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Twenty years ago, Arif Husain ’93 reached the pinnacle of success in his sport.
Wearing the green of his native Pakistan, the track & field standout competed in the 1992 Summer Olympics in Barcelona, Spain.
Between his junior and senior seasons at Gettysburg College, Husain returned to Pakistan to participate in his country’s Olympic trials. At 23 years old, he went on to qualify in both the 100- and 200-meter dash.
Though it certainly represented the high mark in Husain’s athletic career, he also enjoyed a spectacular four-year run with the Bullets. He was an eight-time All-American and captured the NCAA Division III outdoor national title in the 200 during his senior year.
A 2003 selection in the College’s Hall of Athletic Honor, he was also recently named to the Middle Atlantic Conference’s inaugural Hall of Fame. He currently resides in Stamford, Conn., where he works in aviation consulting and finance.
As the 2012 Summer Olympics get underway in London, Husain recently took some time out to reflect on his Olympic experience with GettysburgSports.com.
GSC: Every four years has to be a special time for you. What kind of feelings do you get when the Olympics come around?
AH: I probably appreciate the Olympics a little more than fans who just tune in every four years. The sense of competition (and camaraderie) is more interesting to me than the medal count (which I don’t focus on at all).
GSC: Coming from the small world of Division III athletics, can you describe what it was like suddenly finding yourself on the biggest stage of all for your sport?
AH: The whole process of getting from the warm-up track to the starting line is so much more structured than anything I had experienced. The first call for your race is about 50-60 minutes before you actually race, and from then on, the eight competitors are in the same confined area until you finish the race.
First, officials check your spikes, accreditation, uniform, etc. in a small tent at the warm-up track, then athletes are escorted to the stadium, which takes 10 minutes. Athletes spend another 10 minutes under a grandstand in a warm-up area (three to four lanes and starting blocks, etc.) before going into a small room for another check of all of the above. Ten minutes before the race, athletes are allowed on the track to set up starting blocks and for run-throughs.
Athletes finish their race and go through a line of reporters as they exit the track. There are TVs everywhere in the stadium – near the start line for the 100 meters, the finish line, under the stadium – so the feedback from the race (in terms of replays) is pretty instantaneous.
When it came to racing, I was able to block out other distractions and just focus on what I had to do and try and execute my race as best I could, so that didn’t change much. The stage happened to be bigger, but the mechanics of running a good race didn’t change.
GSC: What are some of your most vivid memories from Barcelona?
AH: Two memories stand out. One was the almost complete silence in the stadium just prior to the final of the men’s 100. And contrastingly, the crescendo of noise in the same stadium a few days later when local resident Fermin Cacho took the lead on the final bend in the 1,500 and won the race. What an amazing buzz in the stadium in both instances – in the first case it was conveyed by silence, and in the second by an enormous roar.
GSC: How do you feel you performed in your two races?
AH: Not as well as I would have liked. My training was geared toward peaking in May for the NCAA nationals. By the time I ran in Barcelona in late July-early August my body was pretty beat up. I ran 0.2 to 0.3 slower than I had been running in May and June at the trials.
GSC: In what ways did your first three years at Gettysburg prepare you for the Olympics?
AH: My junior year (just prior to the Olympics) was my breakthrough year. I had no expectations my first year and was very lucky to have the right coaches for me. Darryl Jones, Mike Spangler, and [Head Coach] Ed Riggs all really helped me develop through my four years at Gettysburg. (I remember at nationals my senior year a coach from another college commenting on how good a rapport I had with Darryl.)
In the second season, I was physically in great shape, but didn’t realize the importance of mental strength. It started to come together my third year, but I still didn’t learn to run relaxed consistently until my final season.
GSC: What was it like returning to Gettysburg for your senior year after competing in Barcelona? In what ways did it change your relationship with your teammates or opponents?
AH: I can’t speak for my opponents, but the experience probably gave me credibility among my teammates. And gaining credibility was important, because I had very specific ideas on how to mold the track team into a legitimate contender for the 1993 season. Perhaps my teammates were willing to give more credence to my ideas because of my Olympic experience. The team really responded to the challenges that were presented to us, and developed an attitude of embracing them, which we might not have possessed previously.
The men’s team was undefeated for the year. We defended our 4x400 win at Penn Relays, finished second at the conference championships, and had the most athletes (men and women) qualify for nationals in my four years at Gettysburg. That, in the end, was the most satisfying.
For me personally, witnessing how some of the Olympic athletes trained and the standard they achieved pushed me to train harder during the offseason, and really set me up for my senior year.
GSC: In what ways do you feel the Olympics, or the sport of track & field, have changed since your trip to Barcelona?
AH: The obvious answer is that the standards have improved, as they should.
In 1992, a 10.2 could get you into the Olympic semifinal in the 100 and a 10.1 into the final. Now, you have to be a sub-10 second sprinter for a spot in the final, realistically speaking.
The basics of the sport are still the same – run or jump faster than your opponent, even though training techniques have changed. Coach Riggs and I were discussing last year how we would train completely differently if I were running now.
Track & Field still has a much bigger footprint in Europe than in the U.S. and that hasn’t changed, nor is it likely to in the near future. And that’s fine.
GSC: Have you attended any of the Olympic Games since Barcelona?
AH: Yes – 1996 in Atlanta, but purely as a spectator.
GSC: What kind of a reaction do you normally get when you tell somebody that you are a former Olympian?
AH: I hardly ever tell anyone. My wife or close friends might mention it to someone (but that too is rare), or a client might ask about it since it’s in my professional bio, but it’s something that I generally don’t advertise or dwell on. The Olympics were a great experience, but one of the most important lessons I’ve learned is to keep looking forward. I’m more interested in challenges and opportunities that I face in my life now.
GSC: What was the greatest impact the Olympics had on you?
AH: I learned how to embrace pressure situations rather than getting flustered by them. Even now tight deadlines (at work) and difficult situations get the adrenaline pumping.
Read about Husain's recent return to campus and visit with the track teams.
Another Gettysburg alum, Nick Johnson '90, recently made headlines for his thoughts on social media and the Olympics. Read the article.
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Founded in 1832, Gettysburg College is a highly selective four-year residential college of liberal arts and sciences with a strong academic tradition. Alumni include Rhodes Scholars, a Nobel laureate, and other distinguished scholars. The college, which enrolls 2,600 undergraduate students, is located on a 200-acre campus adjacent to the Gettysburg National Military Park in Pennsylvania.
Contact: Braden Snyder, director of athletic communicationPosted: Wed, 25 Jul 2012