Michael Tinsley has dipped below 49 seconds for the 400m hurdles in each of the past nine seasons: but he just could not make a major championships. In 2012, it finally came together as he landed Olympic silver with a new PB. This is his journey.
US World Championship Trials, 2007
Fresh out of college, Tinsley hoped to make a real impact as a professional athlete. He smashed his personal best to qualify fastest for the 400m hurdles final at the US Championships in 48.02: a performance which ranked him fourth in the world for the year.
Yet in the final he ran more than two seconds slower, recording 50.32 for seventh, missing a place on the three-man US team for the World Championships in Osaka.
“I wasn’t mentally strong enough at that point,” says Tinsley. “I ran the PR, I was tired and I doubted my fitness. I was thinking negatively. My body had never lived there before. What that experience taught me was stay focused on my race. Never talk myself out of a race mentally.”
US Olympic Trials, 2008
Tinsley’s season had started positively, and he was hopeful he could book a place on the US Olympic team for Beijing. Yet he drastically under-performed at the Trials, finishing fourth in 50.37 and failing to progress beyond his first round heat.
“I had a pretty good heat [draw] and I felt I could win. I messed up hurdle seven or eight and it put me out of the race. I put that down to immaturity and not taking the race seriously enough. I just wanted to go through the motions. I made that mistake. It was a tough pill to swallow, but it made me more hungry.”
US World Championships Trials, 2009 and 2011
Two US Champs and a pair of agonising fourth place finishes for Michael, one place shy of a spot on the team for both the Berlin and Daegu World Championships. On both occasions the man one place in front of him was two-time Olympic champion Angelo Taylor. Tinsley recorded 48.53 in 2009, 0.23 behind Taylor. Two years later he crossed the line in 48.45, 0.51 adrift of a top three spot.
“Running fourth and just missing the team, especially for the second time, devastated me. It hurt me a lot. I’d done everything in my power to make the team. I was eating right, staying healthy. I had to go back to the drawing board: hit the weights room and get back on track.
"I took the attitude that the next time I step on the track I have the chance to run better. I used the fourth places to motivate me. I didn’t use them as a crutch for negative energy. As hard as it sounds, I tried to use it as a positive. It is not like I wasn’t reaching the final. I knew I wasn’t far off.”
Round Rock, Texas, 2011/12
Michael approached winter training with a new-found intensity working with his coach Darryl Woodson and with input from Brooks Johnson. A new plan was put in place, which allowed him to complete all his workouts and still put in maximum effort in the gym. Yet besides the physical, he added crucial mental gains.
“I did a lot of over-distance work: like 30-minute long runs and 800m repeats. I believe, though, that I was finally ready mentally to go out and compete against these guys.
"A lot of people put in the hard work but I had to be prepared to go out there with the lights on and race against these guys with a strong mind and put my best foot forward to compete at the highest level when it mattered.”
US Olympic Trials and Olympic Games, 2012
The hard work and new found attitude finally paid dividends last summer. In the uber-competitive US Olympic Trials he delivered, winning in 48.33 and booking his spot in the team for London. In the English capital he kept his composure to produce his best ever performance when it mattered.
Competing against two existing Olympic champions in Felix Sanchez and Angelo Taylor; a pair of world champions in Kerron Clement and Dai Greene, and pre-event favourite Javier Culson, Tinsley stormed to the silver medal in a new lifetime best of 47.91.
“I just wanted to get on that medal stand and wrap the flag around me. Winning a medal was wonderful. Since then my life has changed. I now get the chance to talk at schools where I tell them to follow their dreams. I tell them I used to finish fourth and barely make it. I tell them not to let life get you down and stay focused.”
The World Championships, 2013
“I’m running well right now. I want to make the US team. For all US athletes it is about running well in June for the US Champs. I’ll be running against the same guys as last year but they’ll be ready as well. I want to make the world team and medal. That is my goal.”