Three years of brilliant performances make Jones the 100- and 200-meter favorite at the trials, especially with Miller—who has not looked sharp in recent European races—saying last week that she is running merely to make the team in Sacramento, with victory in Sydney as her larger goal. Miller, however, remains a formidable opponent who is on a steep learning curve. Moreover, her story isn't half bad. Can you dig this?
In the fall of 1998, Miller returned home to Los Angeles from the European summer circuit with a career that seemed stalled, athletically and financially. At the Atlanta Games in '96, at age 24, she had finished fourth in the 200 and won a gold medal on the U.S. 4 x 100-meter relay team. She seemed primed for a long and prosperous career. Yet in the next two years, coached by her father and managed by her godfather, 1976 Olympic 200-meter gold medalist Donald Quarrie, she got no faster. "I was at a crossroads; the ['99] world championships were coming up, followed by an Olympic year, and my Nike contract [a three-year deal signed in '96] was up for renewal," Miller says. "I needed to make a change in management."
Miller's relationship with Quarrie had grown sour, the two of them arguing over everything from marketing strategy to Miller's meet appearance fees. "It was strictly business," says Miller of firing Quarrie. Yet it could not help but be painful. As fellow sprinting heroes from Jamaica, Quarrie and Lennox Miller had been friends for more than three decades, and Inger Miller was among Quarrie's most successful clients. "Inger had outgrown Don, and he simply did not realize it, but the decision caused her a great deal of tension," says Inger's mother, Avril, a flight attendant with TWA for the past 33 years. "She agonized over it. She cried over it. And then Don looked at it as if Inger had deserted him."
Quarrie remains bitter. "She made a decision, and that's that," he says. "I won't say anything about it."
Inger interviewed several agents before settling on Hudson, the flamboyant lawyer who, with sprint coach and former U.S. Olympian John Smith, formed HSI, a management company that includes many athletes trained by Smith, among them 100-meter world-record holder Maurice Greene and 1996 Olympic double bronze medalist Ato Boldon of Trinidad. Hudson strongly suggested that Miller not only be represented by HSI but also be coached by Smith, rather than by her father, now a dentist, who could work with Inger only on his lunch break. "Nothing against Inger's father," says Hudson, "but John Smith is a coach 24/7, and that's what Inger needed to fulfill her potential."
In fact, Inger had considered changing coaches, but if firing Quarrie was painful, this would cut even deeper. The Millers were a tight, loving family, and Lennox a proud father with a terrific track pedigree. At USC he anchored a world-record-breaking 4 x 110-yard relay team that included O.J. Simpson. While in college he won the 100-meter silver medal behind U.S. runner Jim Hines at the 1968 Mexico City Olympics, and four years later, on a two-week break from USC dental school, he took the bronze behind Valery Borzov of the Soviet Union and Robert Taylor of the U.S. in Munich. "Quiet guy, but one tough competitor—spared no one," says Smith, who was a freshman at UCLA when Miller was a senior at USC.
Lennox Miller remains quiet, speaking softly with the dying remnants of a Caribbean lilt. He met his wife while they were in high school in Jamaica. He came to the U.S. to run in college; she went to work for TWA. They raised two girls, Inger (named for '60s Swedish actress Inger Stevens) and Heather, now 24, with creativity and passion. Surely the Miller girls were the only ones on their block who took long weekends with their parents in Rome, Milan, Madrid and Cairo, a fringe benefit of Avril's job. "It was always fun to come back to school and tell the teacher what we did over the weekend," says Inger.
Lennox did not coach Inger until long after she finished at USC (where she was a pre-veterinary major), beginning in the fall of 1995. They were always alone on the track, sharing a sport and eventually the distinction of being the only father and daughter to have won Olympic track and field medals. Yet in the fall of '98, Lennox knew it was time to let go. At Hudson's urging, Inger arranged a one-week trial with Smith as her coach, and Lennox went to UCLA every day to watch her train. They would walk to the car together, and, ultimately, both decided it was best for Inger to leave her father to train with Smith.
"I didn't have any ego to feed," says Lennox. "I couldn't take Inger any further without some drastic change in my life, like closing my dental practice and traveling with her. It was best that she get the benefit of what John and HSI could offer."
He is sitting in an armchair in his living room on a cool evening in the foothills. The methods that took him to two medals are different from those Smith has taught Inger, and Lennox doesn't agree with all of them, but he stays quiet. "I'm thrilled to see Inger reach her potential," he says. "I'm not sad that I am no longer her coach. But I do miss the time that I used to spend interacting with my daughter."