I suppose stranger things have happened in an Olympic year than a reigning champion firing his coach of five years eight months before the athlete is set to defend his title, but right now the mind is having a challenging comparing anyone to American 400m sprinter Jeremy Wariner's latest career move.
Wariner participates in track and field. Ah, let's not beat around the bush here. That's akin to saying that Tiger Woods plays golf or that Michael Jordan dribbled a basketball.
Wariner, a double-gold medalist in Athens four years ago and four-time world champion, earns his living running one lap-races around a track in a sport governed by intrically-woven timings and had done so with a coach who'd been in the sport well over 40 years.
An athlete like Wariner times his interval training, his race starts, his race splits and even his lean at the finish line. He even has to time how long it will take him following races of note to conduct interviews before he's ushered off for drug testing... 60 minutes to be exact.
Apparently, however, Wariner missed the lesson at Baylor University on the art of timing an exit from a highly successful programme - and now from the coach behind that programme's success.
But then again, Wariner left a Hart-based programme once before, in 2004, when, following his second gold medal in Athens, he turned professional and was forced to forego his two remaining years of NCAA competition.
What Wariner does with his career is his business - in every literal sense of the word. Jeremy Wariner runs, Jeremy Wariner gets paid. His shoe sponsor, adidas, pours in the big bucks and his agent, Michael Johnson - the 200m and 400m world-record holder who brokers such deals for his prótegé - gets a cut.
And so did Hart. Until Tuesday.
Hart, who coached Johnson to two world records (19,32 over 200m and 43,18 over 400m) during Johnson's long and successful career as an athlete, was asked recently by Wariner's legal camp to review revisions to his contract - one which has been renewed on a yearly basis, but came to an impasse during negotiations.
Hart, who had been operating on a one-year contract as Wariner's personal coach each year for the past five years that called for him to receive a percentage of Wariner’s earnings, received a contract proposal that reduced that percentage - a proposal which Hart stated he simply could not accept.
“It was a significant cutback, and I didn’t think I could do it. Well, actually, I knew I couldn’t do it.”"It's just business," Hart said Wariner told him.
The business Wariner is attempting to protect is his reported more than $1 million he earns annually through his prize winnings, appearance fees and sponsorship contracts. Johnson, his agent, also receives a proportion of the deals he brokers for Wariner, and it has been speculated that Wariner has attempted to shore up how much money is shaved from the top of his net salary once Johnson and Hart receive their fair cuts and then taxes are applied.
I have another theory behind the split which I won't share, because I believe the move could be more than a "business" decision. I'll save you the theory for a rainy day, because it's boring, and at this point in time, it's baseless.
So what really may cause a multi-millionaire who has run 44,00-flat or faster in each of the previous four seasons to suddenly split with a coach mid-stream in an Olympic year?
Three years ago, Wariner stated that he wanted to break Johnson's 400m record within "the next two years", but stated that Hart had a four- to five-year goal for him instead. Wariner nearly made good on his 2007 goal of breaking the world record, running 43,45 - the fifth-fastest time ever run, but finished short of his goal.
Wariner, who has switched on an interim basis to Baylor coach Michael Ford - who also coaches Wariner’s training partner and former teammate Darold Williamson, may be looking to take the helm of his ship and steer it as he sees fit. Hart, though he gave Wariner the needed groundwork to be a champion, may have been holding Wariner back to an extent, and was politely released by virtue of weakening the contract - a move to which Hart would certainly object... and did.
Wariner turns 24-years-old tomorrow. He's had comparisons made between himself and Michael Johnson ever since he burst onto the international scene during the past Olympiad. Hart has provided the workouts to help Wariner get the best results for his training efforts, and Johnson has been a mentor who has guided his pupil past the distractions which are borne of a superstar.
It appears Johnson, however, has not suffered a decrease in pay structure as Wariner attempts to defend his global title. But then again, why should he? He's an athlete representative who gets his star performer preferred lanes in invitational-only meetings and five-star accomodations and limousine service as Wariner spends his days and nights long from home. He structures the deals, Wariner performs, and both come out winners.
Hart had a similar package until the shake-up. He was the guy who borrowed from other successful coaches and made the workouts tailored to his own athletes. Wariner ran them as a collegian, and he continued doing so as a professional. Hart became a master with Johnson and devised race plans for his new prótegé. Wariner, competing against himself and the clock at stadiums in places like Zürich, Athens, Stockholm, London, Osaka and more, followed them. And, for the most part - save a couple of races he failed to finish - their working relationship was a success.
And that's what Hart appreciated with their previous deals: the faster and more successful Wariner ran, the more Hart was rewarded. If Wariner flopped, so did the amount paid into Hart's paycheck. And he was fine with that.
Ford is now taking over the training duties - without a contract, by the way. He's attempting to keep Wariner, who is hugely popular and well-respected and liked around the world, respectable enough an athlete that no one takes notice as he attempts to build up to the USA Olympic trials at Hayward Field on the University of Oregon's campus in June.
Wariner's first race of the season will be in Australia at the Sydney Grand Prix on 16-February. He is set to follow that race with one more in Melbourne five days later. He has the tools in Johnson to block out these distractions, but does he have the experience to run on his own business with an inexperienced Olympic advisor however?
An even better question: Will Hart, who claims to have no anymosity toward Wariner, help a competitor who needs an extra lift this season?
Again, stranger things have happened in an Olympic year.
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