Former track coach 'one of us'
CHAMPAIGN – For 16 years, Mike Shine has considered Champaign his adopted hometown.
On Sunday, the Pennsylvania native will receive the strongest confirmation yet that the feeling is mutual. At 2 p.m. in Dodds Park, the Champaign Park District will induct the 1976 Olympic silver medalist into its Tribute to Olympic Athletes.
"It's kind of like being an adopted son," Shine said. "I've finally arrived in Champaign County. 'You're one of us.' "
Actually, the former Olympic hurdler has been among us since September 1982. But it wasn't until this year Shine met the criteria for a non-native to be considered for the Tribute: moving to the county within five years of Olympic participation and remaining here for at least 15 years. (He missed consideration last year by a few months; the 1997 ceremony was in June.)
Not surprisingly, it was the sport Shine excelled at that brought him to the community. He was a 28-year-old with 5 1/2 years of experience as an assistant coach when Illinois hired him to head up its women's track and field and cross-country teams.
Although the experience convinced Shine head coaching at this level wasn't for him – he resigned after two difficult seasons – it didn't sour the Penn State graduate on life in Champaign-Urbana. Far from it.
"It's a neat community and I'm really glad we made the decision to stay here," said Shine, whose family includes wife Jaymie and children Janessa, Janell and Jayson. "It's a good place to raise a family, and we've really enjoyed being here. I don't see myself going anywhere else."
After leaving the UI, Shine entered insurance sales before settling into his current job as a quality auditor at Kraft Inc.
It's now 22 years since Shine finished second to the great Edwin Moses in the 400-meter hurdles at the Montreal Games. But Sunday's ceremony isn't the only reminder to Shine that his Olympian effort remains in the public consciousness. ESPN will have a camera crew in town Sunday to interview Shine about his stirring duel with Moses and the joyous lap around the track they took together afterward with ABC's cameras still trained on the pair.
There are other reminders, too, as Shine goes about his everyday business.
"It's been so weird," he said. "I've written checks and shoved them across the counter, and somebody will say, 'Mike Shine. Where have I seen that name? Oh yeah, you ran in the Olympics.' "
His hometown of Youngsville, Pa., certainly hasn't forgotten. Shine has been the speaker at his high school's graduation. The high school's track facility is named after him, too.
"Just a lot of neat things that have happened because of it," Shine said.
A six-time state champion as a prep, Shine hardly seemed a candidate for Olympic medals early in his college career. His freshman season was, in Shine's words, "terrible."
"I didn't even make my high school times," he said. "I had walking pneumonia. A broken arm. It just wasn't a great year. I actually had thoughts of not going back."
Penn State coach Harry Groves urged him not to make a rash decision. Shine's father told his son it was much too early to give up on himself. Shine listened.
When he reported to practice the next season, the he knocked his time in the 400 hurdles from 55 seconds to close to 50.
"I thought to myself, what in the heck's going on here," recalled Groves, who suddenly had the 13th-ranked 400 hurdler in the world running for him. "From then on he was a different man as far as the right kind of psyche and approach to what he was doing. I don't think he ever again considered being beat by anybody."
Not that Shine didn't experience his share of frustrations. Although he was a six-time All-American, Shine's quest for an NCAA title proved maddeningly elusive. As a senior, he ran the race of his life in the finals, breaking the 49-second barrier. Under most circumstances, that would have assured Shine of victory. But San Diego State's Quentin Wheeler ran a then-American record of 48.55.
"I actually cried," Shine said. "I was thinking, 'What do I need to do to win one of these things.' "
"He cried for about 40 minutes," Groves said, "and, I mean, this is a hard, tough kid. I finally turned around and said, 'If it meant this much to you, I think you could make the Olympic team.' God, did he ever stop crying."
As luck would have it, the 400 hurdles field for the U.S. Olympic Trials was about as tough as the Olympics figured to be. There were a couple of world record holders – Ralph Mann, a three-time NCAA champion in the event from Brigham Young, and Jim Bolding from Oklahoma State. There was Moses, an emerging star in the event. And there was Wheeler.
In fact, the field included nine hurdlers who had bested 49 seconds. At that time, only 12 men had accomplished that feat ever.
"I was certainly still an underdog," Shine said.
An underdog with a mean bite. Shine placed third behind Moses and Wheeler to grab the final U.S. spot for the Olympics.
If there still were doubters about this upstart, Shine answered the best way he could: by placing second in 48.69 to Moses' world record of 47.64.
Afterward, a jubilant Shine didn't want the moment to end. Didn't want to leave the track without taking one more turn around it with Moses.
"I said, 'I'm not going to leave this place,' Shine recalled. "I just grabbed him and hugged him and said, 'Come on.' And we kept going."