Roger Kingdom relives journey from Olympic gold to Super Bowl ring: Speed can be taught
Back-to-back 110m hurdles Olympic gold medallist Roger Kingdom belongs to a very exclusive club of champions.
Not only is Kingdom the only man to have won an Olympic gold medal and a Super Bowl ring in nearly half a century, he is only the second ever in history to be able to claim such an achievement after Dallas Cowboys legend 'Bullet' Bob Hayes.
The 59-year-old Olympian, who clinched gold at Los Angeles 1984 and Seoul 1988, added the coveted diamond-encrusted ring to his collection earlier this year after the Tampa Bay Buccaneers squashed the Kansas City Chiefs 31-9 in the Super Bowl LV.
Before athletics propelled him to sporting glory Kingdom's first love was American Football. He studied at the University of Pittsburgh on a football scholarship, playing with eventual Hall of Famer Dan Marino. After his track and field career came to an end the Olympic hurdler returned to football.
Olympics.com spoke to Kingdom about his stellar career, the Los Angeles 2028 Olympics, and what it is like to work with NFL great Tom Brady.
Q. Can you describe life as one of six kids growing up on that farm in Vienna, Georgia?
RK: As a youngster I was a little bit different; always daydreaming, always wanted more out of my life than I had at that time. Once I got in position in high school to participate in athletics, I found that as my way out because I had a little bit of talent, it opened doors for me.
Q. Is that where you learned about hard work - like it or not?
RK: It was very, very challenging but we had a lot of resilience in my family. We knew how to overcome adversity. They didn’t get a bathroom in the house until I went to college. Four brothers one sister all of crammed into a two-bedroom house, that was kinda tight.
A lot of things had to be shared. We had to work together in a lot of different areas to make things work. While all my friends were out at the park hanging out, we’re out there working on the farm. When the produce was ready, we had to get it out. There were times we’d be out two or three o’clock in the morning because my grandfather had sold the produce and, before it spoiled, we had to harvest it and get it to the buyer.
You learn how to get things done - that’s the most important thing. And it didn’t matter what you went through to get it done, as long as you’re doing it right, make it happen and a lot of that led over into my athletic career.
Q. What are your first memories of the Olympics?
RK: We were watching the Olympic Games in Mexico City 1968 and I happened to see a couple of the events and I was real young at that point, I told my mom “I’m going to the Olympics.” I didn’t even know what the Olympics were all about, but I said that I was going.
Q. Take us back to 1984 and the Los Angeles Olympics. You were very good; an NCAA champion. But stacked up against the world, you were not a medal favourite...
RK: There’s a lot of things that went on during the summer, guys competing in age group competitions. I couldn’t do that because I was working at the farm, so you look back at the record books see some of the guys I competed against later, what they did at Junior Nationals, what they did in other competitions and you sit back and say: “man I wish I could do that.” But at that time, it just wasn’t meant for me.
When I look back at it, now that I’m old, what I went through as a youngster, I wouldn’t change it for the world because it molded me now into who I am: to be able to fight adversity, set goals and actually achieve those goals.
As an example, I filled out that questionnaire and I put Roger “no name” Kingdom on it because nobody knew my name so when I walked around it was like “ok, alright I’m a ghost around here” so that pushed me to train even harder, and I had to accept the fact that I was the underdog and it kept fuelling me and fuelling me to get out there and show the world that I was a legit hurdler.
Q. So, after you put up a personal record in the run-up to the 1984 Olympic final, tying the Olympic record, you knew you were good to go for the final?
I was telling myself “you got a chance to win this.” Beyond that point, the bells and whistles just started blowing. I was so excited that when the gun fired for the final - man - I took off like a bat and after I caught the top three leaders, I blew by them and crossed the line in tandem with Greg (Foster). I knew right then I had won the medal. I knew I had showed the world that Roger Kingdom was a legitimate hurdler, but before the announcer could even call it out, they put on the big Astrovision (sic) on the track. 'Roger Kingdom Olympic gold medallist' - I lost it! I started jumping up and down… one of the best feelings I had ever experienced in my life.
Q. Then in the run-up to Seoul 1988, you were hardly in defending gold medallist form. Lots of nagging injuries and your grandfather dealing with terminal cancer gave you some tough love...
RK: I was making excuses and he told me “son, if a man knows he can make a living doing something he really enjoys doing and don’t have to get out there sweat and kill himself trying to survive, don’t you think he would put every effort into doing it without excuses?”
And as simple as it was, I thought about it, “all I’m doing is whining man, all I’m doing is making excuses”. No more excuses after that. My mind was dead-set on doing nothing but destroying every one of my opponents to let them know that I control this event - “you have said enough about me, enough that will fuel me to the moon.”
When my grandfather died in February (1988), it really put me over the top because now I knew his spirit was running with me, I could not be denied and then in the final I went sub-13 (seconds), very first time anybody’s gone sub 13 seconds in the 110m high hurdles in the Olympic games.
Winning my second gold medal, that was a tremendous feat because of all the adversity I’d faced.
Q. You had become unbeatable. How did you wear the target on your back as the odds-on favourite to defend your hurdles gold medal? An unheard-of thing in track and field at the time?
RK: To have the bullseye on my back, and to know that bullseye means nothing if you’re constantly looking forward, if you’re looking back then yes that bullseye means a lot cause you’re gonna catch an arrow and I wasn’t planning on catching that arrow because I was the bullet!
In winning my second gold medal it was very, very gratifying to me. I can’t place a value greater on the first versus the second because the first one I was the underdog and the second one I was the favourite and they both had very, very significant meaning to me.
Q. When you're on the podium, gold around your neck, they play the national anthem, what thought did you have? What emotions? Was it a different feeling doing it in your home country, your first Olympic gold in L.A.?
RK: For the very first Olympics in 1984, when I stood on the podium, I was in disbelief that everything I had dreamed of had come true!
Winning the gold medal in your home country, yes absolutely was more gratifying. Why? Because you’re a newcomer to international competition. You didn’t get stuck in a different country, being shell-shocked being away from family, friends. I had my parents there, couple of close cousins there. So, for the Olympic Games to be there in a familiar ground, for my first one to get the experience you couldn’t ask for anything better.
Q. How do you articulate what your Olympic experiences mean to you now?
RK: I think for me, the Olympic movement, the Olympic Games, the comradeship (sic) of the Olympics and what the Olympics stood for is the greatest thing that could ever happen to Roger Kingdom!
I was different. I was a dreamer, and when I talked about things, the things that I talked about exceeded everybody’s expectation including mine and they thought that “you know what, you’ll never do that.” Well lo' and behold, all of those things I used to dream about click, click, click!
First of all, going to college, competing on a great team, getting my degree, winning gold medals, winning a Super Bowl championship. All of the things that were so odd, so different that I dreamed about, that so many people said I’d never do, I did.
Q. After running, racing, winning, travelling all throughout the world, what did you do in your second career?
RK: After I decided to retire from track and field in 1999, I took a couple of years off to adjust back to civilian life, so to speak. I’d been an athlete all my life and then when I finally let it go, I cried for two days. I didn’t realise, why was I crying? It was because it was something I was letting go of that had always been a part of me. So, then I started training again, for 5kms went back to the University of Pittsburgh to finish my degree. Got the degree in 2002, got a job with Cleveland Browns in their minority internship program following my University of Pittsburgh Strength and Conditioning Coach Buddy Morris.
After six weeks the internship ended, so I asked if I could stay on as volunteer to work with Browns as speed/conditioning assistant. That’s where I made my first impression on Cleveland’s Offensive Coordinator, Bruce Arians.
Eventually I left to coach track and field at the California University of Pennsylvania for almost 10 years. We built a program but then the new Governor was cutting budgets and ours was cut and cut down to about 25 per cent of what we had. So, I decided to leave. I started my own business training high-end athletes, preparing them for the NFL.
Then four or five months later, Bruce Arians calls. I’m on the golf course, get this phone call it’s Coach Arians. He had just got the head coaching job in Arizona.
Then he told me he wanted to build a one-stop shop with his program. He wanted strength and conditioning, all the positions filled because he believed in teaching and he wanted to add the speed element as well as sports science element also. He asked, “will you join my staff?”
I said, “Is that a trick question? Heck yeah I’ll join your staff.”
So that was the beginning of me moving to the NFL and becoming a speed and conditioning coach. Just truly thankful that he had the opportunity to see me do my work before hiring me and think that will open the door for other teams to hopefully do the same thing.
Q. We know NFL stands for 'Not For Long'. After a few years Arians is out of Arizona, then you moved to Florida and you get another phone call from Arians just named head coach of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers...
RK: I was elated once again to join his staff, not to mention we got married right here in Tampa in Dunedin so we love the place so to be able to work in the place you love you can’t ask for anything greater than that and being a part of his staff again in the same capacity, being able to have an impact is a blessing for me.
Q. Tell us about this new threshold of coaching: speed and conditioning?
RK: OK, let’s now kill the myth that speed can’t be taught.
Speed can be taught, and it can be taught to anyone. First thing you do is condition the person, whoever it is. You condition them, so their body is able to be able to run. Once they learn how to run, you teach them the proper mechanics to sprinting. Once you teach them proper mechanics to sprinting the next thing you do is explosive drills. Explosive strength drills to make them stronger.
All of those things combined is going to make an athlete from where they are in their genetic disposition, much better. That’s my major purpose here (on Bucs staff) to have all the guys learn how to run, learn how to be efficient and be more explosive and to more importantly, be consistent.
Q. You are, no doubt, a legend in track and field but how do you relate to some of the young players who may not know all that you've accomplished?
RK: The coaches know who I am and understand who I am but the players, especially the younger players, they have no clue. You’re just another coach until their position coach says: “you have no idea who you’re working with, go google him.” Once they google it and go back and read the stories they say: “Coach I had no idea you did that, we watched your film, we said man, wow!” Half these young men don’t have a clue of what I’ve accomplished because if you think about it now, even the second gold medal was more than 30 years ago - it’s been a long time.
Q. What's the most important message you have for the players you work with beyond the specific speed/training coaching?
RK: The most important thing to me is mentoring these young men.
Whenever they see the accomplishments that I’ve gone through and also read about the adversity that I faced, whenever I see a guy go down on the field, I go over to them and I talk to them and just let them know that “your vision hasn’t changed, you may be delayed a little bit but your vision still hasn’t changed, ok? You keep your sights set on that vision and that’s going to be that beacon that’s going to help navigate you through this rehab process, how do I know that? Because I’m speaking from experience.”
Q. Last year was strange for all of us in the midst of the pandemic but somehow you guys in Tampa persevered through the season culminating in winning the most coveted prize in football: the Lombardi trophy. Super Bowl champions, how do you describe that?
RK: It’s all thanks to the leadership of Bruce Arians. He’s Uncle Bruce - a lot of the guys really, really respect him. Listen to him and Coach is a light in his vision for this program, this organisation and where he wanted to take this team. If it doesn’t start from the top, you can’t get everybody to follow so because everybody bought into the vision, believed in him and so forth, more importantly, they listened.
There was a lot of tough situations, lot of tough times when everybody wasn’t able to see their families because of COVID, being sequestered here, not being able to leave your hotel but he let us know that if we do this for a short period of time now, you’re going to be happy at the end and guess what we did it, we did it we did what he asked!
The Super Bowl journey 2021 is the most gratifying because of all of the adversity, all of the harsh things, all of the life-threatening things that you had to endure just to get there! Not just that you won a Super Bowl but it’s the one that you won. The one that’s going to go down in history as “man, can you believe what everybody faced during that year?” For them to actually break records, be the first to compete in their home stadium and be the first to win in their own stadium, good God I am so grateful to have been a part of such a team.
Q. Everyday your up close and personal with a living legend. The greatest of all time (G.O.A.T), seven-time Super Bowl champion Tom Brady. How do you describe him?
RK: The locker-room just gravitated to him and everything he said just like the old T.V. commercial EF Hutton: “when EF Hutton speaks everybody listens.” Everybody was right there like little kids; it didn’t matter who it was.
And the second most important thing, you got an extension of the head coach and offensive coordinator on the field. Everybody trusts his leadership. So, to watch those two things take place, it’s like watching a Ferrari run down the track, everything just fell right in place, right in sync. Even myself, I’ve been around a lot of sports figures and I was like “wow, that dude is cool, down to earth, straightforward”.
Tom is Tom, reachable, approachable, young guys go to him whenever they need anything, gives them advice and so forth, sits there in the locker-room, chats with them just like everybody else and that’s what you need. You need to see that this guy is approachable, even though he’s the G.O.A.T, and outside of this locker-room it’s like “Wow!” but in the locker-room, he’s the G.O.A.T but he’s approachable and that’s why everybody gravitates to him and everybody is willing to go to bat for him.
"He’s the key that ignites this whole locker-room." - Roger Kingdom on Tom Brady.
Q. Brady is 44 years old? What do you see everyday that explains how he's able to bring it, now playing as well as he ever has?
RK: It’s his attitude and belief.
“This is my job. I’m going to be the best at my job. being the best at my job meaning that I have to take care of myself, have to take care of my body and I have to take care of those around me because I can’t let the stress of them falling apart pull me down. so, I have to help motivate, inspire and keep everybody up so now we can keep this Ferrari rolling”. So, that’s the beauty of having someone like Tom around in the locker-room. To me, that’s what I see in him.
Q. Earlier in your coaching career you'd have shown young rookies what you can do. Called out by a young man? You had to dust him. If you were challenged by Brady, how would you approach that?
RK: You know what? I would challenge him to a 5km. I think I could get him in a 5km.
I watched Tom with the other quarterbacks today do some 20’s together and I watched them turnover and don’t underestimate him, he can run. He can still run. As tall as he is, as long as his legs are, he moves them. So, people underestimate him. I wouldn’t take him right now in any kind of short race. I would have to run him in a longer distance so I can see him sweat just a little bit.
Q. Your story is a quintessential success story. Hard work, patience and humility can carry someone a long way, and you've got the hardware to show for it. Two Olympic gold medals and now a Super Bowl ring. Joining Dallas Cowboys legend Bob Hayes as the only people on earth who've earned Olympic Gold and a Super Bowl ring...
RK: When you think about it, all of us here in this building and all of the Olympians out there competing… when they line up to compete, there’s only one thing on their mind, and the one thing on their mind is winning the bling!
Whether it’s the gold medal or it’s the Super Bowl ring, from the first day they line up…it’s all about the ring gentlemen, it’s all about the ring. And when you win the ring or the gold medal or “the bling” as we say, everything else falls in place. We have so many people who get caught up with the money and everything else but if you’re just caught up with the money then you lose sight of why you’re here. you’re here to win, it’s about “the bling!”
When you go home at night and you look up at your gift shelf, you see the Lombardi trophy, you see a gold medal, oh and I’m sorry there’s another gold medal, like a shadow. Wow, you cannot beat that.
And that’s just having two gold medals and one Lombardi trophy. How about having seven Lombardis and seven Super Bowl rings. “Oh my lord” this man (Tom Brady) has a chest of blings and when you think about it, no wonder everybody listens to what he has to say. He got it, he got what we’re working for. That’s why it’s so exciting being around this him, and actually see this man work. He is a CEO at what he does and he does it very well.
Kingdom on Los Angeles 2028 Olympics
Q. The Summer Olympics come back to the United States in 2028. What does it mean to you having the Olympics back in Los Angeles, the place where your dreams came true?
RK: That’s my legacy. That’s where I started and, to be able to go back where it started, that’s definitely going to be an exciting thing.
To walk up the stadium wall and see where they have all the gold medallists from ’84 on there, Oh man I get the chills every time I see that so now, to be back in that house, that basically the Olympics built, is going to be so exciting. You have no idea how exciting that’s going to be.