Interview - Olympic Athlete, Tianna Bartoletta
This journey, writing on this site, has really given me the ability to test out the old saying "Don't ask, don't get". For most of the interviews that have been done so far, I can unequivocally say that the only reason it became a reality was because I just went "Why not?" like Russell Westbrook and threw a message at them. Some have said yes, some never responded, none have said no. (Yet...) This was one of the yes' and it was also one of the most surprising.
The reason for the surprise, is because of her stature as an athlete. Some of you know that I am fan of all things Track & Field. I keep up with it on a near religious level, I love it all and the dedication Track & Field athletes have to their craft is something I respect highly. Now, don't get it twisted, I know this is a Hip-Hop site, even though my interviewee runs short distances and jumps long distances for a living, know that music is essential to the modern athlete's life. And it's no different to this athlete in question.
For this interview, I have the pleasure of talking to someone who has been to the mountain peak of their profession. She has three Olympic gold medals, two golds in the World Championships and many more accolades. She also, as it just so happens, to co-own a World Record. I talk to Ms Tianna Bartoletta about her life so far. From her career, personal life, her mindset as an athlete and of course, we talk a little Hip-Hop. So, without further ado. Tianna Bartoletta.
C: Every interview begins, of course, with the beginning. Where were you born? How was your environment as a child before your calling as an athlete? What were you like?
T: Born in Elyria, Ohio. I was always around sports or athleticism. My father was a martial artist, my mother a dance choreographer. I have two sisters. An older half sister and a younger sister. I like to say I am "1st born second" like Bilal.
I think I was relatively well behaved except I was too smart for my own good which sometimes got me in trouble with adults. I was and am still an extroverted introvert.
C: Extroverted introvert. I hear you on that! They don't understand us Tianna. So with such a naturally athletic mother & father, did you originally see yourself emulating them? Or did you want to find your own thing?
T: I simply wanted to do everything. I played volleyball, basketball, and tried to wrestle but my mom vetoed that. Being active was a non negotiable in my family. I already had my own identity I was "the smart one" basically I could read from a very young age, was in gifted classes, and I took pleasure in "nerd" being my identity.
C: Wow, so you had a lot of options, a lot of roads to go down. "Nerd" Tianna was in full effect and tried many sports. So when did track come into the frame?
T: My dad came to me my sophomore year and said that he and my mom weren't interested in paying for college and that I needed to figure out how I was going to get there for free. So I knew academically I could get some sort of scholarship, but I also knew my best bet at getting an athletic one was to buckle down and focus on track and field.
C: Just for context. What were the ages from trying sports to focusing on track?
T: I didn't actually start focusing on just track until I was 16 years old. I didn't start playing organized sports until middle school (12 years old). I started a bit late compared to a lot of other athletes. I spent most of my childhood playing and being competitive but it wasn't on a team or in any organized way until I was 12. I played volleyball and basketball before I decided to focus on track at 16.
C: It became immediately clear that it was a great decision. Junior records, State Championships, All-American, at that age, you were on the level of Jesse Owens in terms of dominance. You pretty much bossed it at junior level and it continued on the College level. University of Tennessee. New environment with just Kentucky between your College home and your home state.
What was your thinking when choosing a College? I assume you got many offers from across the country?
T: I did get several offers. But the thing I wanted most of all was to leave Ohio. I wanted to see more, I've always had that wanderlust spirit. I chose UT because of Caryl Smith Gilbert. I would have followed her to whatever school she ended up at.I missed the team atmosphere of the basketball and volleyball teams, the fun we had in the locker rooms, I was the girl that brought the stereo, extra batteries, and the mixtape. But yes, it was apparent relatively quickly that track and field was MY thing.
C: Let's put a brief pin in the UT road. I have to know, this is a music-centric site after all. What was DJ Tianna blasting out of that stereo?
T: When I was on the basketball team we did not start a game without playing the Ruff Ryder's Anthem! That got us so hyped up for the game. I also had my one CD player at the time too. And I was all about Juvenile, Lil Wayne. My favorite back then was "Run for it".
C: Amazing, love the choices. More music questions to come, back to the track. So, the wanderlust was quenched so to speak, you took Collegiate Long Jump with force, and we can safely agree that 2005 in Helsinki, was your "I'm Here" moment. I would ask the obligatory "What was it like winning" or "Did you expect to get it". But I'll ask this instead just to switch it up a little. When did you believe that you could win a major gold? When you were 16 and decided to take track seriously? After that decisive winning jump? Or somewhere in between?
T: In my sophomore year I suffered one loss in the long jump, it was the first indoor meet of the year and I lost on a really bad call by an official who called a jump fair rather than foul. I didn't lose again after that. I went on to compete at USATF outdoor nationals and I lost there against the pros. And I decided then that I wanted to win it all because I believed I could. I was the only one who believed that I could win gold THAT year. I wasn't surprised that I won the title but it was bittersweet. I remember being on the podium thinking "What have I done? Everything has just changed for me."
At that time I was listening to Mint Condition's "Livin' The Luxury Brown" and one song I had been on repeat that entire season was "Look Whachu Done 2 Me" and it featured this line: "what more can I do without you, cause now I just conquered the world". It resonated with me. I wanted it all.
C: You say it was bittersweet. Could you expand on that a little? What was the origin of the bitterness there? Knowing that you're name is on the map? Wishing that there were others that believed in you?
T: No, I was completely un-bothered by people's lack of belief in me at the time. It was bittersweet because I knew that nothing would be the same for me after that. My parents weren't there for the meet, and I knew that questions about going pro were going to come and I wasn't ready or prepared for that part of victory. I wanted the win because I knew deep within me I had what it took to win, but I was very anxious about what winning would mean for me. Instead of celebrating after with family and friends, I was sitting in front of my coaches trying to answer whether or not I'd return to the team.
C: Well, since we're there, let me ask, after the statement win and questions about your future. What did you do next?
T: I went back to the team for one semester. I realized that after getting a taste of victory on an international elite level, I had very little desire to continue to compete in college. I declared my intentions to "go pro" over the break December 2005.
C: And from then, we can say the rest is history!
So I want to move ahead to recent years. 12 years on, you're now a decorated World Class athlete, not just in Long Jump but Relay as well. You are co-owner of the Top 2 Fastest Women's 4x100 Relay times ever. But obviously life hasn't been all sunshine & rainbows for you. You've been through many moments that would hinder any other athlete to be at their best. But in my opinion, you've found a higher level, even with the baggage.
With that said. Now that you're a veteran in your sport, what is it about yourself that you value the most?
T: I value my resilience. And this unwavering "thing" in me that refuses to be taken down. Even when I wanted to give up on myself there was this part of me that would always say, "we have unfinished business" it would never quit, could never rationalize not being able to say I was the best at something, or that I died trying.
Shortly after turning pro i had to leave UT switching coaches is tough, then I moved to LA with no family and no friends for support. I became an emotional eater, was overweight, and that's probably why I got injured and had to have knee surgery, it was a long road to recovery mentally.
I finally got it back together in 2012 when I got a new coach and met someone I'd eventually marry. The marriage ultimately was not a healthy relationship but there were lessons I learned through that experience and this ongoing divorce process that has helped me bring me back to track and myself.
C: Very eloquent. Which brings me to your own writing. Through your personal blog, you have opened up in a way not many athletes have done or can do. And it comes at a time when you have had a roller-coaster of a year, on and off track. What is it about typing out your thoughts and allowing fans to connect to you on a significant level. D'you see it as a therapeutic tool?
T: Well, I've been a writer longer than I've been an athlete. And I'd argue that I love writing even more than I love competing and winning medals. It's always been therapeutic for me, but it's also the way I communicate best.
It was such an incredible feeling to restart my blog again!And it also provided me an opportunity to tell my own narrative with people who were interested in getting to know me. Because I've been silent for so long.
C: Oh really?! Wow didn't realise you had a genuine passion for it! So, when's the autobiography dropping?
T: Funny you should ask about that I've already written most of my memoir, I was just looking at the manuscript in my office the other day when I thought, "I can be even more honest" so I'm both finishing and rewriting it currently.
C: Oh wow! Well, I'm looking forward to reading it!
So, music. You mentioned Ruff Rider's Anthem when you were younger to get you hyped. What's your music that gets you in the zone these days?
T: Meek Mill is in heavy rotation on all my weight lifting and competition day playlists. I feed on my past experiences and often my anger and the way he raps gets me to that place.
C: I feel like Meek is a favourite amongst athletes. I get it. I blast "Lord Knows" when I write, always gets me going.
Okay, so what are you into when not training? What d'you listen to if you wanna unwind?
T: So I love American Standards and the Great American songbook. When I need to unwind I play Ella Fitzgerald or Abbey Lincoln, Sinatra, Dean Martin. I'll kick back with a glass of wine and play one of the Rat Pack's live albums and feel like I've traveled back in time.
But when I'm not in THAT kind of mood I listen to anyone from Jhene Aiko, Trey Songz, old school Mariah, and of course Prince.
C: Very eclectic mix. I like it. Penultimate question. How essential is music to you?
T: Incredibly essential. It picks me up for workouts and competitions, unwinds me at the end of a challenging day, puts my feelings into words when I can't quite find the right ones, and it transports me when I need an escape. I do not go a single day without it.
C: 100% agreed. Finally. The question to end every interview. What's your Top 5?
It can be as broad or as specific as you like. It can be "Top 5 rappers" or "Top 5 Artists to run to". Whatever you like. It's your Top 5!
T: How about this... My Top 5 Competition Playlist Songs
1. Self-Made - Bryson Tiller
2. Wins and Losses - Meek Mill
3. Glow Up - Meek Mill
4. Now It's Personal - Kid Ink
5. Been That - Meek Mill
C: Beautiful. Ms Bartoletta. That concludes our interview. I cannot express how much I appreciate you doing this.
T: It was a pleasure.
In our conversation Ms Bartoletta said that she has no plans to retire until Tokyo 2020. So if you ever want to see Ms Bartoletta in her element, you'll have many opportunities to in the next couple of years.
On top of her upcoming autobiography, she also has an E-Book called "Why You're Not A Track Star". Once more, a major thank you to Tianna Bartoletta for participating. She is a very open book, a fascinating person and I for one appreciate her candour.