Monday, January 24, 2022

Beyond The Resume

TigerBlog can't begin to guess how many people he's interviewed in his career, whether on the radio, for a podcast or for a story he's writing. 

The common theme has been to let the person answer the question and then follow up on what is said, diving into one subject before moving on to another. He has never once gone into an interview with his questions already written.

As such, the No. 1 piece of advice that TigerBlog would give to someone who is conducting an interview would be to not have a list of prepared questions.

You can have a sense of where you want the discussion to go and what subjects you want to cover. That's all good. It's when you script one question after another that you stop focusing on what the subject of the interview says and start focusing on what your notes say you have to ask next.

To that end, when Ford Family Director of Athletics John Mack asked him last week about his own upcoming interview with 11-time Olympic track and field medalist Allyson Felix, TB gave him the same advice. 

The conversation between Mack and Felix was the keynote address of Wintersession. The talk was entitled "Beyond The Resume," and it brought Felix and Mack to the stage at Richardson Auditorium Saturday night for about an hour.

This is not an easy setting. In almost all of the interviews that TB has done (somewhere north of 99 percent), there has not been an audience who was watching live. It can be a bit intimidating.

Despite that, the talk between Mack and Felix was exactly what the audience wanted it to be. Mack asked a series of insightful question – Felix would often pause after he finished to say "that's a great question" - and then she would give a thoughtful answer. Instead of ending the topic right there, Mack would dive deeper and follow up before moving on to a different subject.

As a result, there were no awkward pauses while they spoke, and the hour flew by. The last 10 minutes or so were devoted to questions from the audience, which was made up largely of student-athletes, especially track and field athletes.

It didn't hurt that Felix has such an incredible story to tell. She has competed in five different Olympic Games, beginning in 2004 and running (literally) through the Games of last summer in Tokyo. Along the way she's won those 11 medals, which are the most of any American track and field athlete (male or female), the most of any female track and field athlete from any country and and the second-most of any track and field athlete, behind only Paavo Nurmi, a Finnish distance runner who competed in the 1920s.

Felix began her Olympic career as an 18 year old, winning silver in the 200 meters. In Tokyo she won bronze in the 400 meters and gold on the 4x400 relay team. In between she also ran the 100 (and on the 4x100 relay), a sprinting range that apparently in the track and field world is a very difficult task.

That was one of the highlights of the night. Mack asked Felix about going from the 100 and 200 to the 400, and she said you had to be "crazy" to want to run the 400. Did she know that Mack himself was an accomplished 400 meter runner? 

The fact that Mack was such a great track athlete certainly helped in his questions, especially when he asked her "who is the one competitor you loved to beat?" He also just had an innate feel for what it means to be a track athlete and could really appreciate what it means to be able to compete at that level for as long as Felix has.

Mack also asked Felix about competing after giving birth to her daughter, as well as the business ramifications that she had to deal with after becoming a mother. She also mentioned her difficult pregnancy, how nervous she'd get prior to races, the emphasis her family put on education and how she first started running track in ninth grade as a way to make new friends, some of whom are among her best friends to date.

All in all, it was a great event. Certainly everyone in the audience loved to hear from her.

Maybe the best moment was when Felix was asked if she had a mantra that she has used. It turned out to be a really apt response.

"I can do hard things," she said.

She certainly can. And has for a long, long time.

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