U.S. sprinter Twanisha ‘TeeTee’ Terry talks track and field, TikTok, more in Q&A

0 Comments

U.S. sprinter Twanisha “TeeTee” Terry took the track and field world by storm this summer at the world championships in Eugene, Oregon. She anchored the women’s 4x100m relay to gold, holding off Jamaica’s Shericka Jackson in one of the most exciting finishes of the meet. The 23-year-old Miami native — and part-time TikTok sensation — opens up about her first year as a professional athlete and her journey to the sport of track and field below.

RELATED: 2022 World Track and Field Championships Results

*This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

OlympicTalk: How did you get the nickname “TeeTee”?

TeeTee Terry: It was my childhood nickname. I just assumed it was because of my initials. But I’ve always had it since I was a child.

How did you get your start in track and field?

TT: I fell in love with the sport back in 2009. I was 9 years old, walking home from school with my siblings and some of my friends around the time summer recreational sports were starting. I saw a group of kids and adults out at the track, and we decided to just pick a day and try out. I tried out and made it to the Junior Olympics my first year. We broke the national record in the 4x100m for my age group. I went back the following year and just kept going from there on out.

When did becoming a professional athlete become a dream for you and when did you realize that you could actually make it happen?

TT: My sophomore year of high school when I learned that you can go to college for free on an athletic scholarship and if you do what you need to do, run the times you need to run, and get good grades, then you can pick your school of choice. I always had good grades, so for me it was just a matter of looking at what school I wanted to attend and what it is that I wanted to study beyond high school.

Tell me about your time at USC and how that shaped you into the athlete that you are today.

TT: I went in there with the mindset that I want to graduate in three years and break Angela Williams’ [four-time NCAA 100m champion] record. I just didn’t know it was gonna happen as soon as it did. My freshman year, I broke her record in 100m. During my years at USC, I matured as an athlete and a person and just kept doing what I needed to do, setting the bar higher each year. Eventually, I ended my senior year running 10.89, lowering the school record. I really had a great group of people and a great group of coaches around me that supported me on and off the track.

 

USC athletes alone earned 11 medals at the world championships this summer, which would have ranked second in the overall medal table if it was a country, behind only the U.S. How much pride do you have in being a USC Trojan?

TT: Everywhere we go there is also someone screaming “Fight On.” I’ve also learned that with all the sports, not just track and field, USC can be their own country and rank at the top with how many medals their athletes earn in international competition. I take a lot of pride in being a Trojan and being part of their alumni population.

Walk me through your experience at your first world championships.

TT: I loved it. I enjoyed it. I made some mistakes, and I’ve learned lessons, but at the end of the day, I left with a gold medal. I went in there and made it my first year as a professional. Unfortunately, I didn’t make it out of the semis [in the individual 100m], but I learned what I did wrong and what I need to do in future competitions and world championships.

Being a part of the 4x100m relay with the other three amazing women that are a part of Team USA and just being able to put our trust in one another, go out there, focus on ourselves, and compete against Jamaica, who has been a top contender, was special. It was just a matter of trusting my teammates, trusting myself and knowing that I would do what I needed to do on my leg. I knew we weren’t going to go down without a fight.

What are some of those learnings, and what will look different for you in 2023? 

TT: Using my nerves in a good way and not letting them hinder me. In the semifinals, there was a false start in my race. That kind of threw me off, and I never got into my race pattern. Whenever there is a false start, I tend to sit in the block after it happens because I don’t want to be the next one thrown out of the race. So I have to learn to focus on myself going forward.

10.9 made it into the final, and I easily hit that the day before, so it was just a matter of being mentally strong. From a technical standpoint, I made a lot of errors. I didn’t stick to my drive phase, and I was leaning back in the race, so going forward next year, I know what I need to work on.

False starts were a significant issue in Eugene. Was that something the athletes were talking about?

TT: Everyone was talking about the 110m hurdles race because they threw out one of the greats, Devon Allen. He had a great reaction time the day before and then got thrown out when the whole time he just reacted on cue. That stirred up a lot of people.

When you think back to that 4x100m, with Shericka Jackson chasing you down, what specific thought or memory comes to mind?

TT: In the moment, I was just focusing on my mark and making sure that I leave out on time [for the baton handoff]. I saw bits and pieces of the race as it was going on, but I didn’t really focus too much on watching it. I don’t even recall watching Melissa [Jefferson] fully get out, but I remember thinking, “She’s eating that stagger up.” Once I saw Jenna [Prandini] coming, I was like “Oh snap, it’s close. Just get out on your mark.” Once I got the baton in the lead I knew I had to focus on my own race — stay relaxed, stay poised, don’t tense up. I knew [Jackson] was coming, but I had to tell myself, “Don’t make it easy for her by tensing up and running out of yourself.”

RELATED: Shericka Jackson runs second fastest 200m in history, breaks world championship record

I just focused only on myself, stayed relaxed, did what I needed to do and just dipped through the line.

Rewatching the film, I could see all the emotion as I was coming down. I was biting my lip. I tend to do that out of habit. I don’t know why. I don’t even feel it when I do it. But when I crossed the line, I knew we won. When I saw on the scoreboard that we actually defeated Jamaica, another wave of emotions just ran through my body. I screamed after I saw it. It was just an amazing feeling being able to see it on the scoreboard.

World Athletics Championships Oregon22 - Day Nine
Getty Images

Did you watch the Tokyo Olympics at all?

TT: Yes, I did. I watched track & field, swimming, gymnastics and a little bit of cycling.

Take me back to your experience at the Tokyo Olympic Trials. What was that like?

TT: I was still in college during that time, so I had a really long season. I had a great collegiate season but unfortunately, I didn’t make the team [eliminated in the 100m semifinals]. Just being able to participate in the Tokyo Olympic Trials was a great experience, and it’s really great when collegiate athletes are able to make the team following a long year, but I wasn’t upset or anything because I knew what I had just put my body through running from January all the way to June. I even PR’d that year. I understood what the outcome was and why everything played out the way it did, and I was grateful for it.

Knowing how close you were to making a U.S. Olympic team and watching the Tokyo Olympics at home, how motivating was that?

TT: It was really motivating. I loved watching everyone compete in track and field. I recorded the races and tweeted the results just to be engaged with the sport and with fans that weren’t able to watch.

RELATED: Paris 2024 Olympic slogan unveiled with 2 years to go

Tell me about the people that mean the most to you and how they’ve supported your career.

TT: I have a lot of people that have played different roles in my life, especially those that came along the way later on to be a part of the journey. My sisters, my mom, all of my coaches and my devoted fanbase, who I call my “Tee Babies.”

My dad, he’s always been there from day one. The first time I made it to the Junior Olympics at 9 years old, he made the effort to get on a plane for the first time in his life and show up.  He always came to whatever meets that he could make it to whether it was NCAA Outdoor [Championships] or U.S. Trials, and he even came to the 2022 World Championships to watch me race in the 100m. He missed the 4x100m relay because he had to go back to work, but even then he was always calling in and checking on me.

When I was about 10 or 11, I actually almost quit the sport after my coach tried to make me run the 1500m in practice one day, which I really did not want to do. I was crying, and they actually called my dad. He left work and came all the way out there to practice to get me together. I remember complaining that my legs were hurting, and he just told me, “Get on the ground, and I’ll stretch you.” Then after that, he told me “Now, get on the line and go run.”

And from there on out, I just stuck with it.

I’ve heard you say that you have aspirations to be a broadcaster after your career is over. What interests you about broadcasting, and what would your dream on-camera job be?

TT: I feel like I’m very good in front of the camera and have the ability to answer things on the fly. Even in high school, when we did interviews as a group, I was always the main person to talk. I wouldn’t mind commentating for track and field, but I’m also open to commentating for a different sport as long as I learn it.

What’s something that you wish more people knew about track and field? Is there anything you would change about the sport? 

TT: We go through a lot behind the scenes, and we put so much into the sport, so it hurts getting dragged after just one competition. People think that because you’re an athlete or “celebrity” you signed up for criticism, but at the end of the day, we’re just like any other sport. Our sport is very hard because it is an individual sport. We don’t have a team to rely on or carry us through in terms of performance.

There’s a lot to change about the sport, but that’s a whole other conversation. It’s important to know your worth and make sure you’re truly being paid according to your value.

What is something that you learned about yourself during the season?

TT: I’m capable of doing way more than I think. I didn’t realize how great of a season I had, especially with it being my first year. I’m very hard on myself. I saw my name on a list of women that had hit multiple sub-11s within one season, and just seeing my name with greats like Shelly-Ann-Fraser-Pryce, Carmelita Jeter … it was a great feeling.

RELATED: Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce leads Jamaica 100m sweep; U.S. has best day ever at track worlds

If you could go back in time and give 9-year-old TeeTee who is just starting the sport advice, what would you say to yourself and why?

TT: “Keep doing it and stick with it.”

Just look at how my life turned out. What if my dad would have let me quit the sport? I don’t know what I would be doing right now if he did. With track, I get to travel the world while competing and have been able to explore different countries and see different things. It sets me up for once I’m done competing to have places I can go back and visit for vacation to relax.

Who are some of your role models in track & field?

TT: Carmelita Jeter. Definitely Shelly-Ann-Fraser-Pryce. I also have role models outside of the sport. Serena Williams and LeBron James –seeing them do what they do in their sports and just being able to be at the top for so long.

Have you met Carmelita? What was that moment like for you?

TT: I met her when I was younger at a Nike Elite Camp. My legs could not stop shaking that whole day. I idolized her growing up. I had Carmelita socks and a Carmelita T-shirt. Then my freshman year at USC, she came to visit the team. I ended up graduating when she actually got a job at USC.

What kind of legacy do you want to leave behind?

TT: I want to show kids that they can do whatever they set their minds to. Nothing is impossible. If you stick to it, no goal is too big to achieve. Also coming from where I come from — Liberty City in Miami — so much goes wrong over there. A lot of people get tied up in their environment, and I want to be able to show people that I’m one of the many examples that made it out. Teddy Bridgewater and Brianna McNeal have also done that.

I see a lot of positive quotes and affirmations on your social media. How important is mental toughness in your sport?

TT: Mental toughness in track and field is 100% needed. You can run just one bad race, and people are going to drag you for the whole year. Even if you’re battling injuries, people don’t care, and they’re going to say any and everything to drag your name through the mud. So you really have to be mentally tough. If you’re defeated mentally, you’re not going to make it in this sport.

I started posting positive quotes on my social media to encourage other people that might need them, and then I got so many messages from people saying how much it’s really helped them.

Do you have any specific mantras that keep you going?

TT: My main one is, “Be you. Be TeeTee. Focus on yourself.”

That’s what my college coach, Caryl [Smith-Gilbert], used to say to me whenever I would get nervous during big meets.

Pre-game race song?

TT: “Top” by Fredo Bang.

Finish this sentence … It’s race day, I’m not ready for a race without …

TT: My two ponytails.

What’s one thing you wish everyone knew about being a sprinter?

TT: Sometimes being so quick is not the main outcome. For example, our drive phase, it looks quick to the viewer, but it’s actually slow for us.

What are you watching on Netflix?

TT: I just finished season four of the series “In the Dark.”

Favorite food?

TT: Steak.

Explain your post-race celebration dance. The dirtbike?

World Athletics Championships Oregon22 - Day Nine

TT: That started at Miami Northwestern High School. I will always represent Dade County, 305. Our football players were doing that dance on the field the year they won state, so I started doing that. I remember winning indoor nationals in 2019 and doing it there after I crossed the line. From there on out it just stuck.

Favorite social media app?

TT: It’s actually not TikTok. The dances and stuff are hard for me to do. I cannot keep up. So I would say it’s between Instagram and Twitter. I’d probably say Twitter.

You make the TikTok dances look easy so I assumed it would be TikTok.

TT: Those are the simple ones. The rest of them I struggle, I can’t do. I look at the dance a couple of times and do it. I’m not one to practice them and do them.

OlympicTalk is on Apple News. Favorite us!

Ilia Malinin’s quadruple Axel sheds light on first figure skater to land triple Axel

Vern Taylor
Vern Taylor, the first figure skater to land a triple Axel in competition. (Getty Images)
0 Comments

Vern Taylor arrived at the Riverside Skating Club in Windsor, Ontario, on Sept. 15 to do what he has done at that rink for the last three decades: coach figure skaters. But this day was different.

Taylor, who in 1978 became the first man to land a ratified triple Axel in competition, was told that 17-year-old American Ilia Malinin performed the first quadruple Axel the previous night.

“When we heard that he landed it, I said, ‘Oh my goodness, that’s terrific,'” Taylor said by phone.

He was then shown video of Malinin’s feat.

“Anything’s possible,” Taylor said. “43 years [later], that’s something. It’s knowing that you can perform the jump that makes it challenging.”

Malinin, the world junior champion, landed the most difficult jump in skating and checked off the only remaining quad yet to be performed.

At the 1978 World Championships in Ottawa, a 20-year-old Taylor broke through a similar barrier in hitting the last remaining unchecked triple jump. But while Malinin’s senior career seems to be just getting started, and many medals appear in his future, Taylor is largely a forgotten man outside of ardent figure skating followers.

He finished 12th at those 1978 World Championships. Taylor’s 1980 Olympic prospects were dimmed by the fact that Canada had just one men’s singles spot, and he had taken runner-up at nationals in 1978 and 1979 to Brian Pockar, who also outscored Taylor at those years’ world championships. So Taylor stopped competing a year before the Lake Placid Games.

“I didn’t have a reason,” he said. “I just decided to take a break.”

Taylor will always have that day at the world championships in Ottawa. He can still remember the nervousness, knowing that two other skaters also planned to attempt a triple Axel. They were unsuccessful, though Taylor didn’t know it.

“I didn’t see their jumps,” he said. “I didn’t want to know what was ahead of me.”

American David Jenkins landed a triple Axel in Movietone newsreel footage reported to be from 1957, but that was not in competition.

Taylor, skating to music from “Rocky,” put the triple Axel as the third jump of his program, according to reports at the time. The one YouTube video of it, published two years ago, has 32,000 views. It shows Taylor landing the three-and-a-half revolution jump on one foot and spinning out of it while managing to stay on that single skate blade amid a crowd roar.

“During that program, it was like a rock concert,” Taylor said. “I got the energy from the audience.”

The Montreal Gazette reported at the time that the jump was ratified three hours later. Italian Sonia Bianchetti, the men’s referee at the 1978 Worlds, said she met with the assistant referee, the ISU president and a technical delegate.

“During this short meeting it was recognized that Vern had completed the first triple Axel Paulsen jump [Norwegian Axel Paulsen was the skater who landed the first Axel jump in 1882, getting it named after him] in an officially recognized figure skating competition,” she wrote in an email last month. “The triple Axel was fully rotated and landed on one foot.”

One of the people inside the Ottawa Civic Centre that day was 16-year-old Canadian Brian Orser. Orser, inspired by Taylor, later became synonymous with the jump — labeled “Mr. Triple Axel” and landing it en route to silver medals at the Olympics in 1984 and 1988 and the 1987 World title.

Orser remembered Taylor visiting his skating club for an exhibition. Orser saw Taylor doing an Axel takeoff exercise off the ice, incorporated it into his own routine and began teaching it to his skaters after becoming a coach.

Yet another Canadian, Kurt Browning, was the first man to land a ratified quadruple jump of any kind in competition — a toe loop at the 1988 World Championships.

“For me, personally, it was huge,” he said, “because I was promised a car if I could land it.”

Through an agreement with an Edmonton car dealership, Browning was handed the keys to a Quattro — quad/Quattro — after hitting the toe loop. The skater was unaware that the dealer was merely leasing it to him. About six months later, Browning received a call asking to bring the car back.

Browning was inspired by American Brian Boitano, whom he previously saw land a quad outside of competition. Taylor motivated him, too.

“[Taylor] gave me permission, even at a young age, to start thinking bigger,” he said.

Browning also pointed to Jozef Sabovčík, a 1980s skater for then-Czechoslovakia who many believe was the first man to land a quad in competition, Browning included. Sabovčík was initially given credit for a quad toe loop at the 1986 European Championships, but weeks later it was invalidated because he touched down with his free foot, according to reports.

“I never want to come off as arrogant, but despite what ISU [International Skating Union] decided in the end, I do know that I landed the jump on that day,” Sabovčík, who said he performed a quad jump on his birthdays through age 44, wrote in an email. “The fact that most of the people in the skating world believe the same thing, it means everything to me that Kurt is one of them. It would have been nice to have my name in the Guinness Book of Records, but I am also not trying to change history.”

Sabovčík, now 58 and coaching in Salt Lake City, attended March’s world championships in Montpellier, France, where Malinin finished ninth. There, he spoke with Malinin’s parents, Russian-born Uzbek Olympic skaters Tatyana Malinina and Roman Skornyakov, whom he calls friends.

“They told me that he was already doing a quad Axel on a fishing pole harness [in practice], and that it was coming,” Sabovčík said.

Less than two months after that talk, the first video surfaced of Malinin landing a clean quad Axel — at a U.S. Figure Skating jump camp.

“I did not think [a quad Axel] was possible,” Sabovčík said. “It really has to be an athlete that can combine the technical ability with jumping ability with the speed of rotation. When Kurt and I jumped, we had a relatively speaking slow rotation, but we jumped really big compared to these kids. But Ilia, he has the vertical lift, but he [also] has an unbelievably fast rotation.”

The recent proliferation of quads in men’s and women’s skating can be attributed to several factors, including better boots, better ice conditions and improvements in technology that can aid coaching. Still, there are concerns about if and how the pounding of training quads can wear down a skater physically.

“It’s a lot of pain you don’t feel at first, but you know it comes later,” said Frenchwoman Surya Bonaly, who started training a quad in 1989 and attempting it through the mid-1990s. Bonaly had two hip surgeries after her competitive career.

Even Taylor faced those questions.

“People said, ‘Aren’t you worried about injuring yourself?'” he said. “I would say, ‘No, I want you to know it can be done.'”

Sabovčík never tried a quad Axel in his skating days, but Browning did for less than a week in the early 1990s after winning four consecutive world titles.

“Just playing with it,” said Browning, who never tried it in competition. “Ilia has that special ability to not only get up in the air, but then he has that beautiful rotation that doesn’t look hurried. It’s fast, it’s quick as lightning, but it doesn’t look hurried. It’s so easy. Like a good golfer swings easy, and the ball goes 400 yards.”

Browning recalled a conversation he had with two-time Olympic champion Yuzuru Hanyu, who in recent years made the quad Axel his quest. Hanyu attempted it in competition last season but did not land it cleanly before retiring in July. He said upon retirement that he still hoped to master the jump for his non-competitive show career.

“I asked Yuzu one day, ‘When you do quad Axel, does it just feel like you’re up there forever?'” Browning said. “And he kind of looked at me funny, and he goes, ‘Yeah, like it never ends.'”

The skating world awaits the reserved Hanyu’s thoughts on Malinin’s quad.

“Knowing Yuzu, I would think he’d be very supportive,” said Orser, who coached Hanyu for nearly a decade. “He appreciates that kind of athleticism.”

Orser also noted what comes with being the first — and so far only — skater to land a rarefied jump. Malinin, who headlines Skate America in two weeks, will be asked about the quad Axel in just about every interview for the foreseeable future. For some skaters, they may feel a responsibility to land it all the time.

“But I don’t think [Malinin] thinks too much about it,” Orser said. “His technique is perfect, so he’ll be fine.”

The inevitable topic after that is the next progression in skating: the first quintuple jump. Orser said that Hanyu did five-rotation Salchows in practice with the aid of a harness.

“It’s just a little bit more rotation than the quadruple Axel, so it’s not that far off,” said Sabovčík, whose unratified quad toe loop came eight years after Taylor’s triple Axel. “Now that I’ve seen the quad Axel, I don’t think it’s impossible.”

OlympicTalk is on Apple News. Favorite us!

Aleksandra Trusova splits from coach Eteri Tutberidze, months after Olympic tears

Alexandra Trusova, Eteri Tutberidze
Getty
0 Comments

Olympic figure skating silver medalist Aleksandra Trusova reportedly split from coach Eteri Tutberidze‘s group, eight months after a tearful scene after the Olympic free skate.

Trusova, 18, will now be coached by Svetlana Sokolovskaya, according to Russian media reports dating to Saturday. All Russian skaters are ineligible to compete internationally indefinitely due to the national ban over the war in Ukraine, but Russia is still holding domestic events.

At the Beijing Winter Games, Trusova became the first woman to land five quadruple jumps in a free skate. She had the highest score that day, but it wasn’t enough to make up the gap to fellow Tutberidze pupil Anna Shcherbakova from the short program.

Moments after the competition ended, Trusova was seen crying and yelling at Sergey Dudakov, a member of Tutberidze’s coaching team.

“Everyone has a gold medal! Everyone has! Only I don’t! I hate figure skating! I hate! I will never step on the ice again! Never!” she said in Russian.

Shcherbakova had the individual gold, and the other Russian women’s singles skater at the Games, Kamila Valiyeva, skated both programs of the team event. The Russians placed first in the team event, but medals will not be awarded until Valiyeva’s doping case is adjudicated. It’s possible that Valiyeva gets retroactively disqualified, the Russian team gets disqualified and the other nations all move up with the U.S. going from silver to gold.

Trusova performed at the Russian test skates last month, withdrawing after her short program due to a back injury.

Trusova previously left Tutberidze in 2020 for two-time Olympic champion turned coach Yevgeny Plushenko‘s group, then moved back to Tutberidze’s group after the 2020-21 season.

OlympicTalk is on Apple News. Favorite us!