Winning Before It Starts
LONDON — Erison Hurtault is realistic.
He knows he’s a total longshot to any betting man wanting to put a pound or two on the results of the men’s 400 meters.
And opportunities to place such wagers abound here in London; numerous shops taking legal wagers on all 302 Olympic events and a lot more.
But he’s already a winner.
The 27-year-old alumnus of Matawan Regional (N.J.) High School and Columbia University was accorded an honor of all honors at the gala Friday night Opening Ceremonies of these Games of the XXX Olympiad.
He got to carry the flag for his team, Dominica, the nation he’s represented in international competition since bowing out in the second round of the USA Olympic Trials in 2008.
Erison was born in Edison (again New Jersey).
But his parental ties are to the Caribbean isle of Dominica, which has embraced him since he gave up his bid to compete for USA four years ago.
And he’s done Dominica proud ever since — after bowing out of the Olympic 400 in the first round at Beijing in 2008, he did a lot better at the next two editions of the IAAF World Championships, reaching the semifinals at both Berlin in 2009 and Daegu in 2011. He ran many a great race at The Armory and has been doing good things on the European outdoor circuit all along, too.
His career best remains the 45.40 he ran back in 2007.
Flag in hand, flashing a wide smile — some estimated it stretched all the way back to New Jersey — Hurtault was in very fine company Friday night.
Other celebrity flagbearers in the parade of 205 national teams included Jamaica sprint great Usain Bolt, Spanish basketballer Pau Gasol of the Los Angeles Lakers, discus champion Alekna Virgilijus of Lithuania, reigning world 400 champion Kirani James of Grenada, tennis star Agnieszka Radwanska of Poland and long jump champion Irving Saladino of Panama.
USA's flagbearer was Mariel Zagunis, the two-time Olympic saber fencing champion, a graduate of Notre Dame and a Beaverton, Ore., resident. Loudest cheers, of course, rang out for cycling champion Chris Hoy, carrying the Union Jack as the representative of host Great Britain.
Proudly representing Dominica, Hurtault is also the delight of Matawan, in Monmouth County, N.J.
Matawan Regional High School track coach Sam Turner has said, "Erison is a great, great young man, who has made people in Matawan so proud.
“He had a great career here at Matawan Regional, then really blossomed out at Columbia (going unbeaten at the 400-meter distance in Ivy League/Heptagonal competition for four straight years).
"And you know what?" said Turner. "I've always told Erison he could be better at the 800 than he ever was at the 400."
In one of his rare appearances beyond the one-lap route for Columbia, he helped the Lions score an historic 4x800 win at the Penn Relays.
He’s not the only 2012 Olympic track athlete out of Columbia.
Lisa Sublic will run the marathon for Croatia.
Another ex-Lion will be here for Egypt (foil fencer Sherrif Farraq).
Five more Lions compete for USA, four in fencing (Nzingha Prescod, Nicole Ross, Jeff Spear and James Williams), and one in rowing, Nick LaCava.
Oh, and there’s a lot more Met area interest in the Olympic 400 beyond Hurtault.
There’s Queens resident Lalonde Gordon running the men’s race for Trinidad & Tobago, and the Armory’s own Aliann Pompey, the Manhattan College alumna running for Guyana, in the women’s one-lapper, making Olympic history as the first to do it four times.
At the recent USATF National Club Championships in Omaha, Gordon running for the Zenith Velocity club team, lowered the meet record to a sizzling 45.02, beating Hurtault (running for Central Park Track Club) in the process.
Meanwhile, Pompey (running for Shore AC) was repeating as women’s National Clubs 400 titlist.
And, of course, Andrew Valmon, the USA men’s head coach, out of Manchester, N.J., and Seton Hall University, has a brilliant 400 record of his own, with two Olympic 4x400 relay gold medals to his credit, along with a reputation as perhaps the finest 4x400 leadoff man in track history.
Stay tuned, fans.
Olympic track and field opens Friday, Aug. 3 and then runs non-stop through to Sunday, Aug. 12.