On this Day in Rochester History

August 11, 2013   by Sal Maiorana, Democrat and Chronicle

When world track champion and U.S. Olympian Kim Batten attended East High School in the mid-1980s, basketball was the sport she was most proficient at. “I was actually pretty good in basketball,” she said. “I was a shooting guard, but I could also play the point.”

She didn’t go out for the track team until her junior year, and that was because she had promised her basketball coach, Betty Rich, who was also the track coach, to give it a try.

Kim Batten was honored with her own day at Rochester City Hall in October 1995.

Less than a decade later, on Aug. 11, 1995, Batten wasn’t knocking down jump shots from the perimeter, or dishing off assists to teammates. Instead, she was standing on the top level of the medals stand at Ullevi Stadium in Goteborg, Sweden, a World Track & Field Championships gold medal draped around her neck, and her name etched in the record book for having run the fastest time ever in the women’s 400-meter hurdles.

“I never dream about hurdles,” Batten said. “But I dreamed about the final (the night before). We were in the race. I broke the world record. I had this plan of doing a little dance if I won. I remember sitting up and going, `Oh, my God, I broke the record and did the dance.’ ”

This was no dream. It happened, as Batten edged fellow American Tonja Buford in a photo finish by one-hundredth of a second, a time of 52.61 seconds which was a full 1.25 seconds faster than her previous career best set in the 1993 world championship meet.

“I am surprised by the world record,” said Batten who decided against repeating her dream sequence didn’t do her dance. “But I felt ready for a big jump. I just didn’t know when it was coming.”

Batten began her track journey at East High as a triple jumper and long jumper, with some hurdles mixed in as an afterthought. She was actually recruited by colleges as a triple jumper and she left East ranked third in the country in the event. Her choice was Florida State and at various times for the Seminoles she competed in the triple jump, long jump, 100- and 200-meter dashes, the 100 hurdles, the 400 hurdles, and often ran relay legs.

Although she had a solid college career, she wasn’t thinking about running track professionally until her junior year when her coach, Terry Long, told her she could succeed in the hurdles if she really concentrated on it, and that was enough of a challenge to spur Batten.

As a senior in 1991, she set personal bests in the 100 hurdles, long jump, and triple jump, and she placed third in the NCAA nationals in the 400 hurdles which qualified her for the USA Nationals. There, Batten won her first national championship with a personal best 54.18, and she said, At that point, I knew I was on my way to being pretty good.”

Batten went on to finish fifth at the World Championships with a new best time of 53.98, she turned pro, and by the end of that year she was ranked fourth in the world in the 400 hurdles.

She finished fourth in the 1992 Olympic trials which left her off the team that went to Barcelona, in ’93 she was second in the U.S. nationals and fourth in the worlds, and she won the U.S. meet in ’94.

Early in 1995, Batten had to undergo an appendectomy in May, and she was worried that she wouldn’t have enough time to get prepared for the nationals in June or the worlds in August. “They found out that my appendix was on its way to erupting. They caught it in time. But this was in May. I remember thinking my season was over. I was in great shape, so I had plenty room for error. But I didn’t have much time before nationals. I remember walking around my high school track a couple days after the operation and it took me twenty minutes to get around that thing.”

Batten won the U.S. title, and doubled up with the world title and the new world record.

Batten went on to make the 1996 Olympic team and earned a silver medal in the 400 hurdles. She also made the 2000 team but did not medal, and she ultimately retired after the 2001 season.