Felix Sanchez is a Laureus Ambassador and a double Olympic 400 metres hurdles champion; he was the winner of the 2013 Laureus World Comeback of the Year Award
Interview date – September 20, 2014
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Laureus Host: Why is it important for you to be a Laureus Ambassador?
Felix Sanchez: When [being an Ambassador] was first presented to me last year, it was a no?brainer. It coincides with the choices I've made over my career, as far as being an American?born Dominican, choosing to represent the Dominican Republic. Once I won my first Olympics in 2004, becoming the first Dominican to ever win an Olympic medal, I realised the impact [on the people there]. It didn't matter what political affiliation, who they voted for, their social upbringing, their financial situation, they all joined together watching me compete at the Olympics. Just the fact that sport brings people together; there are very few things in the world that can pretty much bring all types of people together from any social and economic class, regardless of political affiliation, to cheer or root for a team or a person or a country at an Olympic Games or a World Cup, and sport does that. Laureus pushes that and believes in that, so it was for me an easy choice [to become an Ambassador].
Question: You are in New Orleans this weekend, mixing with some of the kids that Laureus helps. Can you tell us about that?
Felix Sanchez: We will be going on a visit to a project to meet the kids later today. Yesterday we had a panel discussion on how sport and coaching can influence youth in a positive way. For me being a coach for 14 years alongside my competitive career, I've seen this at first hand and along the way I've done small clinics and worked with children. I call myself a teacher, because I feel I'm teaching children more than coaching them. You don’t realise until you're in it all the tools sport gives you for life in general, especially when you get the chance to teach children or bring them together through sport and teach them the fundamentals. Just learning to deal with victory and defeat and learning to set goals and achieve minor improvements daily, always striving to become better. Those are the fundamental things that at a young age, they can learn, and obviously in the future, whether they become sports figures or go into the working world, those are fundamental. In the panel it was really interesting, because we had all come from different backgrounds, basketball, lacrosse and wrestling, but the fundamentals were the same and the principles are all the same.
Question: You talked about your coaching, but are you still competing?
Felix Sanchez: Yes, I am. I am planning on going for three more years.
Question: Will you be 40 then?
Felix Sanchez: Just shy of 40. My goal next year is the Pan American Games, which is really important for my country and ironically enough, it's being held in Canada in Toronto. In 1999 my first competition with the Pan American Games was in Canada and Winnipeg. That will be my fifth Pan Am Games and then Beijing is the World Championships. I get to go back to Beijing and make things right as far as I’m concerned. In 2008, where I lost my grandmother, I ran my worst race ever [in the Olympic Games heats]. Then I will go back to Rio, it will be my fifth Olympics. And then I would have called it quits there, but I got wind that the next World Championships is in London and I just felt like that would be the perfect way to end my career, where I had so much success and such great memories in 2012. Just to finish in 2017 in London would mean ten World Championships and five Olympics and I think that would be an excellent career.
Question: Are you making up for lost time with all the injury problems you have had?
Felix Sanchez: Absolutely. I took this year off. I didn't train as hard. Mentally I just needed a break after 14 seasons. Just having fun again and not caring what pace I did or how fast I ran and I still ended up top five in the world. So that was refreshing and exciting for this upcoming season. I'm still competitive, and after being the oldest gold medalist [in the 400 metres hurdles] in Olympic history in 2012, I have the world's best?ever time over 400 hurdles for 35 and older. No one has ever competed this long at this high a level, so I figured even if I don't make medals, which is obviously my goal, it would be still an achievement, just pushing the body and seeing how far I can go and how successful I can actually be.
Question: How do you manage to stay so fit at 37?
Felix Sanchez: Well, I still have the passion for it. That's the most important. When you have the passion for it, you find the motivation. It's not work; it's still fun. Don't get me wrong, training for over 400 hurdles is one of the most challenging events and there are some days that you wonder, why are you doing this still. But you get over that and you know that will pass, and you think about the impact you'll have, as a team example and being motivation for others, and just being an example of resilience and sticking to it and achieving your goals, whether it's big or small, just sticking with it and trying to get the most out of everything. It's something I've always believed: that you should never stop doing something you're good at.
Question: Competing in the Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro in 2016 will be quite something for you, as a double gold medallist?
Felix Sanchez: Absolutely. Especially going back after winning the Laureus Award [at the Awards Ceremony in Rio de Janeiro in 2013]. The first time I was in Rio was for the 2007 Pan American Games and I was in first place and I smashed into the last hurdle and ended up coming in fourth. So again, it's another chance for me to redeem myself. It’s going to be exciting and I know the young guys - I think I'm five or six years older than the next?oldest guy in my event, at least top ten in the world - so I know they are hungry, but there's no real favourite. So that's also got me motivated and excited. I know I can deal with the pressure, and if I'm in shape, I'm dangerous. So it's going to be exciting. When I get the chance to put on my country's uniform and represent my country on such a huge stage, it's exhilarating.
Question: How did you cope mentally with your injuries in your career?
Felix Sanchez: It's a learning process. Just like you teach yourself or you're taught to run or you're taught to hurdle, everything has a process. And, oddly enough, injuries are part of sport. We neglect that and we neglect the process of learning and listening to the body. Oddly enough, whether you like it or not or whether you want to admit it or not, your body will tell you when it doesn't like what you’re doing and before you get injured, it gives you signs. Just as competitive athletes, especially at this higher level, you focus on not losing time and being tough and pushing through things. So when your body gives you those signs you decide to ignore them and push through it and ultimately get injured. So as I've gotten older and I've had to come back from season?ending injuries and injuries mid-season, I just learn to listen to those signs. You always initially believe ‘Oh, I need to train because my competitors are training and my coach always told me, you can be the best in the world’, but if you're injured, no one will know that. So what I've adopted over the years, just by learning, if I feel something, I'll go home and I'll rest and I'll see my physio. And I would rather rest two or three days instead of pushing through it and end up getting injured and miss two or three or four weeks. It's just learning to listen to your body and training smarter instead of harder.
Question: Did the injuries ever get you down?
Felix Sanchez: Always. That's probably one of your biggest demons - injury and coming back from injury, and then doubting your body and doubting your capabilities and obviously the inevitable: Father Time always catches up with you. You start questioning, am I getting too old for this? Can I still do it? Will I get injured? You almost start inventing injuries: did I feel something, am I injured again? Coming back from injury mentally, I believe, is almost twice as hard as coming back physically. The mind is a powerful thing, so if you use it to your advantage and you're smarter about injury prevention and listening to your body, you can definitely prolong your career. And then just diet and eating better and sleeping more and getting that recovery, you take those things for granted. I know I did when I was younger. As you get older, you have to do more of the right things, because they are just that much more important.
Question: What did winning the Laureus Comeback Award mean to you?
Felix Sanchez: I know that Laureus is huge and there are tremendous superstars that are on the panel. But for the chairman to be Edwin Moses, someone that I've idolised and looked up to and been in his shadows all my career; for him to be part of that process, for me was almost an acceptance that I've done enough and I've achieved enough to get the team stamp of approval. It was quite an honour.
Question: Kevin Young’s 400 metres hurdles world record of 46.78 secs at the Barcelona Olympics has lasted 22 years ago. Can anyone ever break 46.5 secs?
Felix Sanchez: The 400m hurdle world record should be under 46.5. It should be 46.2 or 46.3. The problem is you need a combination of hurdle technique and 400 flat speed and most 400 hurdlers are 400 hurdlers because they can't run the 400 flat, or they are just average at 400 flat. If you're a good technician, there should be a differential of anywhere from 1.8 to two seconds between the events. My best flat is 44.9, so I should have run 46.9 or 47.1, but I think I missed that window, just never really had the right setting, the right competition. But again, I'm one of the slower 400 hurdlers. I feel Kerron Clement or Angelo Taylor with their flat speed, had they had the technique necessary and the right rhythm, should have destroyed the world record by now. But it still stands and it's a very respectable one, because there's been only one man who has been able to crack that 47?second barrier. But he was a great specimen. He has a very long inseam and a long stride and he got to fit in 12 strides [between hurdles], so Kevin Young had an amazing year that year and followed it next year with a great run at the World Championships. So I believe that the time will come that a good quarter miler will do it right in the 400 hurdles and run under 46.5. I hope it doesn't happen in the next three years, though.