Scout Bassett

AUGUST 29, 2016

Scout Bassett is 4 feet 9 inches tall. She can run 100 meters in 16.5 seconds. She can long jump 3.38 meters. She has one leg and four toes. She is 27 years old and has three 100-meter Paralympic national titles. She holds the female T42¹ Paralympic American record in the 100 and 200 meters, and the world record in the 400 meters. She has her sights set on two gold medals. Her courage can’t be quantified. “It’s a little bit of an underdog story,” Bassett explains.

When Bassett was less than one year old, a fire in Nanjing, China, consumed her right leg and one toe of her left. Soon after, she was abandoned in the street, eventually landing in a local orphanage, where she lived for seven years. Bassett didn’t receive a prosthetic leg until the age of six, and when she did it was an unwieldy contraption of leather straps, nuts and bolts. The foot was adhered with masking tape. When a couple from Michigan adopted her, Bassett weighed 22 pounds and was a size two toddler. She spoke limited Chinese and no English.

Arriving in a northern Michigan town of approximately 1,600, Bassett saw sport as an opportunity to connect with her second-grade schoolmates and capture some of the excitement they displayed when recounting their weekend soccer matches. So she signed up for the city league, but quickly discovered that sports magnified her differences. She didn’t have the correct prosthetic and, she recounts, others lacked familiarity with her disability. “We’re fearful of the things that we don’t know,” Bassett explains. “A lot of my experiences from my childhood were mainly that.”

At the age of 14, Bassett received her first athletic prosthetic and promptly…ran. “It was the most liberating and freeing experience of my life,” she recalls. “At that moment, I knew that I was born to be a runner — that that was what I was going to do with my life.” That moment formulated Bassett’s dream of competing for the national team, eventually leading the athlete to her first national Paralympic trials in 2012. In the 200 meters, Bassett’s prosthetic equipment malfunctioned. In the 100 meters, she also finished dead last.

“It was just like all my worst nightmares were coming to fruition at those trials,” she recalls. “I cried like I had never cried in my whole life. I didn’t really have any intention of continuing. Then in the weeks that followed, I remembered that I’ve always been a fighter and I’ve never been a quitter. And if I gave up, it would just be giving the critics and my competitors and people who didn’t want me there that power over me. I said, ‘I'm gonna give this another four years and give everything I have. I will stop at nothing until I achieve this goal and this dream.’”

Soon after recommitting to her sport and her dream, Bassett quit her nine-to-five marketing job and moved to San Diego to train with a collegiate coach, a track-specific strength trainer and able-body athletes, so that she’d “always have someone to chase,” at the national team facility in nearby Chula Vista, California. She also learned to eat like a sprinter. “I got a lot stronger and fit, way more fit. I was like 90 pounds when I was a triathlete and I got to like 78 pounds as a sprinter,” she testifies. Bassett also refined her technique, minimizing the energy-consuming rocking that results from being an above-the-knee amputee and changing her position on the starting blocks, from standing upright to hands on the track, which for single-leg amputees requires extreme core, glut and upper hamstring strength.

Sleeping in her car or on a friend’s couch in order to support her pursuit, Bassett improved her times, despite the less-than-ideal accommodations. Then, around a year ago, she had the opportunity to fine-tune another critical aspect of her performance equation: her equipment.

“I met with [Nike Designer] Tobie Hatfield,” she explains. “And I was wearing a spike that was four and a half sizes too big for me, but I had been competing on that spike for six years. It was the smallest spike I could find on the market.”

Following their initial meeting, Hatfield immediately fashioned a custom pair of spikes to fit Bassett’s women’s size-2.5 foot. “The first shoe came out and it was amazing,” she confirms. “Right away, I was running faster times, just by not having my heel slip up, just by not having to stuff the toe to fit the shoe. It was just suddenly easier.” Additionally, Bassett had begun sprinting without a prosthetic knee, which enhanced her stride and power, and with another game-changing design that also carried Hatfield’s hand: the Nike Spike Pad, crafted to fit a prosthetic blade.

This July, Bassett returned to the national trials, leveraging her intensive training, renewed conviction and dialed equipment into a first-place finish in the 100 meters. Her 16.79-second time, nearly five seconds under the 21 flat she was running four years prior, beat the field by more than a full second — an unprecedented margin in the 100 meters. It, along with a fifth-place, 3.38-meter long jump, earned her a spot on Team USA in Rio, fulfilling that goal Bassett had set for herself as a teenager. “I went from absolutely nothing, having nothing, being unwanted to being the very best in my country and one of the very best in the world,” she proclaims. “It gives me chills.”

A month later, Bassett has already exchanged that achieved dream for a new one: a premier performance in Rio. To maximize her chances, she has continued to collaborate with Hatfield and his team (via photos, notes, videos and in-person sessions) on the fourth iteration of her spike, to further attune every aspect: reducing the upper width and shoring its sides to provide better stability for Bassett’s four-toe foot; narrowing the toe box to allow her to better leverage its point; modifying the plate and last for a one-to-one fit; and harmonizing the spike and blade, in terms of height and traction. The designers have also tweaked the spike placement in the forefoot of the shoe to minimize point pressure and strategically situated cushioning where the nerves in Bassett’s foot are more exposed as a result of that early fire.

Then there are the final touches, like modifying the lace length and coloring the upper with the Nike “Unlimited” Colorway, a name that closely aligns with Bassett’s own summation of her journey.

“Let them say that you won’t become anything and then become everything you’ve ever dreamed of and more,” she declares. “That’s really been my story.”

Learn how to train like Scout and discover more about our athletes’ journeys — and how they can inspire your own — at nike.com/athletes.

1. T42 is disability sport classification for disability track and field athletics, applying to athletes with single above-the-knee amputations or a disability that is comparable.


April Holmes

AUGUST 23, 2016

Ahead of her fourth Paralympics, the world record-breaking T44 sprinter1 reflects upon the internal drive that propelled her to gold.

Right when I put my foot on the train, it started to move. I slipped and fell underneath the platform. I remember looking down and instead of seeing my leg seeing the train. I tried to get up and realized that I couldn’t move. The paramedics came. They were standing up on the platform with my boyfriend, all of them hollering at me, trying to keep me talking. Since it was January in Philadelphia and snowing, I started making snowballs, throwing them wherever — just to keep my mind off of what they were doing.

When I got inside the ambulance, I heard someone ask: “Did you get her leg?” And I thought that I must have lost my mind. Why would somebody ask: “Did you get her leg?”

In the hospital, the doctor started bringing me magazines featuring disabled athletes. I just thought he was crazy, then I started to look through one and saw something on the Paralympics. I’d never heard of it before, but ever since I was a little kid, whenever the Olympics were on, I was glued to the television.

I started running track when I was five years old and my mother told me from a young age that she expected me to go to college, but that I was going to have to use athletics to pay for it. So that was my mindset: Use sports to get a degree. I was good enough to earn a scholarship to Norfolk State. I ran track there for four years, graduated and thought: It’s been real, college. Track paid for my education, but after college, I didn’t want to see a track, drive by a track, step on a track.

My first thought after my accident was that I’d never be able to run again, but the more Paralympians I saw in this magazine the more I started to believe that it might be a possibility. Then I dialed in, because I wanted to see who had won the 100 meters and the 200 meters. I’ve always been competitive and have always tended to size people up; it’s part of my DNA.

When I saw the girl who won gold, I only had one thought: She doesn’t even look like a sprinter. None of them did. Sometimes you just look at someone else and think to yourself: They can’t beat me. As soon as I saw the sprinters in the magazine and saw their times, I was confident I could beat them.

So when I saw the doctor the next time I told him I had found my three dreams. I said: “I want to represent the United States at the next Paralympic games. I want to be the fastest in the world. And I want to win gold medals. These are my dreams. Now, I need a leg and I need it quick.” He said, “OK, let’s wait a minute. We haven’t even started rehab yet. We’ve got some work to do.” I told him that that was fine — this was just the start of my journey.

That was January 2001. I went home at the beginning of February and had my first walking leg by the end of March. I didn’t have a running leg until the following April. Once I hit the track with that leg, I thought: OK, this is a little more difficult than I thought, but that’s fine — I just have to work for it.

I used to always hear: God doesn’t give you anything he knows you can’t handle — you might not be able to see it now, but everything that happens happens for a reason. So I used to have conversations with God, where I’d say, “God, you must think I’m an awfully strong person. I don’t know why you chose me to lose my leg, but since you did we’re going to make the best of it.” I didn’t mind telling people about my new dreams, because I was confident.

I called my club coach and told him: “Listen, I need to run. Can you help me out?” And a couple days a week he would meet me [at the track]. The other days, I was out there by myself. I had the confidence and the technique — what I lacked was trust. For the first year or two, I just didn’t trust my leg. I was thinking about whether it was going to be there every time my left foot went to strike the ground. And when you run 100 meters, you don’t have time to be thinking. When you’re sprinting, it has to be instinct. You can’t be afraid — you can’t be bracing yourself to fall. Once I convinced myself that my leg was going to be there, that’s when I started to really run.

I participated in the 2004 Athens Paralympics two years after I had begun training and I walked away from the Games with world records in both the 100 meters and 200 meters.

Learn how to train like April and discover more about our athletes’ journeys — and how they can inspire your own — at nike.com/athletes.

1. T44 is a disability sport classification for disability track and field athletics, applying to single below-knee amputation or an athlete who can walk with moderately reduced function in one or both legs.

August 10, 2016

Unlimited Together

Nike heralds the strength of unity and power of team with "Unlimited Together,” a film featuring original lyrics from Chicago-born artist Chance the Rapper. The film celebrates how the USA Basketball men’s and women’s teams' individual strengths are amplified when unified in pursuit of a common goal.

The film is part of Nike’s larger “Unlimited Campaign,” which includes the “Unlimited You,” “Unlimited Future” and “Unlimited Courage” films, and extends to its recent series of athlete shorts. The campaign hails both the everyday athletes and the champion athletes who push their limits daily — and who are poised to prove their unlimited potential this summer on the world’s largest stages.

The company also profiles a number of its premier athletes and new performance innovations, here, detailing in-depth the resolve that victory requires.

Unlimited Together

"Unlimited Together" was created by Wieden+Kennedy. The film was directed by Hiro Murai and includes original music from Chance the Rapper. Athletes DeMarcus Cousins, Kyrie Irving, Kevin Durant, Carmelo Anthony, Paul George, Jimmy Butler, Draymond Green, Harrison Barnes, DeAndre Jordan, Klay Thompson, DeMar DeRozan, Kyle Lowry,  Elena Delle Donne, Maya Moore, Tamika Catchings, Sue Bird, Diana Taurasi, Brittney Griner, Seimone Augustus, Angel McCoughtry, Breanna Stewart Tina Charles, Sylvia Fowles and Lindsay Whalen are represented.

Lift And

Elena Delle Donne

JULY 22, 2016

The 2016 MVP details the technique behind her infamous jump shot.

For me, everything is about simplicity. So when I shoot a jump shot, I want my arm to be in the same place every single time, because in a game your feet are never going to be the same — you might be pushed off balance, you might be fading away. But if I can get my arm to a 90-degree angle, all I have to do is lift and flick, which usually puts me in a good position to make the shot.

It’s also about intuition. I like to turn my body a bit to the right on my jump shot and get my shoulder tucked and my feet underneath my shoulders. But I don’t worry about my feet too much because who knows where they’re going to be in a game. From there, I get that 90-degree angle. Everybody has the flick. But being tall means I’m able to get my jump shot off in areas where shorter players not be able. I can use my length and just kind of elevate over the defense. Lift and flick; that’s my thing.

Learn how to train like Elena and discover more about our athletes’ journeys — and how they can inspire your own — at nike.com/athletes.

OneIn 3

Gabby Douglas

JULY 18, 2016

On any given year in the United States, over three million girls in leotards, between the ages of six and 17, partake in gymnastic classes. They slap on chalk, twirl through blisters and dream of flipping, twisting and sticking their way onto the top of a podium and the front of a cereal box. A vast archive of YouTube videos featuring tiny sequined tumblers underscores this astonishing number.

By 18, 80% of these dreamers will have dropped the sport. At this age, Gabby Douglas was preparing to return to the mat, having won that coveted gold and the endorsements to match. But instead of enjoying newly minted adult freedoms, Douglas was once again waking at 7:30am, eating breakfast prepared by her grandmother. Arriving at the gym for an 8am start, she would stretch before beginning her rounds: beam, floor, vault and bars. Conditioning, lunch and a short afternoon break followed. While her younger teammates tackled their schoolwork, Douglas rested, taking advantage of her status as a recent high school graduate. By 2pm, she was back on the mat, focusing on two events, either beam-bars or beam-floor, before heading home. She has repeated this routine — three six-hour days, three four-hour days and one day off per week — for the past two years.

Douglas first became a statistic in 2002 in Virginia Beach. “I started [gymnastics] when I was about six years old,” she recalls. “I went to my first class and I just fell in love with the gym.” At that point, Douglas had already been turning cartwheels around the house for three years, leading her older sister to urge her mother, Natalie Hawkins, to enroll her younger daughter at a local gym.

Two years after initiating formal training, Douglas claimed the Level 4 all-around state title and continued to rise, buoyed by her natural talent and competitive nature but rankled by self-doubt. “She would win meets,” her mother remembers, “but she wasn’t quite confident in her abilities. I would tell her that she was an amazing competitor and could be at the top of the podium as long as she believed in herself!”

The diametric equation of accomplishment and insecurity came to a head in 2008 while mother and daughter watched the women’s gymnastic competition at the Beijing Games. The family discussion evolved from Douglas’ denial that she could perform the skills being executed onscreen to her admission that perhaps if she had the right coach, perhaps that exact one she saw on TV, she could compete at that level.

Disallowing her daughter from taking on the “fear of failure” mentality that had inhibited her in the past, Hawkins called up the aforementioned coach and shortly thereafter her daughter was settled with a host family in West Des Moines, Iowa, training under his tutelage. One step closer towards to her once pie-in-the-sky dream, however, was one step too far from her family; the homesickness pushed her to the point of giving up. But, Douglas remembered her mother telling her, “Life is not easy. You have to fight and refuse to quit.” Her mother recalls advising her daughter: “You have to fight for your dreams!”

That fight earned Douglas a first-place finish at the 2012 national trials and, with it, a guaranteed spot on the national team. The victory also marked a turning point in Douglas’ continuous battle with self-confidence. “It was 2012 when I started believing in myself,” she admits.

“She finally believed [that she could be number one] in March of 2012,” Hawkins confirms. “That’s what carried her through London. We saw the eye of the tiger in London and we were like: There it is!”

In London, as part of the U.S. squad dubbed the “Fierce Five,” Douglas won gold in the team competition and the individual all-around, becoming the first African-American to claim the all-around title.

“When we saw her name flash and knew she had won the gold in the all-around,” Hawkins recalls.” The first thing I thought of was, ‘OK, it was worth it.’ We had put everything on the line — emotional time, financial sacrifice — I thought I couldn’t understand how the sacrifices would have been a good thing, because they were crushing at times. That brutal and hard, gritty fight we had to go through was totally worth it.”

For Douglas and her family, the medals were a well-earned reward; the media blitz that made the young gymnast a household name, however, was an unexpected spinoff. “I didn’t know it was going to be this crazy. I thought I was going to go to London, compete, come home, eat dinner with the fam,” Douglas reveals.

Celebrity parties and countless TV appearances preceded two book deals, a feature-length film detailing her life story and over one million followers on Instagram alone. In between, there was also that cereal box and plenty of magazine covers that filled nine months before revealing to the then 17-year-old Douglas an unexpected truth: When it came to gymnastics, she wasn’t done.

Her mother puts it plainly: “It can be difficult to keep up with all the beautiful opportunities that come to her as a result of all her hard work and sacrifice and to train as a full time elite gymnast, but she had to make a decision.”

Soon after her revelation, Douglas announced her return to gymnastics, which was met with criticism (Wasn’t Douglas too old to resume a sport in which the average national team member’s age is, historically, 16?), doubt (Was she serious about her return or was it just a personal marketing gimmick?) and a touch of controversy (Why had she changed coaches and moved to California before doubling back to the Midwest, to a new gym and yet another new coach?)

Douglas’ well-curated professional website recounts the highlights of this journey via a slew of videos that bring a viewer up to date on her decisions and recommitment to her sport, and disclose the media savvy she picked up along the way. But for the past two years Douglas’ attention has been centered on the gym.

In a sport where she has already attained top honors and where fallibility or triumph is measured in mere centimeters, by a slip on the bar or the angle of a vault, accomplishing something new means beating her former self via serious ground rules and that above-mentioned training routine. The results of this rigorous regime have contoured new muscles onto Douglas’ still slender frame and led her to proclaim that tumbling is easier and gymnastics, overall, feels light and effortless. Similarly, her mentality has evolved. Self-doubt has transformed into a more motivating tic: impatience, as she tries to master new, more technical, higher-value skills that will complement her innately quick and fast talent.

“My mindset has gotten so much stronger,” Douglas explains, “[but] I get ahead of myself and my coaches tell me: ‘Don’t get anxious — patient, wait.’ I have to learn to be calm.”

In March of 2015, Douglas placed fourth at her first competition since her announced comeback, followed by silver in the all-around at the 2015 World Championships. The performances may have silenced skeptics but they failed to meet the gymnast’s own standards: “I’m a perfectionist,” Douglas confirms. “When something a little tiny bit goes off, I get really upset and kind of shut down a little and shut down the corrections. [My coaches] would tell you I need to work on my emotional game, I think.”

One of the ways in which she tackles this challenge is by meditating on scripture, which she declares, “really helps me in the gym and with my mental state, because gymnastics is all mental. It gives me motivation. It keeps me passionate and energized.”

Douglas’ physical-psychological preparation paid off in March of 2016 when she won all-around gold at a key international competition — another shot across the bow she accompanied with a Mona Lisa-like smile that reflects both her signature humility and her new maturity. “I have learned how to be more disciplined and more respectful and more efficient,” she says. Her training methods may be multifaceted but her goal is singular: She wants to win gold, again.

Just making the 2016 national team has defined Douglas as the first individual all-around champion to return at the Games since 1980 and characterizes her as the first of the four all-around American gold medalists to return to the competition. But her ambition is higher than simple participation. She wants to become the first woman since 1968 to repeat as all-around champion and the first American in history to accomplish the feat. These targets have the potential to be supplemented by another team victory, as the current U.S. women’s squad, which eviscerated all competition at the 2015 World Championships, is said to have no weaknesses.

Whatever the results, the competition is sure to inspire a new generation of young acrobats with gold in their eyes. For each of these girls, Douglas has straightforward advice: “I would tell her to work very hard! Things may get a little bumpy during the journey, but always keep fighting because you never want to have regrets. You never want to look back and say, ‘I desire that I would have stayed.’ When you look back you want to say, ‘I gave it my all. I gave it 100 percent. Now, I can walk forward.’”

Learn how to train like Gabby and discover more about our athletes’ journeys — and how they can inspire your own — at nike.com/athletes.

The Science
Of Success

Fabiana Murer

JULY 21, 2016

Brasilian pole vaulter Fabiana Murer joined the ranks of the world’s best vaulters in June 2008, with a mark of 4.80 meters. Eight years, one month later, Murer rose another .07 meters, hitting 4.87 meters (15.98 feet), and claimed 2016’s top vault.

Born March 16, 1981, Murer has been competing on the international circuit since she was a teenager. She took gold at the 2011 IAAF World Championships, silver last year in Beijing and is a three-time winner of the South American Games. Despite her success, Murer’s objective remains ascendance, a goal made possible through mastery of technique.

As Murer’s story suggests, a pole vaulter trains over a lifetime for an action that takes just seconds to complete, but is filled with complexities. This is how it works:

1. As Murer sprints along the runway, pole in hand, she increases her energy of motion, known as kinetic energy. When she arrives at her takeoff point, she jabs her pole into the ground, where it bends at nearly a 90-degree angle. That transfers her energy into elastic potential energy as she’s lifted into the air.

2. As the pole begins to straighten back into a vertical position, it releases the stored elastic energy. This pushes Murer higher and higher above the ground, transferring the elastic energy from the pole back to her in the form of gravitational potential energy. This is the force that carries Murer forward, feet first, over the bar.

3. However, elite vaulters like Murer add something extra, not willing to depend merely on the forces propelling them up and over. While gliding mid-air, Murer also applies chemical energy from her muscles to hurl herself over the bar. Pushing off the pole as it recoils — not to mention a strong jump before takeoff — is necessary for an elite vaulter to even come close to clearing a bar set over 15 feet above the ground.

4. The science grows even more complex when Murer is directly above the high bar and the slightest impact would send the bar plummeting, nullifying all this effort. Just 150 milliseconds after their feet clear the bar, elite vaulters begin to arch their bodies. Even though their midsections go over the bar, the average position of their principal mass is actually underneath the bar. This is the same biomechanical technique used by high jumpers, dating back to the advent of the Fosbury Flop, the sport’s leading landing style. It allows Murer to only require enough force to get her center mass to a height near, but not over, the bar.

5. After releasing the pole, Murer twists her hips at approximately 450 degrees per second. This allows her to visually monitor where she is in relation to the bar. And while she initially twists her body to face the bar, about 200 milliseconds after releasing the pole, she opens her legs to stop twisting. This increases her body’s moment of inertia, or resistance to rotation, and helps Murer stabilize herself as she falls to the soft comfort of the landing pit.

Discover more about our athletes’ journeys — and how they can inspire your own — at nike.com/athletes.

Right Foot

Su Bingtian

JULY 19, 2016

Picture a sprinter at the start of the men’s 100 meters: He’s coiled up on the blocks, taut, folded into himself, poised like a pulled slingshot. His hands are in front, rigid arms holding up his body, with one leg stiff, straight back and another curled underneath, ready to push out and thrust him upright. But which leg is curled underneath, responsible for this initial surge of power? Does it matter? According to legendary sprint champion Michael Johnson, yes.

“People tend to look at sprinting as simple: The gun goes off and you just take off and run as fast as you can,” Johnson says. “But there’s technique, there’s strategy involved. The best basketball players are the greatest players because they can make adjustments. It’s the same thing that track athletes do — it’s just that you are able to see the complexity of other sports.”

In the men’s 100 meters, an observer’s inability to track a sprinter’s strategy can be attributed to the race’s hasty length; the world record, set in 2009, currently stands at 9:58 seconds.

In 2011, Su Bingtian broke the Chinese record with a time of 10:16 seconds. At the 2012 London Games, his best time was 10:19; the slowest time in the final was 9:98, exasperating the athlete. “No matter how developed my technique was, if I didn’t change, I would never run under 10 seconds,” Su recalls. “But if I did make a change, I might have the chance to breakthrough.”

So, in 2014, Su committed to transforming his technique. “I realized I can run really fast for the first 60 meters but cannot keep the speed to the end,” he says. “So I tried really hard to figure out a solution to keep the speed longer. And changing my starting stride came to my mind.”

The rebuild centered on switching the sprinter’s push-off leg from right, his natural inclination, to left. Su and his coach believed the change would increase his pace through to the finish line, potentially redefining his potential. During the transformation, Su kept his gamble mostly private; he didn’t even tell his family. Aside from his coach, he only confided in a few other Chinese sprinters, who were nearly unanimous in their responses: This was a risky choice — a sentiment Su, himself, felt.

“To change a technique which I’m familiar with since childhood is really hard,” Su says. “In the beginning, your body won’t get used to it. You need to work hard to change muscle memory. Even when I was walking on the street, I would suddenly get started. My friends were like, ‘What was that?!’ and I would say, ‘Just practicing.’ In the beginning, I was repeating the new start in my dreams.”

Returning to international competition with his modified strategy in 2014, Su ran an indoor 60-meter race. He finished in 6:71, far off of 6:55, his fastest time the year prior: “Definitely terrible for me,” Su confirms, adding that the outcome “made me doubt my decision, even to myself.” But, still, he persevered.

A few months after that race, Su began to see progress. Back in China, he ran the 100 meters in 10:10. And then in May of 2015, at the Prefontaine Classic in Eugene, Oregon, he finally hit that elusive, all-important sub-10-second mark, with a time of 9:99 — and equaled the time three months later at a meet in Beijing.

“A challenge is something you dare not do but always want to try,” Su asserts. “People asked me, ‘Why risk everything and change technique?’ But I wanted to push my boundaries. No matter if you succeed or if you fail, a brave change is worth trying.”

Su’s Best Times

(annually, from 2012 to present):

  1. 00:10:19 seconds on August 4, 2012 in London, England
  2. 00:10:06 seconds on May 21, 2013 in Beijing, China
  3. 00:10:10 seconds September 28, 2014 in Incheon, South Korea
  4. 00:09:99 seconds May 30, 2015 in Eugene, Oregon
  5. 00:09:99 seconds August 23, 2015 in Beijing, China

Learn how to train like Su and discover more about our athletes’ journeys — and how they can inspire your own — at nike.com/athletes.


Aries Merritt

JULY 8, 2016

From gold-medal race to kidney failure, the world-record 110-meter hurdler opens up about his harrowing journey and what it took to get back on the track.

They told me I would never run again, that I wouldn’t be able to eat regular food again. They told me I would never be able to do anything that I loved doing again. But I am. I'm running again, I'm doing everything that I wanted to do, plus some. The whole purpose of telling my story is to give inspiration to kids who have problems — whatever the case may be — to let them know that you can get through it if you fight.

But let’s go back a few years. 2012 was a dream season: I got a world record, a gold medal; I won every major championship. Then, 2013 was injury, injury, injury. However, I was able to put together a really strong performance and win an international meet in Paris, so I thought I was well on my way to being back on top. But when I got to the World Championships in Moscow, I
 just felt that something wasn’t right. After the fifth hurdle in training, I was getting tired. My coach and I chalked it up to me being injured, pulling my hamstring three times and not having the training needed to sustain my rhythm. But that was impossible because even if I had no training, I would still run the race the way I normally run it, which is building into it and being really, really great in the latter half. So I went to Moscow and I failed to medal. I knew that something was wrong when I went to make my move in the final and it wasn’t there.

Then my stomach started bothering me and I was so tired I was falling asleep on the floor. I started throwing up and went to the hospital. At that point my limbs had swollen up like a balloon. I was like Play-doh; it’s called edema. My urine test showed that I was leaking massive amounts of protein, which let them know that I had a kidney issue right off the bat. And my blood test said that my creatinine was through the roof. The higher your creatinine is the worse your kidney function is, so I went in for an emergency kidney biopsy. One of the questions the doctor asked me was if I took
steroids, because I had a collapsing FSGS (Focal segmental glomerulosclerosis) and that’s a side effect of steroid use. He later found out that it was a genetic disorder that’s predominant in African-Americans, period. So, no, I'm not on drugs.

After the biopsy, the doctors came in and told me: “Your kidneys have failed, you have no kidney function remaining.” The main doctor basically said, ”Well, you’re dying, and that’s the end of it.” He was a good guy, just a realist. He told me I’d need to start dialysis immediately and whatever life I had before was over. I was given four days to digest the information before starting dialysis.

I was boo-hooin’, bawlin’, cryin’, wondering why this was happening to me. I was angry and in despair. I stayed in my room and didn’t want to talk to anyone. I didn’t eat anything. I probably lost like 20 pounds. But my mom wasn’t having any of that. She said, “You gotta get out of this slump. You have to believe that you’ll be better.” She was so hopeful and I was so not
 because I was just listening to what the doctors were saying.

When I went back to the doctor after that four-day span, he told me, “We’re gonna run labs real quick to see how fast you’re disintegrating.” Then he got my lab work back and said, “Something’s not right. Your body has started to regenerate kidney function, which is impossible with this kidney disorder.” And immediately I had hope again.

At that point, I became a lab rat. The doctor tested me for everything under the sun. Come to find out, I had parvovirus B19. Dogs get parvo but there’s a human strain also, which is nasty. It goes straight for the kidney and destroys it, or whatever is left of it. It also gets into your bone marrow, so that prevents you from making red blood cells, which means you can’t really process oxygen fast so you’re tired and weak.

To treat it, I underwent about eight months of IVIG (immunoglobulin intravenous) to boost my immunity, because the only way to defeat parvo is to beat it with your own immune system. Once that settled off, my kidneys restored themselves to 60%. I still had lots of scarring and damage, and I still had kidney disorder, but I resumed normal training because roughly 60% kidney function is normal; under 25% function is kidney failure.

My first meet of 2014, I ran like the sixth or seventh fastest time in the world. That wasn’t great for me, but it was a start. I ran about six more races and they weren’t fast at all, but I was just happy to travel and have a normal life again. So I ended my season pretty early and said, “OK, I’ll really hit this next year hard; it’s a World Championship year and I really wanna win Worlds.”

Once I made the team, I decided: I’m going to go public with this info because I just can’t live like this anymore.

Everything was going great. I had a great indoor season and outdoor season leading into the Prefontaine Classic, where I ran the second fastest time in the world. I thought everything was all systems go. I needed a little bit more training and then I’d be back to number one. But after Pre, I had a voicemail from my doctor saying, “We need to talk.” My kidney function was steadily dropping so a transplant was my only option. I remember calling my sister after I left the clinic that day and telling her, “I need to find a donor.” She was like, “OK, I'm gonna call you back.” She went to get tested that day and it took some time but she ended up being a match.

So I had until March 2016 before complete failure and I knew training was gonna kill the rest
 of my kidneys, but I was gonna train really hard for the 2015 World Championships. I still had the mentality of: I'm going in to win and that’s that. So I went into the national trials and I made the USA team by the skin of my teeth. Once I made the team, I decided: I'm going to go public with this info because I just can’t live like this anymore.

It was starting to beat me up on the inside ’cause I had kept quiet about it for so long. There was speculation that I was on drugs, because I wasn’t running the times I was running in London. I didn’t wanna be labeled as a druggie anymore and I didn’t wanna be labeled as this guy who just randomly won gold and that was all he was good for. There was a piece of me that thought that the World Championships was gonna be my swansong. So I was like, “I gotta show people that I'm the best that there ever was, and I'm gonna have to do it in the worst
 possible state that you can be in.”
 And I almost pulled it off; I barely missed winning Worlds.

Eight weeks after the transplant, I started training again, but about two days after my first session my incision was so sore I started getting headaches. It got so sore that my stomach started to hurt — a hematoma had developed around the kidney so they had to do another surgery. So actually December 19, 2015, was my first training session for this year. I trained for about a month and a half before my first indoor race. I ran like the third-fastest time in the world at that point, which made me think: Maybe the surgery was a good thing. Maybe I needed a lot of rest.

Now I'm able to recover in minutes, as opposed to days. I'm able to do volume. I'm able to do repeat 200 meters with two minutes’ rest, repeat 30-second runs with one minute’s rest, 30 seconds’ rest, as opposed to doing one 150 meters and taking 10 to 20 minutes to recover. My cadence between hurdles is quicker than it has been in the past because I have power. I have energy. My body is doing great. I can have food and I can gain. I can pack on muscle so I'm strong. Now I just need to hit it and get it done, to try to get that race rhythm. It’s just
a matter of when it comes, but when it comes I know it’s gonna stay.

One could say that I’ve already reached the pinnacle of athleticism: I won gold medals and I broke the world record. I have everything you could have. However, I feel like in order to solidify my name as legendary, I need to do a few more things — one of those is to win a world outdoor title; I wanna have all the golds in my collection. And I still want to hold the world record when I retire. This summer’s competitions are more of a-show-them-you-can-do-it-even-after-surgery kinda thing. Whether I win, make
 the podium or if I'm in the final, it’s all a win in my book, but of course I wanna defend my titles. And I’ve already told people that if I do, it’s gonna be the act of a century, but it’s not gonna be an act. It’s gonna be 100% legit because it will pay of all the pain, all the suffering, all the heartbreak, all the despair… Everything will have paid off.

Learn how to train like Aries and discover more about our athletes’ journeys — and how they can inspire your own — at nike.com/athletes.

Playing to
the Pressure

Dafne Schippers

JULY 7, 2016

Dafne Schippers’ life changed in 21.63 seconds.

Beijing, August 28, 2015: Schippers edged out her closest competitor by .03 seconds to claim the 200-meter world championships and become history’s third fastest woman over the distance. The race was a stamp of intent; the success coming roughly two months after the Dutch athlete announced a focus on sprinting and only four days after she claimed second in the 100-meter final (running .05 seconds off the title).

Flash back two years earlier to the 2013 World Championships in Moscow: Schippers is on podium, but as a heptathlete. Her bronze was the first Dutch medal won by a woman in the history of the contest.

Born June 15, 1992 in Utrecht, Netherlands, Schippers’ athletics career began at age nine. Her early achievements as an all-rounder were capped with a world junior heptathlon title in 2010 and a European title in 2011. During the 2011 World Championships in Daegu, South Korea, Schippers broke the Dutch national record in the 200 meters, but failed to make the event’s final by .05 seconds, planting a seed of event specialization in the then-19-year-old’s mind. In 2014, she improved on her 200-meter record, storming into the European Championships and taking gold in both the 100 and 200 meters. Along with claiming victory, Schippers also confirmed her career track: She was now a sprinter.

Schippers made her decision public in June of 2015 and asserted its validity with that 21.63-second dash in Beijing. During an interview at the 2016 Prefontaine Classic in Eugene, Oregon, the athlete doubled down on her choice, chuckling when asked if she’d consider returning to the heptathlon. Extoling the excitement surrounding the sprint milieu, she stated: “It's a new world and it’s very cool.” But she has also conceded its pressure. Once triumph is attained, holding onto the glory, by holding off the competition, increases the burden of conquest.

“Then I really have to show it, because now I’m the world champion.”

“I thought, ‘Wow, I’m going to have to run against these kinds of people,’” Schippers says of having to regularly go head to head with the world’s elite. “Then I really have to show it, because I really have to now… now I’m the world champion.”

Previously a glutton for training — Schippers once went through two circuits of two to two and a half hours daily — she’s now focused on reducing wear and tear on the body, while refining her craft. Conversely, now that she is a world champion, Schippers actually has to learn how to sprint.

To do so, she’s engaging in the sections of her races: “We divide it into four stages,” she explains of the 100. “Zero to 30 [meters] is the start; 30 to 60 remain low, upright, and then comes a kind of speed if I’m right. And from there, running neatly to the finish — finish is also a stage.”

Given her height, 5 feet 10 inches, Schippers has struggled with starts. This is particularly evident in the 100, where (naturally) she’s not got as much time to catch up to the field if she falters off the blocks and lags behind. To improve, Schippers studies the techniques of her, much shorter, competition.

Similarly, she’s also refined her approach to the 200. “If you take the bend too fast, you can feel it, because you can’t keep it up to the finish. Then you accelerate slightly less from the bend to the end. So you try to be smarter with your energy,” Schippers explains. These elements may seem small — the milliseconds of a 100 start or a 200 curve — but they are essential steps to keeping pace with and maintaining a mental edge over the competition.

Schippers’ charge this summer is to prove she can perform under pressure. Along the way, she’ll also prove that 21.63, and the gold that came with it, was no fluke. And above all, she’ll prove that despite her start as an all-rounder, she is a “born sprinter.”

Learn how to train like Dafne and discover more about our athletes’ journeys — and how they can inspire your own — at nike.com/athletes.

Signs of Flight

Renaud Lavillenie

JULY 7, 2016

Renaud Lavillenie has the hollow cheeks of a man who doesn't weigh an ounce more than he needs. He puffs them gently before each vault attempt, as if the extra breath could make him lighter, as if the little air could lift him higher. Then he takes the end of the pole in his hands, raises it high, rocks on his heels and runs.

The run is what lets him fly. By the last five meters of his approach, Lavillenie is at full sprint, generating energy. When he set the world record, in 2014, he was clocked at about 19 miles per hour — around the top speed of a roadrunner. It is not enough just to run hard, of course. Lavillenie is fast, but so are others. A pole vaulter has to have perfect timing to know when to let the pole fall toward the box, so that he can carry it with less stress. He has to know what length to stride, so that his final step lands just below his top hand when the pole slides into the box and abruptly stops. Too far in, and his arm would yank; too far out, and he'd have to jump on the pole. Lavillenie knows exactly where to put his feet.

Lavillenie, a 29-year-old from France, is the best in the world, in history; in 2014, he vaulted 6.16 meters to break a world record that had stood for 21 years. At 5 feet 9 inches, he is much shorter than most elite vaulters — but he makes up for it with his speed, consistency and technique. Peter McGinnis, a SUNY Cortland professor of kinesiology who consults with the U.S. Track and Field federation, has studied a few of his vaults and noticed something interesting: Most pole vaulters have a takeoff angle around 18 degrees. Lavillenie’s is lower. At the instant he leaves the ground, he has a higher velocity than everyone else. He also has an even step rate over his last two steps, and he almost runs straight off the ground. Then, Lavillenie manages to stay behind the pole for longer. “That means he has more kinetic energy at take off than everyone else, and he uses it better,” McGinnis explains.

A pole is simply a tube that is made of fiberglass or fiberglass and carbon weave. The brand that Lavillenie uses is fiberglass; it is slightly thicker at the middle, at the point of maximum stress when the pole bends. The poles elite vaulters use are long and stiff. But Lavillenie — despite his small size — manages to produce more bend in the pole than the other vaulters. After the pole plants, he exerts force on the pole with his bottom hand. As he lifts off the ground, he swings from his top hand. The pole is compressed like a spring.

As it straightens, Lavillenie is pulled up by the force of the pole. He swings himself upside down. Milliseconds after his feet clear the bar, he starts to arch his body. Even though his torso goes over the bar, the average position of his center of mass may actually be below the bar — which means that, using this technique, he only needs to propel himself near the bar, not necessarily above it. (High jumpers use a similar technique.) Once he releases the pole, he twists his hips so that he can spot the bar and then quickly opens his legs to stop the rotation, stabilizing his body.

At the moment his center of gravity crosses the bar, he stops rising and his body falls back toward the bar — more than 20 feet off the ground when he is at his best. He clears the bar, controlling his body so that it does not brush it.

Then he falls through the air toward the pit. 20 feet is a long way. He has time to pump his fist before he lands. The final step when Lavillenie vaults is often the same: He smiles.

Learn how to train like Renaud and discover more about our athletes’ journeys — and how they can inspire your own — at nike.com/athletes.

Behind That

Simone Biles

JULY 5, 2016

Champion gymnast Simone Biles’ mother, Nellie Biles, reflects on the unseen tumbles that have influenced her daughter’s meteoric rise.

We first introduced Simone to a sports psychologist in 2013 after she’d had a really bad meet. She fell on three apparatus and almost killed herself on the falls, and that was just the warm-up. So her coach said, “That’s it. Pull her out.” It was the most devastating thing Simone had been through.

Then at the next competition she just bombed. She started saying, “No, I’m just not good enough. I cannot do this.” There was a lot of moping, a lot of crying, a lot of acting out in the gym. That’s when we figured she needed some help to deal with the expectations of herself and the expectations of others.

Then, she competed in nationals and won the all-around — that made her feel so much better. At [the World Championships] I just told her, “Don’t forget, you’ve trained for this. Go out there and make it your best practice day.” I always talk with her before a competition. I say to her, “You need to stay safe and focused, and don’t forget to be the best Simone.” Those are the three things that I tell her.

I don’t care what “the best” means. If the best means she takes first place, that’s great. If the best means she takes fourth place, that’s also great. Watching the Worlds, I just remember it was a great competition until my husband said, “I was hearing from other people that there’s a big chance of Simone winning.” I didn’t give any credit to that.

Then, on the last event, which was the floor, my husband said, “Simone needs a fourteen-point-whatever to win.” I knew she was capable of that, but I didn’t know what she was going to do out there. Then she just rocked the floor. When I saw the score, I just cried and cried because I knew how much it took to get to that spot.

Now, when I ask her how she’s preparing for this summer, she says, “Mom, I’m preparing the same way I prepared for my first Worlds.” When she says that, she honestly means it. She prepares herself every year. She prepares herself one day at a time because that’s all she needs to focus on.

Simone is one of the most competitive, stubborn people I know. No one understands this the way I do. I’ve seen my daughter write her goals on a piece of paper year after year — and she does everything she can to reach those goals. She’s so passionate about this sport it humbles me. But she’s also that same giggly six-year-old who stood on her head and hands and flipped around the house. If she’s out there smiling, if she waves and if she’s acting silly, she’s going to have a good meet.

Learn how to train like Biles and discover more about our athletes’ journeys — and how they can inspire your own — at nike.com/athletes.

Fight and

English Gardner

JULY 4, 2016

Four years after a crushing off-podium finish at the national trials, the now 24-year-old 100-meter sprinter details the volatile emotions that fuel her summer ambitions.

A lot of times my jitters get the best of me; I throw-up before my events at least four times. I have a really hard time controlling my adrenalin. If I even talk about an upcoming competition, my heart races, my hands sweat. I get the jitters. A lot of times, I’ll get numbness in my hands and in my feet, like that fight or flight kind of feeling. On the line I slap my legs not to scare my competitors, but because I can’t feel them. I try to stay as far away from competition mode as possible because once I’m there, I need my adrenalin; I need my emotions. I need my nerves to be the runner that I need to be.

My nerves come from not wanting to disappoint myself. They come from an internal push. I know what I’m capable of and I know in my event anything can go wrong. If I’m not executing the way I can I won’t get the outcomes that I need, and that is nerve-wracking. It can be that I didn’t push hard enough out of the blocks or I missed an angle by three degrees.

Year after year, I’ve watched people take what I felt like I deserved. I watched three women stand on the podium at the 2012 national trials. Everything that I ever worked for slipped right through my hands in 10 seconds. So this year I’m not going to stop until I get my job done. I’ve put all the tears that I cried in my tank, and I never want to feel that way again.

Everything that I do has purpose. The days where I’m tired, the days where I feel like I can’t go on, those moments are the moments that I need to hone in the most. I wake up knowing that nothing is going to be given to me. This year I’m not waiting for the moment to be handed to me. I’m taking it — that’s the difference. I’m not just taking it at the national trials. I’m not just taking it this summer. I’m taking it every morning when I’m putting on my practice gear. I’m taking it when I’m lacing up my shoes, when I’m doing every intricate movement in my weightlifting program and when I’m on the track perfecting my craft.

“I'm not waiting for the moment to be handed to me. I'm taking it.”

It’s one thing to have a million and three cells in your body that are perfectly made to do what you need to do. But then you have that other part of you: the edge that gets you to the point where you need to go. I had to be second in order to learn how to be first. When I lose, I know exactly what I have to do to get to first place. All those losses that I took before are going to prepare me for this win that I’m about to get.

I looked at my coach dead in the eye the other day and I said: “Coach, your job is to set the table. I need you to put the forks down, the cups, the plates, the spoons, the knives and the napkins. Because when I sit down at the table, I promise you I’m going to eat and I’m going to eat everything. I’m not going to leave anything for anybody else. You just got to get me a seat at the table. I will take care of everything else.”

Learn how to train like English and discover more about our athletes’ journeys — and how they can inspire your own — at nike.com/athletes.

The EatonEcosystem

JULY 1, 2016

Since 1912, the winner of the decathlon has been christened “the World’s Greatest Athlete,” his status confirmed by a final tally that aggregates the marks (determined by a complex scoring table) from each of the competition’s events. At the 2015 IAAF World Championships in Beijing, Ashton Eaton earned this prestigious title by registering a world-record 9,045 points. The feat was accomplished over two 15-hour days, yet Eaton only competed for approximately ten minutes of these 30 hours, indicating that what goes on off the track is just as important as what happens on it. As Eaton’s coach Harry Marra puts it: “It's not just running down a runway for ten seconds and jumping for five seconds and throwing the shot put.”

To validate his declaration, Marra provided insight into the fine points of each event, detailing why at the end of the two days, he’ll be as tired as Eaton himself. Also included in Eaton’s ultimate performance equation is his Nike equipment, which last year evolved to include a custom cooling hood. This summer, Nike has further developed the champion’s collection of tailor-made innovations, based upon his insight, Nike designers’ observations and the event’s unique demands.

Below, an inside look at the elements that will support Eaton as he attempts to best his own record.

The Strategy

  1. 1 . Eaton gets a maximum of five hours sleep between day one and day two, so he stockpiles the night before the event with 10 to 12 hours of Zzzs.
  2. 2 . Eaton lays out his kit at night (shoes, sweats, kit, bib) so he can just get up and go.
  3. 3 . Every decathlon location is different, so Eaton is prepared to execute his 5am pre-meet warm-up anywhere. In London in 2012, he warmed up on the city streets. In Beijing in 2015, he warmed up in the hotel. For a recent New York competition, he warmed up in a dance studio.
  4. 4 . Between competitions, decathletes retreat to a rest area, usually situated under the stadium. Here, they can relax, graze a buffet and debrief with their coaches. Eaton uses the time to recline and visualize the next event.
  5. 5 . When possible, Eaton takes a cool shower between events to lower his body temperature and rejuvenate.
  6. 6 . To combat heat on the field, Eaton wears his Nike cooling hood.
  7. 7 . Eaton has developed the ability to fall asleep in three or four minutes and snooze for fifteen, which helps keep him fresh.
  8. 8 . To retain focus, Eaton places performance cues from Marra on little pieces of paper inside his shoes and reviews them prior to the respective event.
  9. 9 . If Eaton nails a throw or jump on his first attempt (decathletes have three attempts, but only retain their top score), Marra will tell him to skip the additional two attempts to save energy.
  10. 10 . Eaton and Marra employ a punch-in, punch-out philosophy: They’ll punch into an event at warm-up. The second the event is over, they’ll punch out. This keeps Eaton from letting earlier performances (good or bad) affect his next event.

The Fuel

Eaton eats whatever he wants before and during competition. Here are 10 items that often appear on his competition menu.

  1. 1 . Toast
  2. 2 . Coffee
  3. 3 . Energy bars
  4. 4 . Sports drinks
  5. 5 . Watermelon with salt
  6. 6 . Turkey sandwiches
  7. 7 . Yoghurt, granola and nuts
  8. 8 . Orange juice
  9. 9 . Steak
  10. 10 . Water

The Coach

Coach Marra will be “on” from the moment he and Eaton meet at 5am in the hotel on day one until the media zone ends after 11pm on day two. Here are just 10 examples of the countless tasks on Marra’s plate throughout the competition.

  1. 1 . Maximizing warm-ups with the help of his coaching kit, which will be stocked with measuring tapes, chalk, adhesive tape and whistles.
  2. 2 . Monitoring his position in the coaching box, so he has the best angle from which to observe each event.
  3. 3 . Critiquing the minutiae of Eaton’s form in every event.
  4. 4 . Providing two to four performance cues to Eaton per event, in anticipation of and in response to the athlete’s performance.
  5. 5 . Gauging the wind, to inform Eaton of its possible performance effects.
  6. 6 . Scrutinizing Eaton’s liquid intake.
  7. 7 . Determining the height Eaton should designate as his first high-jump attempt (based upon his practice jumps).
  8. 8 . Ensuring the correct poles for Eaton’s pole vault are on the field, in the appropriate location.
  9. 9 . Designating the rate at which Eaton should anticipate each lap of the 1,500 meters, depending upon his level of fatigue approaching the final event.
  10. 10 . Anticipating Eaton’s post-competition needs, including flats to replace his spikes and an energy bar, because after he wins he heads straight to the media zone.

The Equipment

Eaton’s test over 10 events is, as established, both mental and physical. Speed and strength alone don’t define the success of a decathlete, there’s technique, too. Therefore, Eaton’s equipment must meet needs both specific to the sport and to the athlete. And there are also the standard requirements: discus, javelin and shot put

  1. 1 . Bag: Proper organization saves time and energy. Both are critical in the decathlon — energy crucial for maximum achievement, time for maximum focus. Designed by members of Nike’s cross-functional NXT team, Eaton’s roller bag includes a series of internal pockets to keep shoes (eight different competition pairs), tape, notes, bibs, extra socks and more in order.
  2. 2 . Track spikes: Eaton wears the Nike Zoom Superfly Elite for the 100 meters, 110-meter hurdles and day one’s concluding event, the 400 meters. On day two, he wears the Nike Zoom Victory 3 for the decathlon’s final race, the 1,500 meters.
  3. 3 . Jumping spikes: Eaton wears the Nike Zoom LJ 4 for the long jump, the Nike High Jump Elite for its eponymous event and the Nike Zoom Triple Jump Elite for the pole vault.
  4. 4 . Throwing shoes: Eaton wears a different shoe for each of the decathlon’s three throwing events. Two — the Nike Zoom Javelin Elite and Nike Zoom SD4 — are connected to their respective disciplines. His third choice, the Nike Air Zoom Odyssey for the shot put, recalls Eaton’s idiosyncratic nature (it’s a running shoe).
  5. 5 . The discus is 22 centimeters in diameter and weighs 2 kilograms.
  6. 6 . A shot put weighs 7.260 kilograms.
  7. 7 . Shot-put sleeve: Custom-made for Eaton by Nike, the athlete’s shot-put sleeve compresses his forearm to assist the reflex motion of the wrist while providing a support traditionally ascribed to tape. The sleeve’s straps allow Eaton to adjust tension with ease between throws, helping to increase his confidence.
  8. 8 . Eaton’s javelin measures between 2.6 and 2.7 meters and weighs 800 grams.
  9. 9 . A cooler for carrying drinks and transporting his custom cooling hood.
  10. 10 . Cooling hood: During jumping and throwing events, Eaton can be out in the field for several consecutive hours. Driven by a desire to provide the sensorial relief of pouring a bottle of water over one’s head, the tailor-made Nike cooling hood allows Eaton to momentarily reduce surface heat and, when tinted lenses are attached, cast a striking silhouette.

The Numbers

Eaton holds not only the world-record decathlon score, but also decathlon world records in the long jump and 400 meters. His personal best in each event serves as the touch point for future goals.

  1. 1 . 100 meters: 00:10:21 seconds on June 22, 2012, in Eugene, Oregon, USA.
  2. 2 . Long Jump: 8.23 meters on June 22, 2012, in Eugene, Oregon, USA.
  3. 3 . Shot Put: 15.40 meters on March 30, 2013, in Palo Alto, California, USA.
  4. 4 . High Jump: 2.11 meters on June 10, 2012 in Vancouver, Canada.
  5. 5 . 400 meters: 00:45:00 seconds on August 28, 2015 in Beijing, China.
  6. 6 . 110-meter Hurdles: 13.35 seconds on June 4, 2011 in Eugene, Oregon, USA.
  7. 7 . Discus: 47.36 meters on August 14, 2011 in Chula Vista, California, USA.
  8. 8 . Pole Vault: 5.40 meters on August 8, 2015 in Portland, Oregon, USA.
  9. 9 . Javelin: 66.53 meters on March 16, 2013 in San Luis Obispo, California, USA.
  10. 10 . 1,500 meters: 4:14:48 on June 23, 2012 in Eugene, Oregon, USA.

Total Score: 9045 points on August 29, 2015 in Beijing, China.

Learn how to train like Ashton and discover more about our athletes’ journeys — and how they can inspire your own — at nike.com/athletes.


Allyson Felix

JUNE 29, 2016

Some races are won before they begin. While the crowd is screaming and the other runners are preparing, Felix is already running. In her head, as she stands at the line, she visualizes her race: driving from the blocks, slowly rising, propelled by relentless ambition, the big swing of her arms. You can tell just by looking at her. Before she’s even introduced, she’s gone.

When the announcer calls her name, for a brief moment she’s back in the present. She raises her arms, waves at the crowd, twitches her mouth into a slight smile. Then she disappears again, back in her mind’s race. She’s thinking of the technical things she needs to do, the miniscule adjustments that mean the difference between first and second, between the podium and disappointment. “I’m not aware,” she says, “of anything else.”

When the camera cuts to her, and her image appears on the stadium’s big screen, her older brother Wes studies her face. He can read the ripple in the right side of her jaw, the furrow on her brow. He can tell, he says, whether it will be a fast day, the kind of day when medals are won, when records might fall. “I don’t know that I've ever really been wrong,” he says.

Felix is the reigning 200-meter gold medalist and the reigning 400-meter World Champion. She has four gold medals; she wants four more. She hopes to win gold in both the 200 meters and 400 meters at one Games. The schedule of track events in Rio was changed to make it possible for her to try.

If she wins both, she will be the first woman to do so. There are good reasons no one has done it before. No one has solved both the physical challenge of surviving round after round and the mental challenge of moving between the intense burst of speed in the 200 meters, where the start is paramount, and the long tactical sprint of the 400 meters, where a runner has to know when to move, when to kick, when to close. The margins are so thin. After four years of work, even the favorite can fail because of the tiniest falter in technique.

Felix won two silvers, in 2004 and 2008, before her first individual gold in 2012. She is 30 years old now, competing in her fourth Games. This is what it comes down to: the endless hours in the gym, the excruciating intervals on the track, the mind games her coach plays on her in practice, the restless days of enforced rest, the minute attention to how to position her right hand, the long runs down San Vicente Boulevard in Los Angeles.

One questionnaire before a competition had a question about what she fears. Distance, she answered. “Everyone talks about this runner’s high that they get,” she says. “I’ve never experienced it.”

Watching her is its own high. Felix is one of the most elegant runners, impossibly light on her feet. The pace is almost an afterthought, a consequence of her smooth, efficient form. Don’t be fooled: most races are tough, grinding and painful. But on the rarest days, it is easy. Everything comes together — the technique, the drive, the speed. “It flows and makes sense and it connects,” she says. “It’s only happened a few times in my career but it just…” She searches for words to describe the indescribable. “It almost is like an effortless feeling.”

Her brother is still waiting for the race when it all comes together. He’s seen what she can do in relays, when she just runs — simply and freely. “It’s like the most beautiful running I’ve ever seen,” he says. “I still wait for that moment, where it looks like she's just in her own world, just out for this fast like stroll that only she can do.”

You can glimpse it when she closes in on the finish. No one can hold their speed like she can. “Most people are dying,” she says, “when I shine.”

Learn how to train like Allyson and discover more about our athletes’ journeys — and how they can inspire your own — at nike.com/athletes.

Knocking At The Door

Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce

JUNE 21, 2016

A tenth of a second isn’t enough time to blink your eyelids. It is the amount of time separating a clearly defined movement from the sort of optical illusion that creates the appearance of an action blurred into infinity, like if you twirl a stone tied to a rope around your head. At a tenth of a second, you can still track the stone’s individual movement as it spins. Speed up the spinning to less than a tenth of a second per rotation and the stone becomes a seamless loop of pure motion. A tenth of a second is where the sprinter lives. It separates world-record holders from mere champions.

A tenth of a second is all Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce thinks about. Called “Pocket Rocket” in her native Jamaica for her diminutive size — she stands 5 feet 1 inch, tiny compared to her commonly lanky competition — she is the current World Champion in the women’s 100-meter sprint. But it isn’t pure speed that makes her push herself harder; it’s time. And to alter time, you need to refine technique.

“If you look at the majority of the female athletes who are competing, we all have speed,” Fraser-Pryce, 29, explains. “When four or five or six or eight of us are in a race closely together, it will come down to who will break in terms of technique.” By paying attention to the minute movements of her body coming off the blocks, such as the placement of her head at the start of the first phase of the sprint (the drive phase), she begins to shave one tenth of a second from her time.

In Beijing, in 2008, Fraser-Pryce sprinted 100 meters in 10.78 seconds. At 21 years old, she became the fastest woman in the world, and the first Jamaican woman in history to win gold in that event. Just a year prior, no one would’ve expected it.

Fraser-Pryce was born on December 27, 1986, to a single mother in Waterhouse, a rough-around-the-edges district of Kingston, Jamaica, known for its football club and for producing more reggae legends than perhaps any other part of the city. The only daughter in a tight-knit family of four, Fraser-Pryce grew up under the watchful eye of her young mother, Maxine. Because of rowdy men and gang trouble, Maxine would make Fraser-Pryce come straight home after school, and if anyone hollered at her along the way, Maxine would reprimand them. But Maxine’s positive influence wasn’t limited to daily discipline; as a young woman, Fraser-Pryce’s mother also ran, until becoming pregnant with her eldest son, Omar. And Fraser-Pryce credits her mother as being the biggest reason why she runs.

Under the strict care of her coach, Stephen Francis, Fraser-Pryce has honed her technique to become a gold medalist many times over (she is also the first woman in history to win three 100-meter World Championships). “It wasn’t natural for me to run the way I run. I learned my techniques,” she explains. Fraser-Pryce recalls that, when she started competing, she “was almost running on [her] face.” Francis had to intervene. “My coach had to get me to get my knees up. I remember one evening I was at training and I wasn’t getting the technique properly,” she continues. “He sent me on the straight to do 100 high knees. I spent the whole time doing the high knees until I got it right.”

In 2008, having sharpened her start, her first stride, the placement of her arms, all the phases of the sprint, Fraser-Pryce beat the odds to surpass the existing Jamaican favorite in the 100-meter national trials. Following her gold in Beijing, Fraser-Pryce went on to place first at the 2009 IAAF World Championships. She took gold again in the 100 meters in London 2012, and then there are those additional World Championships in 2013 and 2015. A triumph this summer would make her the first athlete to ever win back to back to back to back in the 100 meters.

Despite her incredible achievements, Fraser-Pryce has yet to run the 100 meters in less than a 10.7. The 10.6 — a bar surpassed only once in the female history of the race — eludes her. “But I know it's there,” she says. “And each year I get into this shape where I feel like I'm going to destroy things. I'm waiting and waiting. It's almost as if I'm knocking at the door. I definitely believe that 2016, God willing, will be the year for that, because I'm overdue.”

The personal milestones concern her most; her gaze remains inward. In 2008, she didn’t realize she was the first Jamaican woman to win gold at the 100 meters because she hasn’t paid much attention to the history of track and field. She is focused entirely on her body and its performance. Sprinting, as Fraser-Pryce articulates, is a kind of unbelievable attention to minutiae, the stuff the rest of us don’t pay attention to — it’s about tenths of a second as a way of life. “My focus is just very different,” she admits. “You feel all of your phases. Because of how the body is, you can feel it, like a sixth sense. So I focus on nailing each phase properly, and if I’m able to nail each phase properly, then I know that’s history.”

When she’s made history in the past, her joy is unmistakable. Her almost clinical approach to training and her thoughts on technique fail to prepare you for the sight of Fraser-Pryce falling to the ground after a win, collapsing like her small frame isn’t enough to support the energy of her smile. A post-race interview from the 100 meters at the 2009 World Championships in Berlin showed Fraser-Pryce practically yipping with happiness as she tried in vain to describe with words her emotions upon winning. It was an infectious display of taking satisfaction in a sport that is poised to galvanize global fans this summer, especially in a country that has claimed gold in both the men’s and women’s 100 meters in the past two games and once again endeavors to dominate the event’s medal stand.

Fraser-Pryce knows that having such an achievement in her sights places a bull’s-eye on her back — a positive consequence in her estimation. “It’s fuel for you as an athlete,” she asserts. “You say, ‘Okay. The world is coming.’ And if the world is coming, what do you do? You prepare. And then, when the time comes, you go to war. And when the war is finished, you'll stand victorious.” And hopefully the clock will read 10.6.

Learn how to train like Fraser-Pryce and discover more about our athletes’ journeys — and how they can inspire your own — at nike.com/athletes.


Mo Farah

JUNE 7, 2016

When Mo Farah claimed victory in the 10,000-meter final at London 2012, it could have been the pinnacle of a great success story. With just three laps to go, the long-distance runner launched into his trademark sprint finish, winning gold for Great Britain before embracing his young daughter, Rhianna, and pregnant wife, Tania.

But, in what would turn out to be signature Farah style, there was more to come. The runner returned to the stadium one week later to compete in the 5,000-meter final. As he took the starting block, Tania was preparing to give birth to twins. In Farah’s mind, one gold would not suffice; two babies meant two medals were needed. The race commenced and Farah proceeded to distance himself from opponents whenever they neared, in what is still considered an exceptional display of tactical performance. With another masterful sprint finish, Farah secured first place.

As his face transformed into an expression of joy and surprise, Farah threw his arms wide, embracing both the victory and the enormous roar of support from his home crowd, which was waving the Union Jack and dancing Farah’s signature “Mobot” dance. “The support I got was huge,” he recalls. “That moment was the best thing that ever happened to me. It changed my whole life; winning it meant so much. And 75,000 people shouting out your name and cheering you on, it can’t get any better than that.”

Farah understands the power of that which comes in twos — pairs, binaries and dualities. Farah was born only a few minutes behind his twin brother, Hassan, in 1983 in Mogadishu, Somalia. When the boys were eight years old, their family was preparing to move to London, where their father was living and working, when Hassan fell ill and was unable to travel. The family was forced to leave Hassan behind and when they returned to collect him months later, they found that he had been evacuated with relatives to an unknown location amidst the onset of the Somali Civil War. The Farahs returned to London without Hassan.

This separation significantly colored Farah’s upbringing in his unfamiliar home. Citing a near-telepathic bond with his twin, the athlete recalls that he could at times sense his brother’s emotional or physical condition. Farah was forced to reconcile this acute awareness of his missing counterpart with his adjustment to life in a new country, having arrived with no grasp of its mother tongue. His cousin taught him a few phrases — “Excuse me,” “Where is the toilet?” and “Come on, then!”— but everyday interactions still proved problematic, occasionally landing him in schoolyard fights or leaving him scared, isolated and frustrated.

Finding solace in football, Farah joined a local club, although he says he “never had any skills” and preferred simply to run with the ball. In fact, it was this deviation that caught the eye of Farah’s physical education teacher, who noted Farah’s effortless running style. As Farah struggled to find acceptance among his classmates and a place in his community, the teacher offered the kind of purpose and support Farah had been searching for, encouraging the young athlete to join a local running club at age 11 to ensure that he would be properly fostered.

“I don’t think I would have achieved what I have achieved without support as a youngster, but it comes to a point where you have to be able to do the right thing,” Farah confirms. “In running, there’s no one to cover you — have a bad day, have a good day, there’s no hiding, and sometimes it gets pretty difficult. Your team can do as much as they want for you, but you’re the one who has to go and run around the track and get it right. Your coach is there to guide you, but coach ain’t gonna hold your hand.”

In running, there’s no one to cover you

1997 saw Farah win his first notable race: an English schools cross-country championship, followed by several more titles, which eventually led him to the European Athletics Junior Championship in the 5,000 meters in 2001, where he won gold. It was during this fruitful period that Farah visited Florida for a training camp and began to understand the potential of his sport: Each success could help carry him beyond the confines of his home city; each victory could bring him one step closer to Hassan.

To support himself while continuing to train under premier coaches and compete at a senior level, Farah worked in fast-food restaurants and as a sales clerk in a sports store. Finally, in 2003, he saved enough money to return to Somalia to locate his brother. This meeting was, according to Farah, “the best feeling ever.” Although the twins had lived vastly different lives, the brothers’ recognition was immediate; listening to Hassan for the first time in over a decade, Farah felt as though he was hearing himself.

Reuniting with his brother restored the missing piece of Farah’s spirit. He returned to London and shortly thereafter his running career began in earnest. In 2005, which he calls his “breakthrough year,” Farah moved into a house with elite Kenyan distance runners, which profoundly shifted his perspective. “I never worked as hard as a youngster,” Farah says. “When I saw the Kenyan guys, that really opened my eyes, because I was like, ‘If these are the guys that I am going to keep competing against, then I must work hard.’ Since 2005, I went head down and eat, sleep, train. That is all I have done [since].”

As the intensity of Farah’s training increased, so did his progress. In 2006, he took gold at the European Cross Country Championships and lowered his personal best from 13:30.53 to 13:09.40. But just as he had begun to experience exceptional success, Farah received a taste of the underside of elite competition: crushing disappointment. In 2008, after qualifying for the 5,000 meters in Beijing, he failed to make the final.

Ever determined, Farah saw this loss as a sign: Natural talent and hard work had taken him far, but he needed to diversify and refocus. “Nobody really knows who finishes fifth, but they will be able to tell you who finishes first,” he explains. So Farah began training better, instead of harder, via a purposeful and variegated approach that paired fewer miles with a targeted, tiered schedule leading to competitions.

This strategy, which also included the introduction of high-altitude training, remains with Farah today. “I used to think that running was just running, but as you get to a higher level it’s about doing the weights, doing your core, running different speeds,” he says. “My favorite workout has to be working on speed. I love just being able to sprint.”

By 2011, Farah was ready for his next big move — two of them, in fact: a new coach and a new home. “I knew Alberto [Salazar] was a great coach and I wanted him to coach me, but one of the conditions was that I had to move my family to Portland, [Oregon],” Farah explains. “So I made that move and I think it is the best move I have ever made in my life. It’s important to trust your coach, and me and Galen [Rupp], Farah’s training partner, fully trust Alberto. As a marathon record holder, Alberto wouldn’t have achieved what he achieved if it wasn’t for all the hard work he did. He is not just a normal coach, he is someone who has been there and done it.”

Farah is now not only one of the most successful distance runners of all time he is also one of the most disciplined. In logging close to 125 training miles every week, save for injury or “easing down” for a race, Farah estimates that he has run the distance between his birth continent and his adopted home at least twice over the course of his career.

“For me, volume is key,” Farah says. “Every week I get through, every month I get through, it’s armor. Racing is the easy part for me, really. It takes months and months of preparation, locking yourself in training camp, not being able to see your family, your kids. It hurts me sometimes, but I’m going to take it out on the track. I do think about the race, but everything happens in training.”

The dual power of a supportive, highly skilled coach and diverse, dedicated training, which incorporates cryotherapy to shorten recovery time, has seen Farah develop the ability to counterbalance lows with the determination and focus that ensures ever-greater highs. A health scare in 2014, a world-record-beating two-mile performance in 2015, a fifth world championships as well as a disappointing third-place finish in the World Half-Marathon earlier this year have strengthened the runner’s commitment. “I’m the guy who has a target on [my] back in a way. It’s pretty hard to avoid that because of what I’ve done in the circuit. The opposition knows everything about you. They study you. So, in a way, it gets harder and harder.” Still, Farah is determined to add a world record in both the 5,000 and 10,000 meters to his legacy and to represent his country to the highest standard, proving once more that the world’s greatest distance runner is here to stay.

“There’s a point in your career where you stop enjoying it and you don’t want it anymore, and that’s when you have to hang your spikes up. I haven’t had that. More than ever, I want to go out and do it for my kids, for my family, for me. I want to win, I want to make history, I want to continue and I want to one day be able to impress my kids, and [for them] to go, ‘Look, Daddy was good.’”

Learn how to train like Mo and discover more about our athletes’ journeys — and how they can inspire your own — at nike.com/athletes.

The RateofGravity

Paola Espinosa and
Alejandra Orozco

JUNE 6, 2016

On July 31, 2012 at the London Aquatics Center, Paola Espinosa and Alejandra Orozco step out of the poolside hot tub, towel off and scale three ladders to arrive atop the center’s ten-meter-high diving platform. Dressed in matching blue Team Mexico swimsuits, they silently repeat positive mantras: “Yes, you can.” “You can do it.” “Hip, hip, hooray.”

The pair turns their backs to the pool, perching similar 5-feet-1-inch, 104-pound frames on the platform’s edge, gripping the brink with solely their toes. Each closes her eyes and draws a deep breath to slow her heartbeat, manufacturing a moment in which the slap of the pool drain and the cheers of the crowd disappear. They visualize their synchronicity, then Espinosa softly counts aloud: “One, two. One, two.” In unison, they spring into the air, twisting to the left before hinging at the hips, legs arrow straight to form a perfect pike as they begin their rapid descent.

Synchronized diving, which takes place from either a three-meter springboard or ten-meter platform, became an Olympic sport in 2000, although it had been publicly performed since the 1930s in diving shows and aquacades. In its competitive form, the contest features teams of two divers who perform simultaneous dives of five types: forward, backward, inward, reverse and twisting.

For women, the competition is made up of five one-dive rounds, which are scored by an 11-judge panel. Three judges focus on the first diver’s execution and three on the second diver’s, with “execution” including approach, flight and entry. Five additional judges assess the pair’s synchronicity, critiquing forward travel from the board, time of takeoff, height, synchronization and entry. Each judge issues his or her verdict, between one and 10, with the highest and lowest scores thrown out and the remaining sum multiplied by the dive’s degree of difficulty.

According to the rate of gravity (9.8 meters per second), these measured movements equate just a-second-and-a-fraction’s flight from the 10-meter platform to the pool. For Espinosa and Orozco, this means that approximately 25 collective years of training boil down to this final blink-of-the-eye dive.

The elder of the pair, Espinosa was born in La Paz, Mexico, the capital city of Baja California Sur, in 1985. The firstborn daughter of two athletic parents, she was introduced to gymnastics at the age of three, then swimming, her father’s sport, but neither stuck. So at the age of five, she tried diving. “I was scared at first,” Espinosa recalls. “Then in my first competition at six, I got second place and I wanted to win. That’s where it all started.” A year later, she saw the Barcelona Games on TV and set her mind on winning a medal. At the age of 11, spurred by her family’s support and an invitation from the Mexican Olympic Committee to train in its program, Espinosa moved alone to Mexico City to pursue her dream.

The diver’s intense determination and focus, her mother Irma Josefina Sanchez Davila explains, was evident even before she was born. While pregnant with Espinosa, Davila recounts, doctors told her that she had a tumor that could cause either she or her daughter to die. Both survived, Davila says, because Espinosa is a fighter, and she believes this early trial developed her daughter’s inner strength.

Whatever the genesis of her resolve, following her arrival in Mexico City, Espinosa began defeating older competitors. Around this time, she also chose to focus on the 10-meter platform, rather than the springboard, because there were fewer females in the category. Eight years later, she was representing her country in Athens in the synchronized 10-meter platform event. Her first medal, a bronze, arrived in 2008 at the Beijing Games, an achievement that was both gratifying and motivating. “It made me want to practice more and more,” she explains. “I wanted to win more and to be the best.”

While Espinosa was stepping up to the pedestal, Orozco was just stepping onto a board. Born in Guadalajara in 1997, she discovered diving at age 10 while visiting a local athletic center, where she was captivated by the idea of springing off a platform into the pool. A local instructor soon noticed the young talent. “My coach would say, ‘I want you to go up and do this dive,’” Orozco remembers. “And I would. I think that’s what they saw in me: the desire to do the things the other girls wouldn’t do.”

This daring translated into competition wins, which in turn led Orozco to believe that perhaps what her coach said was true — maybe she could achieve something in the sport. Her opportunity to test that prospect arrived just a couple of years later when her idol, Espinosa, asked her to be her 10-meter partner. “It was a dream come true,” Orozco remembers. “I thought Paola was on another level, but she trusted me and that gave me confidence.”

Alejandra Orozco
Paola Espinosa

Which returns us to London. Espinosa and Orozco simultaneously twist, tuck and flip, cleanly slicing the pool’s surface at the same instant. Earning 8 and 8.5 scores for a total of 343.24, their performance secured the silver medal, making Espinosa one of two Mexican women ever to win two Olympic medals and designating the then-15-year-old Orozco as Mexico’s youngest Olympic medal winner ever. In a post-competition interview, Orozco, showcasing an easy grin, dimples and saucer-like eyes, thanks her country for its support and expresses her extreme joy.

Looking back on that moment nearly four years later, however, Orozco is less effusive. “It has been very difficult,” she says. “I achieved my dream, to win a medal with my idol, at such a young age that I didn’t even realize it until later. It was one of the greatest things, because I had admired Paola all my life. But then I said, ‘What’s next?’”

For her part, Espinosa took the moment to return home, where she too encountered an unexpected trial. “After London,” she says, “I wanted to come back home — to be a normal girl, a family girl.” But when her father, her biggest fan, passed away, it caused her to question her future. The support of her mother and sister helped Espinosa rediscover her diving focus and awoke a desire to compete in Rio. “There’s a difference between what you want and what you desire,” she clarifies. “And, for me, desire has a stronger pull.”

Upon returning to Mexico City, Espinosa contacted Pedro Ignacio Gato Cruz to drive her toward her new goal. Cruz, a renowned trainer and sports physics professor, came to Mexico from Cuba in 2006. His work with the Taekwondo Federation of Mexico and its athletes ahead of the 2012 Games brought him to Espinosa’s attention, for whom he tailored a new training regime focused on anaerobic exercises that increase strength and muscle explosiveness. “To dive you have to be strong, very strong,” Espinosa explains. “That can look a lot of ways. Divers all have different bodies and different strengths. There isn’t an archetype of what a diver’s body should be.”

As Espinosa looked toward the future, Orozco grappled not only with articulating a new dream but also with the physical changes that occur as an adolescent becomes an adult. Crucially, her center of gravity had shifted, challenging the pair’s previously achieved synchronicity, the cornerstone of their success. Evidence of both struggles was on display in 2014, when the team placed sixth in a key international competition. Reflecting on her journey, Orozco says, “It is a weight carrying a medal on your back. There are a lot of people who have a lot of expectations of me. They think, ‘Oh, she won a medal. She has to win more and more.’”

Not long after that sixth-place finish, Orozco moved to Mexico City, where she could train daily with Espinosa at the Centro Acuatico Ceforma. Located in Southern Mexico City, an approximate 30-minute drive from the city center, past the home stadium of the Pumas football club, sinuous freeways, corporate headquarters and countless parks, framed by distant blue mountains, Ceforma was built for the 1968 Games and still boasts earmarks of the era. Golden yellow walls, fire-red rafters and cobalt blue diving platforms form graphic lines, framing three Olympic-size pools. A massive banner of Espinosa captured in a moment just before takeoff adorns the far wall. Soaring windows illuminate the space with natural light at the same time they reveal an adjacent football field, apartment blocks in local hues — mint green, bright azure, adobe rust — and sidewalks populated with taco stands and mango trucks.

Inside the center, situated behind the diving pool, a room reserved for the athletes who have cemented Ceforma’s elite diving reputation is lined in primary-colored mats and boasts another banner of Espinosa, underscoring her status as one of the country’s most popular female athletes. On one side of the gym, ground-level trampolines are paired with harnesses to help the divers perfect their acrobatics. On the other, various mats pad the athletes as they leap from the ground and flip 360 degrees, grabbing their legs and pointing their toes before landing. A pit filled with foam blocks, topped with a springboard, invites them to take the competition simulation a step further.

For the past eight and a half months, Espinosa and Orozco have convened in the space. Five to six days a week, they balance dry-room work with diving, always under the watchful eye of Ma Jin, Team Mexico’s diving coach. Jin, originally from China, has worked with the team since 2005 and is considered a hero in the country for her contribution, which has elevated the team’s technique, precision and strength — and its overall performance on the world stage. The pair also trains five days a week with Cruz. Monday, Wednesday and Friday they do lifts. Tuesday and Thursday, the duo moves to resistance training and cardio work, which helps tears in the muscles to heal more quickly. And to maintain their energy, they rely on an unrestricted, yet protein- and amino acid-rich diet. Meals range from seafood and nutritional shakes to tortas de tamal, a notoriously decadent local dish that features tamales served in sandwich rolls.

This ultimately balanced, yet wieldy diet mirrors Espinosa and Orozco’s overall approach. They take their work extremely seriously, but solemn moments are offset by periods of mirth, with the elder diver often prompting her partner to dissolve into giggles, evidencing the pair’s yin-and-yang personalities as well as their age difference.

“We’re very different,” Espinosa confirms. “I am decisive and aggressive. Ale’s more introverted. I am always making jokes. I have a strong character. Maybe that has caused me trouble once in a while, but this is the way I am. I don’t get stuck on anything. I let everything go and just move forward.”

The key to reconciling divergences of all types, both divers assert, lies in dialogue. “Good communication is essential,” declares Orozco, “and having a good relationship and real communication outside of that one second of diving is more important than that second. Paola is like my sister.”

The equation, with all its variables, appears to be paying off. Instead of upsetting their synchronicity, the pair’s new physical differences have begun to counterweight Espinosa and Orozco’s respective strengths. “Now Ale’s a little bit taller than me, but I naturally jump a little bit higher,” explains Espinosa, “so I meet her in the air.” At the 2015 Pan American Games, Espinosa and Orozco finished third and the pair’s steady progress is fueling them as they look to the summer when, as their country’s best chance for a podium-top win, they will concentrate four additional years of sacrifice and toil into that second-and-a-fraction plunge. But for Espinosa and Orozco, the rush always comes before the gold.

“It’s dangerous,” Orozco states, “I love that fear and adrenaline.”

“You feel fear, anxiety, insecurity when you walk up the stairs onto the platform,” Espinosa adds. “But then there is a second before you jump, when you feel an intimacy with yourself. You know how to handle yourself; you can control yourself. That’s the moment that I like the most: I love the butterflies.”

Discover more about our athlete’s journeys — and how they can inspire your own — at nike.com/athletes