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East High grad hurdles the odds
The Olympic bronze medal sits on a dresser in David Oliver’s Orlando, Fla., home. With the odds he overcame and as hard as he worked for his medal, you better believe Oliver isn’t going to tuck it away where it can’t be seen.
“I’m not going to put it in a safe-deposit box,’’ Oliver said. “Hopefully, nothing will happen to it.’’
It was Aug. 21, 2008, in Beijing when Oliver, a 2000 graduate of Denver East High School, became an unlikely medalist. It happened in the same decade Oliver had to write letters to Howard to beg school officials to give him a track scholarship. And it came barely a year after Oliver was pretty much an unknown in the 110-meter hurdles.
Oliver, though, burst into world track prominence in May 2008 in Qatar, when he clocked a time of 12.95 seconds, then the ninth-fastest in history. Then he won the U.S. Olympic trials in June and took the bronze in Beijing to cap quite a summer.
A year later, Oliver, 27, can’t walk down the street like he used to, especially in nations where track and field are big.
“You go around town, and a lot more people know who you are,’’ said Oliver, who clocked a 13.18 in Beijing to finish behind world-record holder Dayron Robles of Cuba and silver-medalist David Payne of the U.S. “I want back to China (last September), to Shanghai, and people followed me around with cameras. . . . When I was in Australia (early this year), people would say, ‘I think I’ve seen you,’ and then we would strike up a conversation and it would dawn on them who I was.’’
Last October, when Oliver made his first return to Denver following the Olympics, it was a big deal at East High School. A video was shown at an assembly, Oliver addressed the students, and then it was mayhem.
“It was kind of crazy,’’ said Oliver, who said that visits to his blog have taken off since last summer. “At the end, the kids went on the stage for autographs and pictures. It was definitely a mob scene. The kids were really excited. They had to get me out of there quickly. It was amazing the support I had.’’
Things have been quieter this year for Oliver. He did set a personal indoor best in winning the 60-meter hurdles at a February event in Stuttgart, Germany. And he was pleased with how his outdoor season began in May, when he clocked a 13.09 to win the event in Qatar again.
Shortly thereafter, Oliver felt something pop in his left calf during training. With Oliver’s coach, Brooks Johnson, saying his condition initially was “misdiagnosed,’’ it was not until late July until the injury was deemed a torn calf muscle.
While he was trying to figure out what was wrong, Oliver mostly remained on the sideline. He pulled out of the U.S. Championships in June in Eugene, Ore., meaning he wouldn’t be able to compete in this month’s World Championships in Berlin. In late July, he returned to his training track in Orlando to get ready for his next meet, expected to be Aug. 24 in Estonia.
“The U.S. Championships just didn’t pan out, but overcoming that incident is just part of being professional,’’ Oliver said. “But I don’t want to push it. If you go out there and start running slow times, you hurt your reputation. I’m taking a solid month (in Orlando) to get my legs back.’’
While he’s working his way back into the groove, the one-year anniversary will arrive of when Oliver really put himself on the map by becoming an Olympic medalist.
“David is very keenly aware of the fact that he is no longer a face in the crowd in his sport,’’ Johnson said. “He carries himself very well and is aware of the responsibility that comes from success and exposure.’’
While Oliver is now thinking more about getting fully healthy, he does pause at times to realize how far he has come since being lightly recruited out of high school and mostly unknown as he continued to improve his times throughout the decade.
“A few years ago, I wouldn’t I have penciled myself into the position I was at with the Olympic Games,’’ Oliver said. “That keeps me motivated. I think my story is an inspiration. . . . I never had anything from a silver spoon. I had to work for what I got. I didn’t have everything handed to me in college.’’
Oliver hopes there will be a “lot more medals’’ in his career, including one at the 2012 Olympics in London. If he wins another Olympic medal, don’t be surprised if a safe-deposit box again is shunned in favor of his trusty dresser top.