Lennox Miller first saw his little girl run fast--really
fast--during an eighth-grade field day. Oh, he already knew she
was quick. He had seen that in little kids' soccer games and when
she ran down the street in front of the family's home in the San
Gabriel foothills north of downtown Pasadena. But this was
different. The race started, and Inger Miller just ran away from
the others, blurring across the green lawn of the Westridge Girls
School with pigtails flying behind her like braided vapor trails.
"The picture is so clear in my mind," Lennox says. "She separated
herself from all the other girls. Her stride rate was just
Understand, the man was no easy sell. Lennox Miller won two
Olympic 100-meter medals while competing for Jamaica, where
sprinting is not merely a sport, but a passion. As a father he
would not be easily impressed by a little kid with good wheels.
Yet after watching Inger race that day, he told friends back home
in the Caribbean, "My daughter is going to be a great runner. If
she wants to, she's going to go far."
Fifteen years later, at age 28, Inger Miller is among the best
sprinters in the world. Last summer she won the 200 meters at the
world championships in Seville, and only three women in history
have run faster times for both the 100 and the 200. She is almost
certain to make her second Olympic team at the U.S. track and
field trials starting July 14 in Sacramento, and to challenge for
gold medals in three events (the 100, 200 and 4x100 relay) in
Sydney in September.
She has made her father a prophet: The girl is a great runner.
But the question that remains is how far she will go. Olympic
stars are chosen long before the Games begin. They are anointed,
packaged and positioned for wealth and fame on the assumption
that they will win gold medals. Perhaps no female athlete in
history has been more aggressively marketed than the expected
star of the 2000 Games, Miller's rival, Marion Jones. NBC
president Dick Ebersol has said that his network will cover
Jones's attempt to win an unprecedented five track and field gold
medals "like a miniseries." Jones has been profiled in
publications ranging from SI to Rolling Stone to Vogue. She
preaches in her own series of Nike commercials, playing ultracool
deejay Mrs. Jones, ending each with the signature line, "Can you
July 9, 2000
Miller is definitely not diggin' it. She will bring a serious
Marion Jones jones to the trials and, she hopes, to Sydney. "It
shouldn't be as if no one else is even competing in her races,"
says Miller. "It's not like Marion Jones is Superwoman and
everyone else is poultry."
Miller is sitting on a concrete wall that abuts the running track
at UCLA, wearing wraparound shades. "Hey, all the publicity that
[Jones] brings to the sport is great for all of us, but people
bring her name up to me, and here's what I think: I'm the best
sprinter in the world. I know I'm going to win. The media want to
have a story, and they've found her. Well, it will make for an
even better story when those five gold medals don't come to be."
Miller's manager at Los Angeles-based HSI, Emanuel Hudson, puts
it another way: "If Dick Ebersol wants to make Marion Jones a
miniseries, that's his gamble. Just think of Inger Miller as one
of those characters who throws a twist into the plot in the
Many women chase Jones, but it is Miller who is closest, and for
whom the pursuit is most personal. It was Miller who, in 1990 as
a senior at Muir High in Pasadena, beat Jones, then a freshman at
Rio Mesa in Oxnard, in both the 100 and 200 meters at the
prestigious Arcadia Invitational high school meet in Southern
California and was told by a meet official, "It's a good thing
you beat her now, because I don't think you'll ever beat her
again." (Miller hasn't, but recalling her defeat of Jones at
Arcadia, she says, "She wasn't very cordial after getting beat by
me.") It also was Miller whose sensational performance last
summer at the world championships was marked by a Jones-related
asterisk. There, Miller started talking smack and hasn't stopped
She lowered her personal record in the 100 from 10.96 to 10.86 in
the second round of the worlds and then to 10.79 in the final,
but still lost by several yards to Jones, who ran 10.70. Even so,
Miller then sat next to Jones at the press conference in Estadio
Olimpico and said, "It's not a one-woman show anymore." Five days
later, with Jones sidelined by a back injury that would end her
season, Miller dropped her 200-meter best from 22.10 to 21.77, a
stunning improvement that sent Miller bounding and high-stepping
"After the 100 it was all Marion, Marion, Marion," said Miller.
"Then she gets hurt, and people are saying, 'Oh well, I guess
Inger Miller will win now.' Well, Inger Miller would have won the
race even if she was there." (Note: It is rare to hear Miller use
Jones's name, just as it is rare to hear Jones use any of her
pursuers' names; usually Jones keeps them tented under the
collective "my competitors.")
Three years of brilliant performances make Jones the 100- and
200-meter favorite at the trials, especially with Miller--who has
not looked sharp in recent European races--saying last week that
she is running merely to make the team in Sacramento, with
victory in Sydney as her larger goal. Miller, however, remains a
formidable opponent who is on a steep learning curve. Moreover,
her story isn't half bad. Can you dig this?
In the fall of 1998, Miller returned home to Los Angeles from the
European summer circuit with a career that seemed stalled,
athletically and financially. At the Atlanta Games in '96, at age
24, she had finished fourth in the 200 and won a gold medal on
the U.S. 4x100-meter relay team. She seemed primed for a long and
prosperous career. Yet in the next two years, coached by her
father and managed by her godfather, 1976 Olympic 200-meter gold
medalist Donald Quarrie, she got no faster. "I was at a
crossroads; the ['99] world championships were coming up,
followed by an Olympic year, and my Nike contract [a three-year
deal signed in '96] was up for renewal," Miller says. "I needed
to make a change in management."
Miller's relationship with Quarrie had grown sour, the two of
them arguing over everything from marketing strategy to Miller's
meet appearance fees. "It was strictly business," says Miller of
firing Quarrie. Yet it could not help but be painful. As fellow
sprinting heroes from Jamaica, Quarrie and Lennox Miller had been
friends for more than three decades, and Inger Miller was among
Quarrie's most successful clients. "Inger had outgrown Don, and
he simply did not realize it, but the decision caused her a great
deal of tension," says Inger's mother, Avril, a flight attendant
with TWA for the past 33 years. "She agonized over it. She cried
over it. And then Don looked at it as if Inger had deserted him."
Quarrie remains bitter. "She made a decision, and that's that,"
he says. "I won't say anything about it."
Inger interviewed several agents before settling on Hudson, the
flamboyant lawyer who, with sprint coach and former U.S. Olympian
John Smith, formed HSI, a management company that includes many
athletes trained by Smith, among them 100-meter world-record
holder Maurice Greene and 1996 Olympic double bronze medalist Ato
Boldon of Trinidad. Hudson strongly suggested that Miller not
only be represented by HSI but also be coached by Smith, rather
than by her father, now a dentist, who could work with Inger only
on his lunch break. "Nothing against Inger's father," says
Hudson, "but John Smith is a coach 24/7, and that's what Inger
needed to fulfill her potential."
In fact, Inger had considered changing coaches, but if firing
Quarrie was painful, this would cut even deeper. The Millers were
a tight, loving family, and Lennox a proud father with a terrific
track pedigree. At USC he anchored a world-record-breaking
4x110-yard relay team that included O.J. Simpson. While in
college he won the 100-meter silver medal behind U.S. runner Jim
Hines at the 1968 Mexico City Olympics, and four years later, on
a two-week break from USC dental school, he took the bronze
behind Valery Borzov of the Soviet Union and Robert Taylor of the
U.S. in Munich. "Quiet guy, but one tough competitor--spared no
one," says Smith, who was a freshman at UCLA when Miller was a
senior at USC.
Lennox Miller remains quiet, speaking softly with the dying
remnants of a Caribbean lilt. He met his wife while they were in
high school in Jamaica. He came to the U.S. to run in college;
she went to work for TWA. They raised two girls, Inger (named for
'60s Swedish actress Inger Stevens) and Heather, now 24, with
creativity and passion. Surely the Miller girls were the only
ones on their block who took long weekends with their parents in
Rome, Milan, Madrid and Cairo, a fringe benefit of Avril's job.
"It was always fun to come back to school and tell the teacher
what we did over the weekend," says Inger.
Lennox did not coach Inger until long after she finished at USC
(where she was a pre-veterinary major), beginning in the fall of
1995. They were always alone on the track, sharing a sport and
eventually the distinction of being the only father and daughter
to have won Olympic track and field medals. Yet in the fall of
'98, Lennox knew it was time to let go. At Hudson's urging, Inger
arranged a one-week trial with Smith as her coach, and Lennox
went to UCLA every day to watch her train. They would walk to the
car together, and, ultimately, both decided it was best for Inger
to leave her father to train with Smith.
"I didn't have any ego to feed," says Lennox. "I couldn't take
Inger any further without some drastic change in my life, like
closing my dental practice and traveling with her. It was best
that she get the benefit of what John and HSI could offer."
He is sitting in an armchair in his living room on a cool evening
in the foothills. The methods that took him to two medals are
different from those Smith has taught Inger, and Lennox doesn't
agree with all of them, but he stays quiet. "I'm thrilled to see
Inger reach her potential," he says. "I'm not sad that I am no
longer her coach. But I do miss the time that I used to spend
interacting with my daughter."
It took Inger nearly a year to grasp the subtleties of Smith's
teachings--the low, driving start, the open hands, the mental
imagery. ("Think of a string pulling you horizontally down the
track, not pulling you upward," he would tell her.) She struggled
through much of last summer. On Aug. 7, just 13 days before the
worlds began, she ran a horrible 11.13 for the 100 in London,
losing to Jones by several meters. Miller broke into tears on the
Less than a week later, during a training session in Seville, the
lightbulb went on for Miller. She trounced Greene and teammate
Jon Drummond in a series of starts. "All summer it's not clicking
for me," she says. "All of sudden there it is. I was like, Oh my
god, I'm ready. I feel it." Drummond and Greene complained to
Smith that Miller was beating them by jumping the gun. "She's
jumping, all right," Smith taunted them. "She's jumping your
Within a week she was one of the fastest women in history. Only
world-record holder Florence Griffith Joyner, five-time Olympian
Merlene Ottey of Jamaica and Jones have run faster than 10.79 for
100 meters and 21.77 for 200. "It's always been there with
Inger--she's always been dangerous--but last year she finally put
it together," says U.S. sprinter Carlette Guidry, a two-time
Olympian. As for beating Jones, Miller has work to do in the 100
(in which Jones has 11 clockings faster than Miller's personal
best). In the 200 Jones's nonaltitude PR is 21.76, only one
hundredth of a second faster than Miller's. That should be a
The last year of Miller's life has made her tougher and more
focused than she has ever been. In April, two weeks after she'd
been blown away by Jones in a 400-meter race in California,
Miller went to the Penn Relays and refused to concede any ground
to her rival. After running the third leg to Jones's anchor on a
4x100-meter relay, she refused to run with Jones on a 4x200 relay
team. Part of the reason was that Miller was overtrained and
didn't need another race, but another part of it was that Miller
felt that as the world 200 champion, she, not Jones, should
anchor a 4x200. It was a bold piece of turf-staking that was
meant to send a message to Jones.
Miller's growing self-confidence has come from having had the
strength to leave her father. Mostly, though, her recent growth
has come from helping her boyfriend, HSI hurdler Larry Wade,
endure a horrific spring. Wade, the No. 3-ranked 110-meter
hurdler in the world a year ago, was involved in an Easter Sunday
car accident near his home in Canoga Park, Calif. Initially he
was treated for only a scalp wound that required 15 staples, but
his condition mysteriously deteriorated for more than two weeks.
Finally, on the morning of May 10, after Wade had endured another
night of fever, headaches and cold sweats, Miller demanded that
he return to the hospital. Wade was found to have suffered a
chest injury (possibly from his car's air bag) that had left his
heart surrounded by fluid and swollen to twice its normal size.
Doctors performed emergency surgery that evening, after telling
Wade that he could have died had Miller not dragged him in.
Wade is now pushing himself toward a comeback appearance at the
U.S. trials, but for the weeks following his surgery,
Miller--along with his parents and Greene--tended to him. Miller
cooked one meal for Wade before her training and another
afterward, helping nurse him back to health. "At times she was a
one-woman show for me," says Wade.
On the track Miller's HSI brethren saw something fresh. "She
moved ahead," said Boldon in early June. "She's been focused like
I've never seen, and it's obvious that what happened to Larry has
a lot to do with it. Inger is running for two people every day."
Miller stood one recent afternoon in the living room of her pink
stucco home in the San Fernando Valley, north of Los Angeles. It
is an unfurnished room, emblematic of a peripatetic life in
track, yet the walls and shelving are covered with pictures of
her life and family. In one print Miller is running in a kids'
track meet, sneakers kicking up brown dirt, runners in her wake.
"I know who I am," she says, bouncing words off the hardwood
flooring in a sharp echo. "I know what I can accomplish."
"I'm the best sprinter in the world," says Miller, looking ahead
to Sydney. "I know I'm going to win."
Miller flourished after dropping her father, an Olympic medalist
turned dentist, for a coach who could work with her 24/7.