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Loren Seagrave, photo courtesy of IMG Academy

Sprint Technician Loren Seagrave Cultivates Swiftness

Ken Whisenhunt, head coach of the Tennessee Titans, is perhaps one of the more recent of many sports figures to proclaim, "The one thing you can't teach is speed." Loren Seagrave - Director of Speed and Movement and the Director of Track & Field and Cross Country at Bradenton, Florida's IMG Academy - respectfully disagrees. "We've always taken a very technical approach to sprinting," explains Seagrave who has been at the forefront of pressing scientific sprint advancements for over a quarter of a century. "Our moniker is 'Speed is a skill. And it can be taught by coaches that know how to teach it.' But if you don't know how to teach it, a lot of times you think that speed is just a matter of genetics or luck even and, well, you assume that it [teaching speed] is not possible. We really take the approach of teaching the athlete how to re-program their nervous system so that they can be more efficient in their movements."

Seagrave - who is on his second tour of duty at IMG - is a revered and experienced figure on the IMG campus which is an Oz-like Emerald City of full-immersion athletic development. Situated on 600 acres just minutes away from the Gulf coast, IMG Academy is - at its core - a kindergarten through 12th grade academic, athletic, and character-building incubator focusing on excellence and committed to taking every step possible to cull out the maximum performance from its athletes of great potential.

IMG Academy has a student body population 1000 - 650 of whom are foreigners. While the casual athlete might have misgivings about IMG's intensity, the school and its programs are tailored precisely for athletes who are fully committed to exploring the extent of their potential. "Primarily, we are a prep boarding school where athletics is really important," offers Seagrave in outlining how the tightly-constructed school day unfolds. "Our track and field athletes go to school at 7:00 a.m. and finish at noon. After they take their lunch for an hour, they then have special classroom sessions such as mental conditioning; nutrition; character and leadership; or vision enhancement - all geared toward personal development. Then our student athletes train from 3:00 until about 5:30 p.m. At 6:00 p.m. they have dinner and then they cap off the day by going to study hall. That is our primary focus."

In addition to the Academy - its core K through 12 prep boarding school program - IMG offers opportunities for post-graduate development in a broad array of widely-recognized sports: tennis, swimming, football, lacrosse, football, baseball, golf, and other disciplines - including track and field. IMG's campus facilities are part sport space and part physics laboratory as IMG remains committed not only to providing their athletes the best-in-class training opportunities, but also to maintaining their never-ending quest to find the next biomechanical breakthrough. The campus itself is a virtual kaleidoscope of sporting activity undertaken by male and female athletes who range in age from grade school to the mid-30's. A daytime stroll through the grounds could reveal a dozen youthful Asian athletes walking through hurdle drills; a promising young Russian female long jumper completing a specific personally-assembled weight routine; a recovering distance runner getting in an aerobic workout on a forgiving zero-gravity treadmill; or even 40 NFL Combine hopefuls breaking from their workout to text back to the head chef which of the day's specially-prepared nutritionally-balanced luncheon offerings they have selected.

And while offerings in many sports are available at IMG, Seagrave stays close to his passion: track and field. Loren Seagrave - who is fluent in several languages - has a comfortable rapport with his athletes who are attentive and clearly at ease in his presence. His charges are varied - young men and young women, from different continents, and gifted in different events. He helps them all. And their appreciation is evident.

The coach's pride is clear as he speaks about Darya Klishina, an up-and-coming Russian long jumper who won the bronze medal in last year's European Championships with a leap of 6.65m / 21'10". "Darya was here full time with us starting in January last year. She has made some really good progress. She is an IMG client," notes Seagrave who points out that the horizontal jumper is also working on a modeling career and is also represented by IMG in that pursuit. "One of the big reasons she wanted to be down and here - and we wanted her to be down here - was to help her take a more professional approach with her coaching and preparation. I am really proud of her. Last year she did all of her interviews in English. She is great to work with. She jumped 6.90m [22'7¾"] last year and won the Russian championships. She has had some good performances, but some inconsistencies." Coach Seagrave appreciates the enormous culture shock involved in moving young athletes from their respective homelands to Florida's west coast. "It was a huge change for her to make, a lot of stress. There are not many Russian athletes being coached by western coaches. We are working on her speed. And if there is any opening on that 4 x 100 relay, she might be a pretty good candidate. She is excited about doing something a little bit different."

Loren Seagrave is happy to share talking points on every one of his athletes. On Demetrius Pinder, Olympic gold medalist on the Bahamian 4 x 100m relay team: "Demetrius was with us last year and was in excellent shape. He split 43.8 last year in the second leg at the World Relay championships to bring the Bahamas back into contention in the 4 x 400." On long sprinter Libania Grenot: "This is her fourth year with us. She runs for Italy, originally born in Cuba." On Grenot's gold medal performance in the European Championships 400m final, Seagave proclaims, "The victory was a big deal for Italy and a great thing for her."

Seagrave's most visible female track athlete is Tianna Bartoletta. "She is here with us now. She had a great year last year," says Seagrave with a smile. "She had a bit of an Olympic hangover in 2013 compounded when her coach moved to England. But she started out in 2014 really early and got her training back here last year and won a bronze medal [in the 60m] in the World Indoor Championships. And we got her back on the long jump runway and she ended up jumping 7.02m [23'½" ] which was the best jump in the world last year." Tianna's coach deftly deflects the question as to whether Bartoletta is superior in the sprints or in the long jump. "I think she is pretty good in both," understates Seagrave. "She led off the 4 x 100 relay in London and did the same in the World Relay Championships last year and the USA ended up winning that. She won the USATF national championships in the 100m in Sacramento last year. And she came in second in the long jump when Brittney [Reese] really nailed one. She is not going to jump indoors - she's going to run the 60m indoors. She is going to open up in Boston, then Millrose, then Dublin, then Birmingham, and then the national championships back up in Boston."

On the men's side, LaShawn Merritt is IMG's marquee track and field athlete. Merritt - who last year captured the 400 meter Diamond League trophy - is the reigning world champion and has a trophy room full of individual and relay gold medals he has won from global competitions over the past decade. While Merritt maintains his close ties with his native Virginia, Seagrave points out his quarter-miler lives in Bradenton when the real preparatory work for an upcoming season gets underway. "He trains up in Virginia close to where he was raised in the fall," notes Seagrave. "And then he makes his way here in January and pretty much stays 7 months a year down here."

It is fair to wonder how successful Seagrave - or any coach - can be in tutoring world class sprint stars. A self-assured and sometimes cocky fraternity, sprinters might not be the most compliant of pupils. But Seagrave sees it differently. "Most of the athletes that come to me are here because they want to listen and get better. We teach them to be biomechanically correct," explains Seagrave. And the coach has a special approach to ensure athlete buy-in to new and different sprint techniques he may propose. "When athletes suggest they are not comfortable with the biomechanical changes we suggest, we tell them, 'You can keep doing what you're doing and be comfortable being as slow as you've always been. Or you can change and get in the better biomechanical position and be uncomfortable for a little while, but be a heck of a lot faster. And this will become comfortable the more you do it - like breaking in a new pair of shoes.'" And he adds, "Most of the track and field athletes that come here are pretty receptive to listening and to making changes. And the ones that aren't don't stay very long."

As Coach Seagrave reflects on the emergence of "drive phase" training and the advent of more sprinter-friendly running surfaces as important advancements which have aided in the evolution of the dashes, he pauses to consider what future developments might take sprinting to the next level. "More specific power training is the key thing," he observes without hesitation. "We know now that your muscle contraction force is OK to help you push out of the blocks. But once you start to get into ground time - at about the 4th step - you've got to be elastic," explains Seagrave. "You have to be able to able to use your leg like a vaulting pole to propel you down the track. This requires specific reactive strength that is generated by better execution of plyometrics which we have integrated into our strength program."

In sprinting where hundredths - even thousandths - of a second can mean the difference between earning and missing a national team berth or between winning and missing a medal, the search for even the slightest improvement will never cease. No matter what facet of sprinting will be the next frontier for performance improvement, you can be confident that IMG - with Loren Seagrave and his colleagues at the forefront - will be coming out of the blocks quickly.  

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Dave HunterDave Hunter is a track & field journalist, announcer, and broadcaster.  Dave reports on the premier track & field gatherings around the globe, frequently serves as an arena or stadium announcer for championship events, and has undertaken foreign and domestic broadcast assignments in the sport.


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