Only a few people in the world can say they were the “fastest man on the planet.” It’s even more exclusive to earn that distinction twice. Mark Crear, the 1996 and 2000 Olympic silver and bronze medalist, happens to be in this very eliteclub. Twice ranked as the world’s number one at 110m hurdles, Mark could literally walk through any city in the world and say, “I’m faster than you, you, you, and even you.” Now retired from the sport, Mark enters the room with his baritone laugh and charismatic style, giving everyone big hugs and “some love.” It’s been four years since his last professional race, yet I am convinced he could give most of the world a 90m head start and still win. Today Pastor Mark Crear shares the news that the power of faith, hope, and love can get you over life’s hurdles and turn anyone’s silver into gold.
Interviewed exclusively for Risen Magazine in San Diego
Risen Magazine: You turn forty this year and you’re not that far removed from being number one in the world. Do you still get that “itch” to try to make another run at racing?
Mark Crear: No. I have to thank God that I was blessed to do and accomplish everything that I wanted to do in the sport of track and ﬁeld. Just the ability to be able to represent your country, represent your faith, and go out there and compete is awesome. In 2004, I took ﬁfth and I needed to take third to make my third Olympic team. Some ugly dude beat me, but it’s all good. [Laughs]
RM: Are you deﬁned by your Olympic medals?
MC: Deﬁned? No. I have done so much, from writing a book, speaking in prisons and corpo-rations, going into full-time ministry, seeing people getting saved, baptizing people—there have been so many other things that outweigh my medals. If I’m going to be deﬁned by any-thing, I hope it is more by my character and heart to serve the Lord than any medals or records I have achieved.
RM: When did you know that running was your gift?
MC: I knew I could compete at a world-class level when I was at the NCAA Championships with USC. at was by far the most meaningful victory to me. I was number one in the NCAA and the pressure was on. Everyone was like,“Oh, you’re gonna win!”and I was thinking, Tell that to the seven other guys next me. I had to shoulder the pressure of being number one.
For so long up to that point, I was the “other guy” in the lane next to “that guy.” I know what the other guys racing are thinking standing next to me: Who are you to be get-ting all that attention? And when you take your starting position, you can see the media down at the ﬁnish line waiting around the lane they think is going to win. If you are in lane two and all the cameras are in lane six, you’re thinking, Man, I’m gonna show all these people who I am. And of course, you’re supposed to be in the zone like I was—comma [laughs]—but some-times you can’t help but feel the pressure. I went on to win that race and when I cleared that last hurdle, it was like a hundred pounds came oﬀ of me. It was then I started to believe that maybe I could do this at the next level.
RM: You talk about knowing your purpose a lot in your book and Web site. You had a gift for running, but when did you know your pur-pose?
MC: It’s funny, because I think track found me, I didn’t ﬁnd track. I started track and ﬁeld in my eleventh grade year of high school. My high school track coach approached me and asked me to come out and run track. My life was in a hurricane at the time. I didn’t know what I was going to do with my life. I was re-ally lost. I was thinking girls, shorts, tights, you know, and I really went out for that. But some-thing happened when I started running. I fell in love with the sport. Every time that I ran, I just felt this weight come oﬀ of me. is was the one thing I had that no one could take away from me.
You know, God is so amazing with his perfect will and permissive will. He will always ﬁnish the good work. I see now that even then I was being led to my purpose. However, you have to be always aware, be obedient and sub-missive to his leading in our lives. I always tried to be sensitive to what was going on and tried to act on God’s leading in my life. ere is a diﬀerence to wanting a hand-out and a hand-up. I didn’t want a hand-out; I wanted a hand-up. All I needed was a lane to run in and I knew the rest would work itself out.
I knew it wasn’t going to be easy, but when I realized my purpose, I just had to take the ﬁrst step. We all just have to take the ﬁrst step; God has already taken the second step for us.
I knew it wasn’t going to be easy, but when I realized my purpose, I just had to take the first step. We all just have to take the first step; God has already taken the second step for us.
RM: You refer to your relationship with God from an early point in your life. Were you raised in a Christian home?
MC: Man, wow. Well, I don’t know if I can say I was raised in a Christian home. [Chuckles lightly] Well, I can say my mom knows and loves the Lord. I believe she is saved. My life growing up was such a roller coaster that the stability of a home life and church family just wasn’t there. At one point I went to live with my dad and that was tough, because I had to deal with abandonment issues and stuﬀ. One thing I can say about my father is that he played piano in a church. So, in some ways I was stuck in a church, but I realize now that even then I was still being fed [spiritually]. I think that helped me later on in life when I went to col-lege. Looking back, I can see that God was al-ways putting people and situations in my life that would encourage me to get past the tough spots in my life. Again, it’s a matter of listening to God’s leading. So, God was always a part of my life, even when I was a little kid.
RM: Early childhood experiences can shape us into who we are as adults today. How do you feel your early life events shaped you?
MC: Man, my childhood was really rough. My childhood was not an enjoyable part. Back then what I was going through and even when I was trying to get into USC, I started to really turn towards the Lord. I remember crying and tear-ing-up all my papers—struggling. I started praying, listening to the gospel music, and started running towards the Lord. And little did I know that God was looking down on me and saying,“It’s gonna be okay. I’m getting you tough.”
I think if we had any idea what God has in store for us, none of us would ever want to do it. It would be too much, but He is always preparing us, you know?
RM: Your experience at USC seems to be a pivotal point in your life, both professionally and spiritually. How would you have deﬁned failure prior to then and how do you deﬁne failure now?
MC: Yeah, USC was a turning point for me. Prior to then, I didn’t have any concept of fail-ing. e expectations for me were not there early on. But when [USA Track & Field Coach] Jim Bush tells me he believes in me and is going to give me a full scholarship to USC, then it became diﬀerent. I’m like,“Wow, you’re doing this for me?” Up to this point, I didn’t have to worry about grades or report cards. When I got to USC, there was GPA and program eligibility rules, doing your homework, and staying ahead with your classes. I found out that nobody cared that I was an athlete. I had to do the work or I didn’t make the team. But there again, from an early part in my life I knew I wanted to graduate from college. I wanted a degree. I wanted to be a positive representation for my culture, for the black man in America. Back then, there were so many stereotypes of black men being unedu-cated, a thug, and I wanted to run from the stories of my father and other men in my fam-ily that failed to graduate. I realize that I wanted to be diﬀerent than all of that. ere just had to be something diﬀerent. One of my role models back then was [Renaldo] Ne-hemiah, who was a famous hurdler, and he spoke so intelligently. ere was just this aura about his whole persona that lured me to be diﬀerent. at’s what I wanted to be. When I got to USC, I realized I was given a hand-up—not a hand-out—to be something diﬀerent.To run towards something that would be life-changing and good.at’s when I realized fail-ure would be anything less.
RM: You mention your father and your relationship with him quite a bit. Have you reconciled your relationship with him?
MC: Well a lot of this is in my book, but I did reconcile with him. You know, sometimes you look for people to change and that’s when you forgive them—“if ” they change. But when you start growing in the word of the Lord, you realize that you have to love them through their faults. You need to protect yourself, but you have to love them unconditionally.
To make a long story short, God told me if I wanted to make it to Sydney in 2000, I had to forgive my father. Now, I’m not one to mock the Lord’s directions and I wanted to compete at Sydney. So, in 2000 I picked up the phone and told him, [Pauses in reﬂection] “I want to let you know that I forgive you and I love you.”
RM: Tyat’s how you began the conversation?
MC: Yeah, just like that. He responded by say-ing, “ank you, Mark. Praise the Lord. I love you too.”He started crying and I felt as though a thousand pounds lifted oﬀ of his shoulders. You know, sometimes we condemn people so much and all they want is to be forgiven.We’re supposed to love them and forgive them. We put them under tremendous pressure when we don’t forgive them. Nobody wants to feel that pressure. I felt the lift, more so, for him than for me. I didn’t do wrong that was done, but it was my obligation to free him from the things of the past. God had already delivered me from my past; I wanted him to have the same free-dom. I think we all have that same obligation to set people free everywhere we go.
And to wrap up that story, the circum-stances worked out that I got to take my father with me to Sydney. It was a good moment for him. He got to take all the pictures and get out of the country. It was a good moment—it’s something he can take to his grave and know that he went to the Olympics with his son. It was my way of saying, “It’s all forgiven.”
RM: You’re a pastor now. What is one lesson you would like the Church to learn today?
MC: Oh, wow, that’s pretty deep to consider. I think one thing the Church needs to learn today is that it needs to be honest and trans-parent with itself and to the generations com-ing up. I see so many leaders of ministries suﬀering. e system of the church has pre-vented its leaders from being transparent. Now we have these pastors who are “leading by bleeding” and they can’t tell anyone they are suﬀering. It’s wrong.e church needs to relax and stop worrying about their building funds, campus development, and growing their churches. is just puts more and more pres-sure on its leaders to be less transparent. Yeah, that’s something the church needs to learn.