No one expects to hear that Steve Scott--who owns the current world road best for 5,000 meters and is America’s No. 1-rated miler--lacks talent.
It’s just not an easily digested piece of information, what with Scott’s 121 miles under four minutes, eight under 3:50.
But there was Scott telling a gathering of rehabilitation patients at Tri-Cities Hospital on Wednesday that he doesn’t think he has as much talent or ability as his opponents.
“The people I’m racing against are getting younger and younger every year,” said Scott, 32. “I don’t think I’m as talented as the other guys are, but I train harder than they do.”
Whether his edge is in training or talent, one way or the other, Scott has made some impressive runs.
He holds American track records in the 1,500 meters, 2,000 meters, mile and 3,000 meters. He broke his own world road best in the 5,000 meters at last year’s Carlsbad 5,000, when he ran 13:30.2.
Looks like flat-out ability, right? Well, Scott disagrees, and instead credits mental preparedness with his successes.
“One thing I’ve had on my side in the past is coaches who are strong on the mental aspects (of running),” Scott said. “The people who are going to win the races are the ones who are strong mentally.”
Scott makes his point by pointing to his biggest failure.
In the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics, Scott ran the 1,500 meters but finished a disappointing 10th.
Looking back on that performance, Scott said that he lost the race even before it started, when he began putting what-if questions through his mind. What if he didn’t win?
That self-doubt, Scott said, led to his poor finish.
Scott no longer harbors self-doubt, but he is somewhat concerned about his chances of defending his title in Sunday’s Carlsbad 5,000. What’s bothering him is the fact that he has won the thing three years in a row.
“It’s going to be tough,” Scott said. “Every year you win, it decreases your chances for the following year.”
Nevertheless, Scott seems to own the race. Besides finishing first for three consecutive years, he has also set two world bests. There are two possible obvious reasons for Scott’s mastery of Carlsbad: He lives right down the road in Encinitas and he designed the course.
“The race is probably more meaningful to me than to any other person because it is my home track,” Scott said. “Plus, because I designed it and because a lot of people here would like to see me win, that’s a tremendous advantage. In pro sports, teams always have more wins at home than they do on the road.”
But the race means more to Scott than merely an opportunity to run in front of a home-town crowd. Scott, who in the past has always been more readily identified as a miler than a 5,000 runner, is working toward a new goal for which the Carlsbad 5,000 will help gauge his progress.
No longer will Scott be going after Olympic gold in the 1,500, as he did in 1984 and again in 1988 (when he was fifth). He has decided instead to train for the 5,000 at the Barcelona Games.
And perhaps this is where the mental edge will come in to play. Scott will be 35 when the 1992 Olympics begin. Obviously, he will have to draw on something other than youthful exuberance.
“I’m not satisfied with staying stagnant,” Scott said. “I have to make improvements, and it gets harder as you get older. . . . The hardest thing is the regimen, coming in and working out on a day-to-day basis. I know I have to improve each day, but still it’s difficult because you don’t see progress on a daily basis.”
So besides training physically, Scott trains his mind by visualizing upcoming races. He visualizes setting the pace, visualizes runners such as Kenya’s Julius Kariuki keeping up, visualizes shifting into his kick in the latter stages of the race. Finally, he visualizes breaking the tape.
“It’s mind over matter,” Scott said. “The mind is a powerful tool, and we haven’t even begun to learn how to use it, but we can practice by visualizing.”