Where are they now: Dennis Mitchell
Published: Saturday, August 28, 2010 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Sunday, August 29, 2010 at 12:44 a.m.
For Dennis Mitchell, it's never been about the fame, of which he's had plenty. Or medals — he's got plenty of them, too.
The former University of Florida sprinter and four-time Olympic and world championship medalist looks at his life and talks of the moments that didn't require him to run fast or sweat.
“When people look at my career or a pro athlete's career, they kind of always gauge it off of accolades. Like, did you win championships, medals? Were you the best ever? Or do you have world records?” Mitchell said. “Those are good things, but it's more about the memory.
It's more about what happens along the way that you get to tell stories about because it's the thing you remember the most.”
He now carries that message as a teacher.
Five years ago, Mitchell started working with the National Training Center in Clermont, but became a track and field instructor in his self-started speed development business run under his club, Star Athletics in 2009. He still trains in Clermont and sometimes works with the NTC.
Mitchell, 44, trains athletes of all ages for all sorts of different events. He takes the most pride in developing high school athletes with the goal of helping them earn college scholarships.
Mitchell attended UF from 1986-89. In 1989, he won the NCAA championship in the 200 meters, and was later inducted into the UF Athletic Hall of Fame as a “Gator Great.”
“A lot of athletes and students can say that being a part of Gator Nation in a lot of ways forms who you are as a person,” Mitchell said. “When you're at Florida, you feel as though you're a part of creating history, and when you leave there, you feel like you were a part of history. I have an absolute ball being a Florida Gator.”
Shortly after turning pro, Mitchell trained with current Florida track and field coach Mike Holloway. Under Holloway's direction, Mitchell captured the 100-meter title at the 1992 and 1996 U.S. Olympic Trials.
“Dennis Mitchell is the greatest competitor I've ever coached, hardest worker I've ever coached and nobody that I've ever been around brings the same passion to competition as Dennis Mitchell,” Holloway said.
Competitions take a backseat to his memories of travel. Mitchell's trip to the 1988 Olympics in Seoul, South Korea, is still his favorite competition site, because with no pressure or expectations to medal, he treated his parents to an exotic vacation. His journeys to Asia are the trips he raves about most and not because he captured gold in the 4x100-meter relay and bronze in the 100 meters at the 1991 World Championships in Tokyo.
“When you go over there, it's like being on a totally different planet,” he said. “You can go to Europe and you can always find something that's American there, and you can always find something
that will make you comfortable, like it's like home. When you go to the Orient, it's a totally different culture and a totally different kind of people. It's exciting to be a part of something like that.”
His objective isn't to have his athletes copy his achievements, but his determination.
For that, he pushes each of his students just as hard as the next. There are no exceptions — not even for his wife.
Damu Cherry-Mitchell, an Olympian in the 100-meter hurdles, doesn't get a pass when her husband is coaching.
“We try 99.9 percent of the time to separate the track relationship from the home relationship, but there are sticky days,” he said.
Mitchell knows sticky days.
His reputation was tarnished in 1998 when a test showed high levels of testosterone. Original reports, which he has since denied, stated Mitchell cited heavy amounts of alcohol and sex with his wife that attributed to the increase in testosterone. After further tests by the International Association of Athletics Federation, results came back inconclusive, but he was suspended six months, which was retroactive over two years. Mitchell said it was his unintended consumption of a tainted supplement that caused the spike.
Mitchell's final World Championships was in Edmonton in 2001, where his relay team finished first in the 4x100m relay. But he met controversy on May 1, 2008, when he and two other former Olympic gold medalists claimed club track coach Trevor Graham had advised them to use human growth hormone, steroids and the blood doping product EPO. Mitchell said he was “peer-pressured” into “making bad choices” while training under Graham for 90 days in North Carolina.
His decisions forced him to face more than just Olympians and media. He had to face his family, but discovered that bond never weakened even after his decision-making had.
“My family is not track,” he said. “My family is Dennis Mitchell, and that's the person that they love.”
His past hasn't hindered his training or the raising of his children — daughter Imani (14 years old) and sons Malachi (13) and Micah (8). To his athletes, he's honest. To his children, he's dad.
Mitchell's oversights won't escape him. They resurface with one Internet search of his name. Mitchell achieves peace by facing them and then facing himself to find a better person standing there. It helps that he has two resources in his job and family to fall back on.
“I focus on trying to be the best dad that I can to my kids, a good friend and a leader to the athletes that I train,” he said. “I'm a good person, and I have a good heart. I try to be a good role model to the people who will allow me to do so.”