Mark Crear can do it, then I can, too."

Signal: Tell us about your new book, "Why My Silver is Gold."

Crear: "Why My Silver is Gold" is my autobiography; it's my life. It's my journey. I felt compelled to share my story with the public so they can become inspired, encouraged. There are many people out there who don't have as much support as they might need, or as much financial support. It was just my way of saying that no matter what, you can make it. No matter if you fall down, you can get back up, and there is a light at the end of the tunnel.

Signal: What are the focal points of the book?

Crear: Well, the main focal point is my childhood and the overcoming of being mentally and physically abused. Never giving up. And if you look hard enough, there is someone there who will help you out.
    There's a difference between needing a hand up and a hand out, and basically that was the part, and then getting to the Olympics and going through the psychological preparation and then the challenges of facing the inevitable hurdles in life.

Signal: What did you go through as a child?

Crear: I was (from) a broken home, single parent with my mom. She remarried a gentleman who was physically and, more so, mentally abusive, and I was subjected to that. Consequently, my self-esteem was low, confidence was low. I didn't realize the ramifications of that until I got into high school where you need confidence and self-esteem to believe, especially being an athlete. So it was very challenging me to believe in myself at the same time when you've not been prepared to believe in yourself.

Signal: How did you overcome that?

Crear: Once again, I always knew that there was an itch down there. I knew I wanted to go to school. I didn't have the financial support; I didn't really have family support. But through the grace of God and just focus and my strength and my family came from Christ, came from God. That was my vehicle to get to where I am now.

Signal: And now, in addition to being a motivational speaker and a doctor of philosophy, you're an ordained minister. How did that come about?

Crear: In my book, it talks about the journey I take. Throughout it all, I have to realize there was the grace of God. ... You can't hate the fruit and love the tree, and you can't love the fruit and hate the tree. I'm the fruit and God's the tree. So I have to give my respects to God for blessing me to be as talented and as focused as I've been.

Signal: Tell us about your involvement in the SCV community.

Crear: I work heavily with the Special Olympics out here. Cameron (Smyth), the mayor now, we did a campaign to try to get the youth active and off the couch and on the playground and focusing on nutrition and trying to educate them on how obesity is becoming too popular and so on and so forth. I do a lot of work with the organizations, do a lot of work with the churches and I just believe in giving back, passing the baton, because everybody needs a helping hand.

Signal: Back in your college days at Mount SAC, you were working for the United Parcel Service — a rigorous job when you're also trying to do athletics. It must have been quite an experience.

Crear: Let me tell you, anybody who wants to work at UPS, go ahead. UPS is no joke. I mean, they work for four hours — they pay you well now, but they work you for four hours. You're bending over lifting boxes, packages, lifting grandma's coffee cakes and everything else. And then you're coming from a workout. So it was a double workout for me, but it just made me mentally stronger and more prepared for the next level, which was USC.

Signal: What was your biggest moment at USC?

Crear: The biggest moment was graduating, of course. I'm the first graduate from my family. It just meant so much to me. I originally went to USC to emulate Paul Williams, who is an architect major out of USC. But unfortunately, track and field and architecture didn't gel — too time consuming. So then I eventually went to business and graduated in sociology. The biggest moment for me was graduating and then winning a national championship.

Signal: A lot of people don't hear about track and field on a collegiate level, but USC has always had one of the top programs. What was it like walking around campus as one of track guys?

Crear: Well, fortunately, I had Quincy Watts — he was the 1992 Olympic gold medalist — and George Porter and Travis Hannah and Curtis Conway. So I had a lot of big athletes that I was companied with. But every now and then I would get my article in the Daily Trojan and then I walked around pretty well. But I was humbled when I went into the classroom and the directors said, "not in here." So it was a good experience and something that I will always remember.

Signal: Were you training for the Olympics while in college?

Crear: I realized I had the potential to be a world-class athlete at the National Championships in 1992. The pressure was on me. I was ranked No. 1 in the country, the fastest collegiate. I was expected to win. I should have won and I did win — and then after that, a whole bunch of weight fell off my shoulders when I crossed the finish line and I knew at that point I could compete with the best.

Signal: You won the 1998 Goodwill Games and Outdoor Championships. Which did you prefer, indoor or outdoor?

Crear: The shorter you are, the better you are indoor. Outdoor is a longer event, more time to make up and catch up. Indoor is split-second decisions. So I'm better outdoors and I like running outdoors.

Signal: What's your normal day like when you're training for the Olympics?

Crear: Back then it was 1996, actually we started in 1995. A normal day consisted of: You wake up at 6 o'clock in the morning, get your breakfast, your protein. Do your massage, you stretch. You're at the track at 7:30. About four hours later you're finishing; just to go home and sit in a bucket of ice for another half an hour. Massage. Physical therapy. Then at 1 o'clock you're back out on the track for another four hours and you go home and crash and wake up to do it all over again.

Signal: It's basically a full-time job.

Crear: Oh, it is. It is. And I've been blessed. Many athletes don't have that support, but I was sponsored by Home Depot, who took care of me. And I had a contract back then. And it's difficult, but if there's a will, there's a way — and I have the will.

Signal: When you showed up at your first Olympic venue, what was it like?

Crear: But I'll tell you what, this is special, because this is also in Atlanta and it was in the United States where you didn't have travel so much. Track and field is popular in Europe, so we're jet-lagged and homesick, but this was hometown. But I'll tell you what, when you're walking through the stadium in the finals and you see the crowds full cameras flashing, you step up to the line, all types of thoughts are going through your head. The smell of Ben-Gay and sweat is making (it so) you can't even breathe. And then you hear: "Runners, take your mark." At that moment, all the hard work pays off. And the only thing you're thinking is, "Was I prepared?"

Signal: What are you feeling? Are you thinking that this moment is what the last four years were all about?

Medals Crear: Well, in theory, but in actuality you're thinking, "please, can I win?" No — you're thinking that if you stay ready, you don't have to get ready. I was thinking about my broken arm, actually, because I couldn't put pressure on it, and it kind of inhibited my taking off. But once you're in the blocks, you're trained and programmed to do your job.

Signal: Were you in a cast?

Crear: I (had) a soft cast on, but I took it off before I went to the Olympic Village.

Signal: Running and jumping over the hurdles has got to hurt the arm.

Crear: That didn't hurt the arm. What really hurt the arm was the start and the other competitors. And I won't say who they are. It leaked out that I had a broken arm, so they kind of helped me out every now and then by giving me a little nudge. Every time they gave me a nudge, it kind of hurt. But I did well anyway.

Signal: What made you like that particular event?

Crear: My coach made me like that particular event.

Signal: What coach was that?

Crear: Frank Gerdine at Rowland High School. Every coach puts their athletes on the hurdles because no one wants to run them in high school anyway. He threw me out there and I wasn't fast enough to be a sprinter, but I quickly learned (to) do what you do best instead of doing what everyone else does best. So I was able to do a pretty good job and he kept me out there.

Signal: After you did it in Atlanta, what made you want to do it again?

Crear: That's the funny part about it. When I won my silver medal in Atlanta, you take it for granted — as most people do — you know, you're young, you're No. 1 in the world at that time, and I'm going to do that easily. But you have four years to the next Olympics, and a lot can happen in four years — just not on the track, but off the track — relationships, children, responsibilities. So there's a lot going on. So I really appreciated (it) in 2000 more so than I did in 1996.

Signal: Was it already decided for you that you'd return in 2000?

Crear: Oh, it was already decided. When I had little Ebony around, and her bobbing her little two-week head up and down, I realized I was going to have to do this again.

Signal: After Atlanta, did you have any time off to enjoy your medal?

Crear: Not really. The Olympics were sort of in the middle of our track-and-field season, so therefore we had about a week, and we had other competitions to compete in. Sydney, they were over in September, so we had about a month. But you only get about three weeks really off, and that's pushing it.

Signal: When you were in training for 2000, was there ever a time that you thought, "Am I sure I really want to do this?"

Crear: For sure. I had a lot of other responsibilities. I was getting into the ministry. I felt the calling, so I was getting my master's (degree) at that time, starting up a clothing line — God Speed, sports apparel — and doing other things. I've always wanted to set myself up for the next stage in life, and I was really focused with that.
    And you get a little burned out, and I see why. Like Michael Jordan, I had to take a step back and then come back. And then I sort of got complacent, but then that hunger grew back. And then I thought, "Let me just do this one more time."

Signal: How did Syndey compare to Atlanta, where you only had to go across the country instead of across the world?

Crear: I'll tell you what. Fourteen hours of flying. Four hours versus 14 hours. You get off, "Good day, mate." And you're looking the wrong way and mushy peas and fish n' chips and all this new food. But Sydney was a beautiful place. I recommend everybody to go (there) on vacation. The people there were warm. But it's much different. You know, you're jet-lagged, you're not sleeping in your own bed. You don't know your own radio stations, your own food. And phone bills are expensive once you call home.

Signal: How long before the games do you generally arrive at the Olympic Village?

Crear: That's a good question. Most athletes get there about three weeks. I get there about three days (before). I've always been one to come later than earlier.

Signal: Why?

Crear: I just like to come in and do my job. I don't like to get caught up. I think me and, like, Gail Devers and Michael Johnson — we stay focused. You get caught up in the Olympic spirit, if you will, hanging out at the clubs, signing autographs, and you get a little distracted. I just want to come in there, take a look at the track and come back to my room and get focused.

Signal: After winning silver in 1996, was bronze a letdown? Or were you just pleased to medal?

Crear: Well, people say, you know, when you win a silver, you lose a gold — but on the contrary, I won a silver, and a I earned a bronze medal, and I wouldn't trade those in for the world.
    I mean, not everybody's going to be No. 1, but we're all winners. And just for me to run (with a) double hernia — and I found (the) news about that two days before, because at the Olympic Village, I had an MRI and they said, "Well, you've got a hernia." At that point, I said, "Well, let me just go ahead." And just the strength that it took for me to run and the pain that I endured, that was a gold medal to me.

Signal: A lot of people would be happy just to finish with a double hernia — and you took bronze. Does one medal mean more to you than the other?

Crear: They're both different meanings. The Sydney medal, this was a double hernia; this (Atlanta) was a broken arm. But these both, I was able to share with my daughter, and that's what being an Olympian is. That's what motivated me. And I wish I would have been able to get just one more for my son, but he's just going to have to earn his own.

Signal: Again, it must be difficult to be a single father with all of this going on.

Crear: I've been blessed with some good time-management skills, but it's very challenging. Just off the track — personal relationships. The unfortunate breakup between my wife then and myself, dealing with that. Dealing with the media giving interviews, dealing with training and coaching myself is very difficult because I have to be the coach, the motivator, and a father and all of these responsibilities, but I was able, I think, to do a pretty good job at it.

Signal: Where can people find your book?

Crear: You can find it at Border's, Barnes and Noble, amazon.com, my Web site — markcrear.com. And the benefit about it, I think that it is inspirational and motivating. Anybody who's down and think they can't make it. And anybody who just wants to know the journey of an Olympian, a two-time Olympian, I think that it's worthwhile reading.

Signal: Is there anything you've gone through that you'd like to relive or do differently?

Crear: We all have hindsight, but I'll take the good and the bad. Of course, you think, maybe if I wouldn't have tripped over that hurdle and broke my arm, so on and so forth. But I wouldn't want to tamper with the past, because the past has prepared me for the future. And I was able to write this book, and this is truly the best thing next to the birth of my children. This is by far greater than any medals, just being able to share my story and be inspirational and give back to someone else is truly a gold medal to me.

    See this interview in its entirety today at 8:30 a.m., and watch for another "Newsmaker of the Week" on Wednesday at 9:30 p.m. on SCVTV Channel 20, available to Comcast and Time Warner Cable subscribers throughout the Santa Clarita Valley.


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