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ERIC SONDHEIMER

Quincy Watts is a role model for what is possible

Watts learned responsibility early in life and turned that into a degree at USC and two gold medals at Barcelona Olympics in 1992.

April 29, 2012|Eric Sondheimer

Quincy Watts has never been in a time machine. They exist only in science fiction and the movies.

But Watts swears he had an experience like a time machine 20 years ago in Barcelona, when he was standing on the podium with a gold medal around his neck after winning the 400 meters in the 1992 Olympic Games.

"As you hear the national anthem being played, it's one of the proudest moments in your life," he said. "It was like going back in time. I thought about my grandfather in Detroit who would always have me go get him a Pepsi and would give me a quarter if I was able to bring it back in the time he decided.

"Then I look at my transition from Detroit to California, being with my dad and our new relationship and my dad taking me to my first race and how all of a sudden people said I was fast. Really? When you're on the podium, you think about all those different things, the ups, the downs, the good times, the injuries, the overcoming."

There were memories from his days as the City Section's No. 1 sprinter at Woodland Hills Taft and being an NCAA champion at USC.

On May 12, Watts, 41, is going to be inducted into the USC Athletic Hall of Fame at a Galen Center dinner.

For high school athletes with dreams of greatness, Watts, now an assistant track coach at Cal State Northridge, is the perfect role model for what is possible and lessons learned.

"I came from a family where my dad was a hard worker, and the only way to get to school was I had to walk to Taft or catch the bus," he said. "It's a humbling experience. It's teaching you responsibility at an early age. There's a routine you had to manage: Get up in the morning, eat a little breakfast and get to the bus stop on time so you can get to school on time."

If he missed the bus, the only option was walking

"That was the longest seven miles of my life," he said.

Watts was a basketball-track standout at Taft. If he hadn't been so good in track, there were colleges that might have recruited him for basketball. But it was character taught to him by his father and grandmother that sent him on a path to success. And the only way he could pay them back was to fulfill a promise to graduate with a degree from USC.

"It was a great honor for them, because it was a lot of hard work they put in in terms of sacrifice, taking care of me, being great providers," he said. "The only thing I could do that had nothing to do with money was go get my education, be a man of my word.

"The gold medal was the highest honor on my athletic side, but in terms of everyday life, my educational background has allowed me to elevate myself throughout life. Education, by far, and obtaining my degree, is the single most rewarding goal."

Watts wanted to be an NBA player growing up. Then, at 14, he saw Carl Lewis win four gold medals at the 1984 Olympic Games in Los Angeles.

"I looked at my dad [and said], 'Someday, I want to win a gold medal.'"

It happened twice in Barcelona with an Olympic-record time of 43.50 seconds in the 400 and another gold in the 1,600-meter relay.

"I had an amazing journey in track and field," he said.

eric.sondheimer@latimes.com

twitter.com/LATSondheimer

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