Under Kersee’s tutelage, Felix has won a record 31 Olympic and World Championship medals. Combined, his athletes have won at least one gold medal at every Olympics since Los Angeles 1984. With Kersee’s succour, his wife Jackie Joyner Kersee, in the heptathlon, and Gail Devers, in the 100m, won back-to-back Olympic golds.
But it is Kersee’s expertise in hurdling that have led to perhaps his finest moments.
During the great Edwin Moses’ era of domination in the 400m hurdles, Kersee would linger near Moses at tracks worldwide, engaging the legendary hurdler in discussions about his technique, all with one goal in mind – to end Moses’ winning streak that lasted nine years across two Olympic cycles.
Eventually, Andre Phillips, who was coached by Kersee for seven years until 1987, ended Moses’ Olympic supremacy in the 400m hurdles at Seoul 1988.
And it is with this knowledge, honed over a life in track and field, in battles against Moses and the world’s greatest athletes, Kersee has used to transform Sydney McLaughlin into the most dominant athlete in the sport.
Since linking up with Kersee during lockdown in 2020, and moving west to California, McLaughlin has won gold at the Olympics and World Championships. She obliterated the 400m hurdles world record at the Oregon World Championships in such a seemingly trance-like state that it was reminiscent of a scene from the Jean-Claude Van Damme film Universal Soldier.
Her world record winning time, 50.68, would have placed her in seventh in the 400m flat final. She has lowered Delilah Muhammad’s world record, which she set when defeating McLaughlin at the 2019 World Championships, by 1.5 seconds in just three years.
When Moses commended McLaughlin’s running in Oregon, and her gladiator-like gaze in competition, Kersee apparently responded, “Well, I’ve been trying to beat you long enough that I should know what I’m doing,” he said.
But as with any long, decorated career, there will be ups and downs, moments of glory and despair. However, with Kersee, the lows, because of how low they were, have threatened to cast suspicion over his whole career, or at least split his career into two parts, despite both being hugely successful.
The first part, in the 1980s when Kersee was denounced as a “drug coach” by two of his athletes and his reputation was damaged by his close association with the much-maligned Florence Griffith Joyner.
The second part, the following thirty years, during which Felix and McLaughlin have covered themselves in Olympic glory without scandal. Over this period, only one of his athletes, Dawn Harper-Nelson, has failed a doping test.
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