Wesley, Davis reflect on Olympic dreams
NATCHEZ — As this year’s Olympic athletes take to the starting blocks, the eyes of Natchez-native Larry Wesley will be watching and wondering, “What if?”
More than three decades ago, Wesley was on track to compete in the Olympic games. But Wesley fell just short of reaching the dream that the 2012 Olympians are realizing.
Wesley, who now coaches track and field at Natchez High School, attempted to qualify for the 1976 Olympics in Montreal, but he finished fifth in the final national qualifier when he needed to make the top four, he said.
“I had big regrets I didn’t make it then,” Wesley said. “I always wanted to go further. In the moment, you don’t give it very much thought until it’s over with. But I wish I could have made it. That would be a good feeling.”
Thirty years after Wesley attempted to qualify, one of his Natchez athletes went after the same goal.
Janice Davis, a 2003 NHS graduate, hit qualifying standards in 2006 and was on pace to qualify for the 2008 games in Beijing, before a series of injuries ended her Olympic dreams and eventually her track career.
“I sustained an injury about three months before the Olympic trials,” Davis said. “I had a back injury, and it was pretty much a slippery slope.”
Although injuries were a huge reason Davis missed her Olympic chance, she said she still looks back with a few regrets.
“People tell me all the time, ‘You gave it your best.’ But over the course of 20 years running, there are definitely some mistakes I made as a young athlete.
“Occasionally, I go for runs and I put on my music and daydream about what I could have done better.”
Wesley said he still cherishes his qualifying experience, and his hometown made him feel loved during his run at the Olympics.
Davis said track gave her a very good life, before her injury forced her retirement.
“I’ve been running since I was 6 (years old),” she said. “I was a phenomenal high school athlete, and I got to earn five NCAA All-American titles.
“It was a great experience as far as travel and exposure that I wouldn’t have had otherwise. I relish the experiences I had.”
Davis attended Stanford University, and she said her junior season in 2006 was the highlight of her career.
She hit Olympic standards in the 100- and 200-meter dashes and also qualified for the U.S. Outdoor championships.
Davis’ injuries sidelined her for three years, but she attempted one last comeback earlier this year.
“I wanted to see if I still had it, and I was running well at practice and getting back into the groove and getting used to workouts.”
Davis said she was working out at LSU, but she tweaked her hamstring and decided that it was time to hang up her running shoes for good.
“I decided I didn’t want to chase the 2012 Olympics anymore,” she said.
Davis, who now lives in South Carolina, will begin medical school later this month.
Wesley said he still tries to use his experiences qualifying for the Olympics to train his athletes at NHS.
“I have a good idea of what I’m doing, and they listen to me,” he said. “Each and every year we have a pretty decent team, and it’s a treat they listen to me and respect me. I love that.”
Wesley said he will watch the track and field events over the next week, and he will be cheering hard for the athletes he has met during his coaching career.
“All the ones from Mississippi, I pray they do very well,” he said.
Davis said she still views the Olympic athletes as her competition, but she loves the Olympics for the events, especially the 100-, 200- and 400-meter sprints.
“They definitely have my attention.”