Longhorn Hall of Honor: Winthrop Graham
Nov. 6, 2012
Elissa Schneiderman, Texas Media Relations
In Jamaica, track and field takes precedence over all other sports, and Jamaican runners enjoy the support of their nation. Three-time Olympian Winthrop Graham knows this support well. Not only was he named Jamaican National Champion 10 times, but he's also been honored twice as Jamaican Sportsman of the Year.
"Competing for Jamaica is sometimes a lot different than other countries because you have the people backing you," Graham said. "Even today, you get a lot of acknowledgement for the things you have accomplished. They lift you up to let you know that you have done well for the country."
Graham's home country has much to acknowledge. He won a silver medal in the 1988 Olympics for the 4x400-meter relay and silver in the 1992 Games for the 400-meter hurdles. He also took home two medals at the 1991 World Championships and another in 1993. In 1989, Graham was the NCAA 400-meter hurdle Champion.
And now, as the most decorated men's track athlete in UT history and seven-time All-American, Graham is receiving perhaps the highest distinction UT Athletics has to offer. He is joining the ranks of Longhorn greats, including his former coach Stan Huntsman, in the Hall of Honor.
"Coach Huntsman worked with me through all my ups and downs," Graham said. "It's really a big honor for me to have him present. This is the final straw. I'm honored everywhere else, and now at my university. It's come full circle. It's a feeling of accomplishment to do what you set out to do athletically and academically."
After all, Huntsman and his dual-emphasis on athletics and academics is one of the primary reasons Graham ended up competing in the burnt orange. Graham transferred to UT from Central Arizona after his freshman season, in part, because Huntsman and his staff told Graham that if he came to Texas, not only would he have their support in accomplishing his athletic goals, but also in accomplishing his educational ambitions.
In 1988, Huntsman joined Graham in Seoul for Graham's first Olympic experience. Huntsman was the U.S. Track and Field team's head coach, a team that competed against Graham's Jamaican squad. Nevertheless, Graham said Huntsman's support and help in preparation was pivotal.
Graham surpassed expectations in 1988 and emerged from the Olympic Games focused on medaling again in 1992.
"I knew that if buckled down and trained with maturity, I could be up there with the best of the best," Graham said. "For the next four years, that's what I set out to do. My goal was to make it to the next Olympics and show for the gold medal."
Graham was a favorite for the 1992 Olympic gold medal. If you'd asked Graham in the early rounds of the Games, he would have told you that it would take a world record-setting performance to beat him in the 400-meter hurdles event. Unfortunately for Graham, that's exactly what happened. With a world record time that still stands, the USA's Kevin Young beat Graham to the finish line.
"Not only did (Young) break the world record, but he smashed it," Graham said. "Either way, it's not a big letdown. I executed everything perfectly, except in the finals, somebody executed a little better than me."
Graham lives in Austin with his wife, Yvonne Mai-Graham, who competed for East Germany and later Germany in the 1,500 meters, and his four children. He has remained active in the Austin community and UT Athletics. He serves as a member of the Hall of Honor court and enjoys volunteering with the track and field team, as well as attending a variety of Longhorn events.
"The Texas Athletics Department is a big part of my life," Graham said. "A big part of my decision to come to Texas was the culture that they encourage here--good academics and good athletics. It means a lot to me that I came here and accomplished all the things that I set out to accomplish."
Graham and his family own several local businesses including a retail nutrition store and a real estate company. They also own an athlete management company that assists international athletes--particularly Caribbean athletes--in managing their careers.
Throughout his own athletic career, Graham encountered athletes who retired from professional track and field without any financial resources to show for it. He established his management company to prevent some future athletes from similar situations.
"The primary reason I formed the company was to help some of the youngsters coming out," Graham said. "I teach them the right way to go about managing their career. When the athletes I have worked with retire from track and field, they have some kind of reward to show for it."