#ThrowbackThursday - Monique at Mt. SAC 2001
Throwback Thursday is a new DyeStat feature that allows us to remember and celebrate some of the great meets and performances that have been a part of our DyeStat coverage since John Dye founded the site. Thanks to many stories, photos and videos that have been preserved in our archives, we are able to relive and share with you some of the very best of DyeStat.com.
2001 Mt. SAC: Unique Monique reigns supreme
By Steve Underwood
It wasn’t the biggest meet of Monique Henderson’s career, but it was certainly a pivotal one.
When DyeStat went to the Mt. SAC Relays for the first time in 2001, Henderson was coming off a junior campaign at Morse HS in San Diego where she’d set the national HS record at 400 meters, running 50.74 in the CIF state championships. She’d also made Team USA for the 2000 Olympics as a relay alternate after finishing 8th in the 400 at the Trials, and taken 4th against the pros in the Prefontaine Classic 400 to boot.
In 2001, Henderson had already won the Arcadia 400. Now, a week later, she was dropping down to the 200 and 100, facing Gahr Cerritos junior and key rival Angel Perkins again, as well as L.A. Baptist super soph Allyson Felix. There are a lot of significant meets in California as well as major relay events across the country. But Mt. SAC (and the Penn Relays) stood at the top for many years for combining elite action at all levels of the sport. The meet’s slogan is: “Where the world’s best athletes compete.”
“Mt. SAC is an awesome meet,” says Gary MacDonald, Henderson’s coach at Morse back in the day. “They really put on a great show there.” And at this 43rd edition of the meet at Mt. San Antonio College in Walnut, his top pupil was in the spotlight of that show.
“This track meet was very important to me, because I felt like I had a lot to prove,” Henderson recalled this week. “I had made the Olympic Team the prior summer and wanted to still have a successful senior year.”
“Unique Monique,” DyeStat editor John Dye called her. The reigning national sprint queen would be challenged. Would she come out on top again?
First, there was the 100, at the outer edge of Henderson’s range. “The field broke even, with Henderson and Perkins pulling away,” wrote the late Doug Speck, a future DyeStatCal editor who was then teaming up with Dye on the coverage from CalTrack. “Perkins sat a few inches back inside of Henderson, and one waited for someone to change gears. It never really happened, but Henderson did not give up an inch, eventually coming in ahead by about a half a meter in a super 11.68 (wind legal), with Perkins next at 11.76, and Allyson Felix 11.87.”
Henderson told Speck that running the 100 was “very different” and said of the finish, “I forgot about mechanics, and everything except running really hard to the finish!”
She says now, “I ran a lot of 100 meter races throughout that year to work on my speed. It was a lot of fun to run against those ladies. They are still amazing athletes!”
The 200 was more familiar territory. Henderson had a “blazing start,” wrote Speck, “absolutely blasting the first 50 meters, zooming by from the field. Over the best at the prep level, she had an amazing 3-4 meter gap off the turn. Down the straightaway, it was the surprising Felix who closed some, with Henderson the winner 23.16 and Allyson 23.31.”
Henderson’s time beat her state meet mark from 2001 and would stand as her prep PR. “You have to really run the turn to run a great 200,” says Coach MacDonald. “A lot of sprinters don’t do it, but Monique really did that day ... In this meet, we were chasing Section records in the 100 and 200 and we knew she’d have good competition here. She got one of them and just missed the other.”
One other thing sticks in Coach MacDonald’s mind about that meet. “I remember how well Monique was received by everyone there,” he says. “That’s not unusual in track and field, but it was still really special.’
When preps reach the pinnacle before their senior years, it’s tough to keep improving. Just living up to her own high standards was a great challenge for Henderson her senior year. “It was tough to stay motivated,” she admits now. “But I was very excited about going to UCLA that fall and wanted to continue to make a good impression.”
Says Coach MacDonald, “One thing we really wanted to work on that year was recovering from 2000, until we got here to the meat of the season. Her junior year was incredibly long.”
Henderson would go on to win her fourth consecutive state 400 title in June, one of the few California preps to execute a career sweep.
Coach MacDonald has a lot of fond memories of Monique and the Henderson family. “I met her when she was about eight,” he said. Her dad, Adam Henderson, had started the Martin Luther King Blasters track club and Monique was following older sisters Monica and Starla into the sport.
“Monique had an incredible work ethic,” says MacDonald. “Yes, she had gifts from God, but she worked very, very hard. She was also very coachable ... and incredibly humble.”
Henderson started at UCLA in 2002, but the highlight of that year was probably winning two golds at the World Junior Championships in the 400 and 4x400 relay. 2003 wasn’t quite as successful, but in 2004 she lowered her PR to 50.53, was the NCAA 400 runner-up, set her career 200 best (22.71) and won Olympic gold on the 4x400 relay in Athens.
2005 was special, too, as Henderson won her first NCAA 400 title, went under 50 (49.96), and made the World Championships 400 final in Helsinki (7th). She continued as a pro the next few years and when the 2008 Olympics in Beijing rolled around, there she was again on the podium in the 4x400.
The middle of the 2000s was a great, but tough time for US women’s sprinters (and has been since), with Felix exploding to prominence and Sanya Richards first making Henderson’s reign as US prep 400 record-holder a relatively short one (Richards ran 50.69 in 2003) and then becoming a dominant college, professional and Olympic force.
“I have definitely had my share of ups and downs in my track career,” Henderson says. “But you have to use every race as a learning experience and continue to work hard. The most special moments were when I won the NCAA title in the 400m my senior year and, of course, standing on the podium receiving both of my Olympic Gold medals.”
Henderson is now retired as a sprinter, but passing on her expertise as a men’s and women’s sprint coach at San Diego Mesa College, the women’s program being headed up by Renee Ross. She’s also finishing up grad school, teaching a class at the college, running her own personal fitness business, and is looking forward to getting married in 2014.
“I have an amazing supportive family,” she adds. “They were there every step of the way. I also had a great high school coach, Gary MacDonald. He was truly inspiring and is one of the reasons that I continue to love track and field.”
Concludes McDonald, “I have said this to many people, many times, but as good a runner as Monique has been, she is an even better person.”