American Tyree Washington has always had the talent to be a world class athlete, though in the past, injuries and troubling family issues had kept him from reaching his full potential. But the 400 meters may help him turn the corner.
Washington's family background was anything but easy, growing up with his father in prison. But he first opened the eyes of the athletics world at the 1997 World Championships in Athens. There he won the bronze medal in the 400 meters and anchored the United States 4x400-meter relay team to the gold medal.
After his performance in Greece, Washington was looked at as one of the heirs to fellow-American Michael Johnson's 400-meter throne. Washington talks about his relationship with Johnson.
"It's a privilege that I have the opportunity to fill Michael's shoes," Washington said. "Michael Johnson is Michael Johnson [the superstar]. He had the world record in the 400 and 200. I'm Tyree Washington. I have my own running style and I have my own goals. But I've learned to look up to Michael. When I first came out, yeah, there was a lot of friction. But now I just see Michael as a focal point that I need to really learn from him."
But trouble seemed to follow the gifted athlete, with injuries and other personal problems degrading his performance.
A promising career in the National Football League failed to pan out, and after battling respiratory problems in 2000, and a serious hamstring injury in 2001, Washington took 18 months off. During that time, he testified against his sister in her 2002 murder trial, which resulted in her receiving a life sentence. For Washington, it was not an easy time.
"Those 18 months I took off, and I had to testify against my sister in a murder trial and put her away [responsible for helping send her to jail]. That was difficult for me," Washington admitted. "That was somebody that I loved. If it was not for my wife and people in my church and friends of mine that I knew from running track encouraging me to come back, I was not going to come back."
Tyree Washington has made an impressive comeback in 2003, capturing the 400-meter world indoor championship, as well as the U.S. indoor and outdoor titles. He came into these championships with the fastest time in the 400 since 2001. Washington had not lost a race this year until the championship final Tuesday, where he won the silver medal behind fellow American Jerome Young.
"I waited all year for that. I'm not making any excuses. Jerome ran an excellent race. I think starting running in January until now, it caught up with me. I thought I could come out and pull it off," Washington said.
Despite his obvious disappointment, Tyree Washington is satisfied with his accomplishments this year.
"I've had a blessed season. I mean, I lost in the finals and that's my first loss this year. And that hurts man. Jeez. I'm a winner and I hate losing, but you know what. I have to be grateful, for God has blessed me when I think that he is just testing my heart," he said.
Washington's next test at the world meet here will be as part of the U.S. men's 4x400 meter relay team.
"I'm going to run the relay. This is for our country. I think in the past I let my temper get to me, but I grew up now. I just look forward to the relay, you know, we all have to redeem ourselves," he said.
After all the obstacles Tyree Washington has overcome, it is easy to find yourself wishing him success. He'll have his chance in the relay [qualifying heats Saturday, final on Sunday], or perhaps the redemption he is seeking will come next year, in the form of a gold medal at the 2004 Summer Olympics in Athens.