Davis-Thompson elevated to track aide

Tennessee Head Women's Track & Field Coach J.J. Clark announced Thursday that he had filled the vacant full-time assistant position on his staff by hiring elite level coach Pauline Davis-Thompson, an Olympic gold medalist from The Bahamas and a former standout at Alabama.

Davis-Thompson replaces Caryl Smith Gilbert, who left at the end of June 2007 to become head women's track & field coach at the University of Central Florida.

Davis-Thompson, who served as a volunteer coach in 2008, brings a broad range of experience to the program, including perspective as an NCAA Division I student-athlete, a world class competitor, a coach of elite athletes and an ambassador and promoter of the sport, both in her native country and around the world. Additionally, her vibrant personality and notable stature in the track & field world is sure to serve her well in attracting U.S. and foreign-born talent to Big Orange Country.

"Pauline Davis-Thompson is a very knowledgeable and charismatic coach," Clark said. "I've seen her bring the best out of her athletes, and we are very excited to bring such world-class knowledge, skill and experience to UT.

"She's a very good fit for the program, and she definitely has a great personality and work ethic. She will allow us to continue to compete for and win championships by inspiring and challenging our youngsters. This is a very exciting time, and I'm very happy to announce that she will be our sprints/jumps/hurdles coach."

"I am ecstatic about this opportunity," Davis-Thompson said. "It's a big change for me, but not a drastic one. I've been involved in the sport of track & field most of my life. I've coached elite athletes for several years, and this is just a natural transition for me.

"It's a sport I truly love and have a passion for, and I know I am going to have a great time at Tennessee. When you do something you really love, it doesn't feel like you are truly working. That's the way I feel about coaching, and why I feel so excited about being given this opportunity by the university to come in and coach here."

Davis-Thompson has lost 2008 seniors Courtney Champion, LaTonya Loche and Cleo Tyson to graduation. She looks forward, however, to working with returning sprint All-Americans Brittany Jones, Celriece Law, Lynne Layne and Jeneba Tarmoh.

"I'm extremely excited about the group we have returning as well as signee Ashley Harris we have coming in," Davis-Thompson said. "I believe we have a really good, sound corps of athletes who will help Tennessee go on to do great things. We have a few walkons coming in, as well, and one of my specialties is to help young people who might not be as gifted or talented bring out the best in themselves. I am really looking forward to the opportunity to work with everyone."

Prior to accepting the position with UT, Davis-Thompson had served as the district marketing manager of sports tourism for The Bahamas Ministry of Tourism in Atlanta, Ga., since 1989. After founding PDT International Track Club in 2002, she also has been coaching elite level athletes, such as two-time Olympic gold medalist Monique Hennagan of the United States, Olympian Christine Amertil and Addis Huyler of the Bahamas and Peta-Gaye Dowdie of Jamaica.

While Hennagan has perhaps the most name recognition, earned by anchoring the U.S. to gold in the 4x400m relay in 2004 and finishing fourth individually in the 400 meters, it is perhaps Amertil's development as a 400m runner that has most vividly displayed Davis-Thompson's knack for getting the most out of her athletes. Amertil went from ranking 169th in the world in 2001 to finishing seventh at the 2004 Athens Olympic Games and maintaining a consistent top-five world ranking since 2004.

In addition to her two previously-mentioned duties, Davis-Thompson also has held two key track & field governance positions since 2003, underscoring the high regard accorded her from people in the sport. Globally, she has served as a women's committee member for the International Athletics Associations Federation (IAAF), responsible for establishing policies and procedures for promoting women in track & field throughout the world. For her home country, she has filled a role as Bahamas Association of Athletic Associations (BAAA) international coordinator, serving as a liaison between BAAA federation and overseas-based athletes.

The first Bahamian to win an individual Olympic medal on the oval, Davis-Thompson claimed a silver medal in the 200 meters at the 2000 Olympic Games in Sydney, Australia, finishing behind American Marion Jones.

With Jones' admission of using steroids and the return of that medal, Davis-Thompson might one day be exchanging her silver medal for a gold one to match the first-place award she won when she joined her countrywomen as the third leg in winning the 4x100m relay at that Olympiad.

The five-time Olympian and seven-time World Championships competitor retired after that career-topping performance in the 4x1 in 2000 but not before achieving status as a heroine in her home country. Because of her performance with a Bahamian 4x100m relay team that earned a silver medal at the 1996 Olympiad in Atlanta, that group of young ladies became known as "The Golden Girls." They have been honored with a mural bearing their image that greets visitors at the Nassau International Airport, a postage stamp was issued in their honor, and, in 1998, the Governor-General of The Bahamas presented the Golden Girls with a silver Jubilee Award for their contributions to athletics.

The Bahamas' former national record-holder in the 400 meters, Davis-Thompson ran collegiately at Alabama, where she graduated in 1989 with a B.A. in communications and a minor in English. The Crimson Tide standout won the NCAA Indoor 200m dash in 1988 and took the NCAA Outdoor 400m crown in 1989, setting a collegiate record of 50.18 seconds in the process.

She marks UT's second straight assistant with Alabama ties, as previous Lady Vol aide Smith Gilbert joined the Tennessee staff after serving as assistant in Tuscaloosa from 2000 to 2002.

"I believe she'll be able to recruit throughout our country, coast to coast, and also internationally," Clark said. "Being from The Bahamas, she will definitely have a Caribbean connection. We look forward to extending our recruiting in those areas and believe she can help us do that as we try to find the best athletes in the country and the world to run for the Big Orange."

On the SEC level, Davis-Thompson was a multiple champion, winning outdoor crowns in the 100m dash from 1986 to 1988 and in the 200m dash in 1986 and 1988, and claiming indoor titles in the 55m and 200m in 1988. Alabama also raced to SEC Outdoor 4x100m relay titles in 1986 and 1987 and hoisted the SEC Outdoor team trophy in 1986. In 2005, she was recognized by the league in the 2005 class of the SEC Greats Program, which was designed to honor and thank those who helped establish the rich athletic tradition in the conference.

"Pauline ran for Alabama and has been in the SEC, so she understands the pressure and intensity of this league," Clark said. "She knows that this is the best conference in America, in terms of times and the number of teams that have won championships."

"Definitely, they are going to get a chance to see my passion, and they are going to understand that it takes dedication, determination and discipline to be the best you can be," Davis-Thompson said. "I hope I'll be able to impart that on them. Years and years before me, during my time as an athlete, and years and years afterward, what it takes to be the best you can be hasn't changed, nor will it. Those three 'Ds' are the key components for being the best, and that will never, ever change.

"Also, it's not just about being a good athlete; it's about being a good student-athlete. That's one of the things I am proudest of about the University of Tennessee, is that the majority of the athletes graduate and most of them do so with a 3.0 or better grade point average. It has a habit of turning out great young people for the community and, for that matter, the world. I'm so happy to be a part of the good things that UT Athletics is doing, not just for Knoxville, but for the entire world."

Davis-Thompson is married to Jamaican Olympian and Brown University graduate Mark Thompson. The two met at the 1992 Games and were wed in 1998.

CROSS COUNTRY SCHEDULE: Tennessee Head Coach J.J. Clark released his 2008 cross country schedule Thursday, and the seventh-year skipper will use a tried-and-true formula as he attempts to lead his Lady Vols back into contention for league and regional titles and an NCAA Championship berth.

"The schedule is very similar to years past, in that it starts with small, low key meets and just gets better as the season goes on," Clark said. "There won't be any surprises. I don't want to get into a big, heavy meet early where we are not ready for that.

"Some schools come back (to campus in the fall) early to train. We don't do that. We'll just follow our schedule and be ready for the competition as it develops throughout the season."

For the fourth straight year, Tennessee will open its campaign in Nashville at the Belmont Opener. The 4,000-meter race will take place at Percy Warner Park on Sept. 5, and UT is coming off a victorious team finish in 2007 and runner-up efforts in 2005 and 2006.

Senior Sarah Bowman has won the event in her two previous appearances in Music City, taking the individual crown in 2005 and 2007.

After last year's Tennessee Invitational was scaled back to a time trial because not enough full teams entered the race, the meet is back in full force in 2008. The Lady Vols, who have won the 5K event six times, will try to extend their run of luck to four years straight at 5:30 p.m. on Sept. 19 at Lambert Acres Golf Club. Bowman won the event in 2005 as a rookie and hopes to close her career with another title at home.

A couple of old stand-by meets provide Tennessee's first big tests of the season, and they also offer the first 6,000-meter courses of the campaign. Beckoning from the Northeast are the Brooks Paul Short Run in Bethlehem, Pa., on Oct. 3 and the Penn State National Invitational in University Park, Pa., at 11 a.m. on Oct. 17. The Lady Vols finished eighth at each of those meets in 2007, and Clark is looking for better things from his club in '08.

For the first time since 1995, Mississippi State will serve as host of the Southeastern Conference Championships. The event this season will take place on Nov. 3, exchanging the typical Saturday race for a Monday showdown. UT is coming off a runner-up finish last season in Lexington, Ky., and would like to return to the league winner's circle that the program occupied from 2003-05.

As it did in 2006 and 2002, Lambert Acres will serve as the site for the NCAA South Regional on Nov. 15. The Lady Vols won the regional meet on their home course in 2002 and placed third in 2006, advancing to the NCAA Championship meet each time. Last season saw a five-year NCAA streak halted for Clark's crew, so the Lady Vol mentor would like nothing better than to resume UT's national participation by earning a berth on the Big Orange's own turf.

"We're very happy to be hosting the regional meet this season on our home course at Lambert Acres," Clark said. "It gives us an opportunity to train there and get familiar with the course and have the best chance to run well.

"I always believe the best team is going to win (no matter where you race), but it is just nice to have that feather in your cap. We'll take that and make the best of the opportunity."

If things go well, Tennessee will make a return trip to the NCAA meet in Terre Haute, Ind., for the sixth time during Clark's seven seasons in Knoxville. Indiana State will once again play host to the event at the LaVern Gibson Championship Cross Country Course on Nov. 24. Race time has been confirmed for 12:05 p.m. Eastern Time for the women.

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