Thursday, July 31, 2008

A "Sheepish" Adam Harris

Olympic dreams come true for Michigan sprinter Harris

by Antoine Pitts | The Ann Arbor News

Michigan's Adam Harris will run the 200-meter dash for Guyana at the Olympics. He'll be one of two athletes representing the country.

Two weeks before the start of the Beijing Olympics, Adam Harris finally received the confirmation he had been looking for since February.

Last Friday, Harris, a senior at the University of Michigan, learned he'd been cleared to run for Guyana, a South American nation where his mother is from. He's the last local athlete to get into this year's Olympics.

Harris, the Big Ten's Track Athlete of the Year, will run in the 200 meters, which begins Aug. 18.

"I was really excited," Harris said. "It's a dream of mine come true. I've wanted to go to the Olympics since I started running track. Almost every athlete dreams of going to Olympics - getting to the Big Show and performing as well as you can."

Associate head coach Fred LaPlante, who trains Michigan's sprinters and hurdlers, remembered that Darlene Harris was from Guyana. After Adam posted some impressive indoor times this season, ranking at one point in the top 20 in the world, LaPlante suggested they explore the possibility of him running for Guyana.

LaPlante worked with the country's sports federation while Darlene Harris handled the necessary citizenship and passport issues.

"My mom was pushing everybody - coaches, the committee - to do everything they needed to do," Harris said. "If it wasn't for her, this never would have happened."
Harris hit the Olympic "B" qualifying standard when he ran 20.75 seconds to win the 200 meters at the Big Ten outdoor championships in May.

But there continued to be minor paperwork setbacks that dragged out the process. At one point, Harris thought he'd have to make an expensive trip down to Guyana, but that was avoided.

"For about a month, it's been so close, and then something would always come up," Harris said. "Luckily, we got through it all."

Meanwhile, through all of the waiting, Harris kept up his workouts with LaPlante. Harris hasn't been in a race since the NCAA Championships seven weeks ago, but LaPlante said his fitness level is good and he has a way of handling things that would bother other athletes.

"No question a lot of guys would have been freaked by this point," LaPlante said. "A lot of guys would have given up a month ago not knowing am I in, am I out. He just kept going. He kept training. He's been terrific."

LaPlante said this will be great experience for Harris leading into his senior year at Michigan and a future professional track career.

"You might wonder sometimes when you're training, 'What am I doing this for?' " LaPlante said. "Once you have an experience like this, you find out what you're doing it for."

Harris said he's looking forward to the opening ceremonies, where he'll walk as one of two athletes representing Guyana. He's also hopeful of posting some photos from what he sees in China online for his friends and family to view.

And he's obviously looking forward to his chance on the track during the second week of the Games.

"This is the best competition in the world," Harris said. "I'm going to try not to get nervous. To me, I have to think about it as another meet. I'm not going to worry about all the people watching or getting my best time. I'm just going to try to do my best."

Harris has tried to learn what he can about Guyana, a former British colony bordered by Venezuela, Brazil and Suriname, from family and what he can find online. He has wanted to visit, but it hasn't worked out and he hopes to go in the future.

For now, he'll be trying to run his best to gain some recognition for a nation that has given him a chance to go to the Olympics.

"I'm going to try to show up for Guyana as best as I can," Harris said. "Nobody really knows where it is, first of all. A lot of people think it's in Africa. I'm going to try to put it on the map."

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