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Santa Monica Track Club Eyes Olympic Gold, Backing to Keep Running  


By Melonie Magruder
Staff Writer

April 30, 2012 -- Santa Monica is home to perhaps the most winning track club in U.S. history. Twenty-nine Olympic medals, 38 world records and 60 U.S. records set or tied, and thousands of athletes trained.  And it's about to go broke.

Coach Joe Douglas, who founded the Santa Monica Track Club in 1972, continues to train his athletes on the Santa Monica College track and to operate out of a modest apartment/office on Ocean Park Boulevard.

Coach Joe Douglas and track star Prince Mumba (Photo by Melonie Magruder)

The walls are lined with photos and Track and Field magazine covers featuring his elite athletes. They include his first international superstar, 10-time Olympic champion Carl Lewis, who came to train with Douglas at the age of 19.

The Santa Monica Track Club’s roster of alumni includes Claudette Groenendaal, Leroy Burrell, Steve Lewis, Mark Enyeart and Mike Durkin – all athletes who have set enough records and won enough medals to cement Douglas’ reputation around the world.

“I don’t train every runner the same way,” says Douglas, who has accompanied his athletes to every Olympics since 1976 (except the 1980 games in Moscow, which the U.S. team boycotted to protest the Soviet war in Afghanistan).

“I’m a strict coach, but everyone works on an individual basis to build up to their top anaerobic threshold," says the Archer City, Texas native. "But it’s tough to get the top athletes because I can’t afford to pay their rent and expenses. We just have to work extra hard.”

Douglas doesn’t take a fee for training his athletes. If they win a $30,000 endorsement or prize fee, he’ll take 10 percent, “and three percent of that goes to attorneys.” If they land a contract in excess of $125,000, he’ll take 15 percent.

Still, those percentages must cover travel, training expenses and entry fees to competitions. Not much is left over and, astonishingly for a city of Santa Monica’s international stature and corporate wealth, the Santa Monica Track Club – which is set up as a 501(c)3 – has maybe $2,000 in the bank.

With no major sponsorship or corporate backing, Douglas knows he will have to make some calls and try to drum up enough money to make some upcoming events.

His desk is awash with paperwork, schedules and no secretary. Douglas inputs all club activities, performances, recorded times, travel details and training progress into office computers himself.

“I used to have a great secretary,” says Douglas, who is in his 70s. “But she turned 92 and I had to let her go.”

Today, Coach Douglas is training international runners for this summer’s Olympic games in London.

Prince Mumba of Zambia has already qualified for the 800 meters and Tonny Okello of Uganda is looking to place high in the 10,000 meters. Charlotte Johansen, a sprinter from Stockholm, is also among the rising stars.

“Coach has us train six days a week,” says Mumba, 27, in a soft, accent-inflected voice.
“On the track (at Santa Monica College) three times a week, on the grass at Ocean and Montana the rest."

Mumba, 27, helps Douglas in the office and works with local school track teams when he is not training himself. He ran in the 2004 Olympics in Athens. In 2008, he started training with Douglas at the Track Club. He has his goal time for London tattooed on his left forearm: 1:43.

“I think the winning time will be more like 1:41,” Douglas says.
"He’s very encouraging and motivates us," Mumba says. "But he’s a very tough coach.”

Tough he is. Whether a women’s long distance runner or men’s middle distance athletes, Douglas says they come to him as “B” performers and “become ‘As’.” Mostly this involves long hours on the track, absorbing Douglas’ advice on diet and training, and sometimes, despite all the hard work, blistering disappointment.

In 1984, his long distance runner, Ellen Lyons, won the Olympic trials in the 5000 meters.

“They didn’t take her for the team,” Douglas says. “The Federation said that in competition, ‘women couldn’t run.’”

In June, Douglas will be accompanying his middle distance runner, Richard Jones, to the U.S. Olympic trials in Eugene, Oregon. He feels pretty confident of a good performance.

At this point in his career, Douglas is posting photos of his athletes’ children and grandchildren on his apartment walls. He even has paintings from some of his trainees.

“This was done by Mario Hernandez,” Douglas says proudly, showing off highlights of his career. “Mario started training with me in his 50s and set world records in long distance events in his age category.”

Douglas seems as proud of one of the lesser stars as he is of his world champions.

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