Olympic Spotlight: Track and Field's Judy Brown (Clarke) and Anna Willard
Aug. 1, 2008
by Jeff Smith
With the 2008 Beijing Summer Olympic Games quickly approaching, BigTen.org takes a look at both former and current Olympians who have made their mark in their respective sports. In today’s “Olympic Spotlight” feature, we take a look at the Olympic track and field careers of Judy Brown (Clarke) of Michigan State and Michigan’s Anna Willard.
JUDI BROWN (CLARKE), 400-METER HURDLES, MICHIGAN STATE, 1979-83
Michigan State’s Judi Brown (Clarke) earned the silver medal in the 400-meter hurdles while competing at the 1984 Olympics in Los Angeles.
The 1984 Games marked the first time in Olympic history the 400-meter hurdles was run as a women’s event. Brown crossed the line in 55.20 seconds, behind gold-medal winner Nawal El Mouthwa-Kel of Morocco (54.61).
Prior to winning Olympic silver, Brown captured first place in the 400-meter hurdles at the 1983 Pan American Games, one of three gold medals she won in Pan Am competition.
Brown attempted to qualify for the 1988 Olympic Games in South Korea, but was slowed by disappointing performances. In fact, she finished last at the 1987 World Championships in Rome after suffering from illness and dehydration.
In addition to her international competition, Brown was also selected to carry the Olympic torch on its tour across America. She served on the U.S. Olympic Committee as a member of the USA Track and Field's Drug Doping Appeals Review Panel as well.
One of her most defining moments in her career came in 1987 when Sports Illustrated featured her in its magazine as one of eight U.S. "Athletes Who Care." One year prior to the national honor, Brown was inducted into the Michigan State Hall of Fame and was recognized as the school's Female Athlete of the Decade.
While at Michigan State, Brown was a 12-time Big Ten champion, an NCAA champion, a three-time All-American and a world record holder. Following an All-American season in which she was a member of the world-record setting sprint medley relay team at the Mason-Dixon Games, Brown teamed up to win the 1982 Big Ten Indoor Championship in the 4x220-yard relay with a conference-record time of 1:41:26. She would return in the spring to claim the 440-meter hurdle league title in 59.77 and help the Spartans win the team championship, which marked the first in program history.
At the 1983 Big Ten Championships, Brown dominated the competition by winning five of her 12 conference titles at the event. She would later be named the Big Ten Female Athlete of the Year for her efforts and then posted the nation's top time in the 400-meter hurdles to capture the NCAA outdoor crown.
Brown later returned to East Lansing to take over the Spartans’ track team as head coach in 1992. She served as the MSU mentor until January of 1996, and then remained on campus to complete her master's degree in education. In 2007, she was recruited back to campus as MSU’s Director of Multicultural Affairs and Inclusion.
ANNA WILLARD, 3,000-METER STEEPLECHASE, MICHIGAN, 2007
The 2008 Beijing Games mark the first time women will compete in the 3,000-meter steeplechase.
With a time of 9:27.59, Willard set a new American record in the event, bettering the previous record of 9:28.75, set by Lisa Galaviz in July of 2007. Willard’s mark was also the fastest time ever run on U.S. soil.
Earning an Olympic invitation was a lifelong dream for Willard, so much so that she moved to Ann Arbor in 2007 to not only complete her eligibility, but her mission as well.
Despite having earned her undergraduate degree at Brown University, Willard had one year of eligibility remaining. That prompted her move to Michigan to finish her collegiate career under the tutelage of Wolverine associate head coach Mike McGuire.
Willard was honored at the end of the 2007 season as the Big Ten Track Athlete of the Year and was also named Michigan’s 2006-07 Female Athlete of the Year. That summer, she finished less than one-tenth of a second out of first place in the steeplechase at the 2007 USA Outdoor Championships.
Although she spent just one year as a Wolverine, Willard is the first U-M standout on the USA Olympic women's track and field team since 1992, when Penny Neer competed in the discus in Barcelona. She is also the third female Michigan tack star to ever compete for USA at the Olympics and the first for McGuire in his 18 years of coaching.