Team USA track star Kenny Selmon is set to make his Olympics debut in the men's 400-meter hurdles and bring home a medal for himself and the nation. The former UNC Tar Heel recorded a personal best of 48.08 seconds in last month's Trials in Eugene, Oregon, coming in second place to Rai Benjamin's second-fastest ever time of 46.83 seconds.
Ahead of chasing gold, the self-proclaimed Waffle House enthusiast spoke with Yahoo Sports about the importance of family during his preparation, pre-race rituals and of course, his go-to order.
Yahoo Sports: Millions watched you on television qualify, but describe how you felt once it became official you were going to Tokyo?
Kenny Selmon: Up until that point, I wasn't even able to think of Tokyo because I was so focused on the Olympic Trials. Outside of what you can see, I was so nervous before the race. How do you tell someone everything they've spent years working for will be decided within the next minute? So, I wasn't trying to think of Tokyo and just focus on giving my best performance in that moment. To cross the line in second place, I just kept saying, 'It's happening, it's happening!' I couldn't believe it. The process up until that point was succeed at the Trials. Now, I'm shifting my focus and have a whole new strategy for Tokyo.
YS: You've credited family for being an integral part of your success. Since they can't join you overseas, what are some poignant pieces of wisdom from them you'll be keeping in mind as you go for gold?
KS: I feel so blessed they've been able to come to so many track meets stateside. They attended the trials and you know, it's just crazy the amount of peace they bring me. Whether it's my mom, dad, brother, cousins, uncles, seeing them allows me to take a step back from the actual madness that's going on and just get that comfort. Not having them will be tough, but it's also something I haven't done before.
I guess I just have to find something in Tokyo that will bring me peace, ground me and remind me that I'm just a piece of the puzzle. They would be there if they could, but I have no doubt everyone will be following along.
YS: I guess the absence of family, friends and fans is something all of Team USA have in common. How have you all managed to bond in an arguably unique situation?
KS: It's pretty wild and I wish there were more to it because there's no training camp to meet everyone a part of the team in person. I can speak to the track team and you know, it's incredible to have the validation that I belong here with them. Everyone has made the process so easy and I couldn't ask for better people make history with. We all have a mutual respect for each other, so I'm excited to see how our relationship translates during competition.
YS: With another year to prepare, how did you find balance between training and making time for other commitments? Did you do anything different in the run-up to the Trials?
KS: I'll say this: I'm serious about my training. But I'm also a big advocate of enjoying myself when time allows. When I step on the track, it's all business. It has to be that way or you won't get the results you want. If you put too much energy into something and in my case it's track, then it consumes you and the pressure amounts. So, preparation is work hard, play hard. I plan on playing a little harder after winning a medal.
YS: Mentally speaking, what are some rituals you do ahead of a race? Who is on your pre-game playlist, for example?
KS: When I'm in the locker room ahead of a race, I listen to speeches or watch performances. Former President Barack Obama's speeches are a heavy favorite. I'll watch my favorite Beyoncé performances and I'll think, 'Bey crushed that.' Her audience is way bigger than mine and she keeps her composure from start to finish. It helps me feel small in a sense and calms my nerves. It all goes back to what I said earlier. I can't put unnecessary pressure on myself.
YS: Your life could rapidly change in a number of weeks. Besides an obsession with Waffle House, what do you want viewers worldwide to know about you?
KS: Honestly, I lean back to the work-hard, play-hard mentality. And the play-hard isn't just celebrating and having fun. It's also about just enjoying friends, having cheat meals and just living life. I take this very seriously. When I'm in my zone, I'm in my zone. What's been the coolest part of this entire experience is that many didn't know that I was at the caliber that I am within the sport. It's been great to be able to balance these two different lives that I feel like I have. Track requires certain type of attention and respect that I definitely give it. So, from now until the medal ceremony, it's strictly business. Afterwards, we can celebrate.
YS: So, what are Olympians ordering at Waffle House? What's you cheat meal?
KS: Ha, this has been my order since I was like, 12. Also known as the "All-Star," it's made up of four eggs scrambled with cheese, sausage, either grits or hash browns and a waffle. That typically gets the job done.
The 400-meter hurdle events begins Saturday, July 31.
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