Thursday, August 12, 2010


Valerie Brisco-Hooks

Like a shooting star, sprinter Valerie Brisco-Hooks (born July 6, 1960 in Greenwood, Mississippi) shone for a brief, glorious moment in the public's eye before speeding away, never to reach the same vaunted height. While she shone, however, Brisco-Hooks burned especially bright. In the 1984 Olympic Games in Los Angeles, Brisco-Hooks accomplished what no other athlete, man or woman, had ever done by winning gold medals in 200- and 400-meter races in the same Olympic Games. She capped her starring performance by running a leg on the United States women's 4×400 meter relay team and capturing her third gold medal of the games.
Though she was born in the heart of the rural South in Greenwood, Mississippi, Brisco-Hooks moved with her family to an urban ghetto—the Watts neighborhood of Los Angeles—before she entered elementary school. Brisco-Hooks was one of ten children. Her father was a metal worker and her mother taught school. One of Brisco-Hooks's older brothers, Robert, was a star runner at Locke High School in Los Angeles. When she was fourteen, Robert and another brother Melvin were finishing a workout at the Locke High School track when a stray bullet struck Robert. He died later that day.
When the police eventually learned who fired the gun, they did not prosecute the shooter because he was only in the ninth grade. He did not have to live with his guilt long, however, as one year and a day later, the boy who shot Robert Brisco was himself shot and killed.
Until her brother's death, Brisco-Hooks was known as an undisciplined and unruly child. The loss of Robert helped her set personal goals and dedicates her to achieving them. Urged by her high school's track coach to come out for the team, Brisco-Hooks proved to be a standout runner on the same track where her brother was slain. As she said afterwards, "Someone has to carry on the family name, so they chose me."

1960 Born July 6 in Greenwood, Mississippi
1964 Moves with her family to the Watts neighborhood of Los Angeles
1974 Brother Robert shot by stray bullet while jogging on Los Angeles track
1979 Stars in track and field at California-State Northridge
1981 Marries Philadelphia Eagles wide receiver Alvin Hooks
1982 Gives birth to son Alvin Hooks, Jr.
1982 Gains 40 pounds a result of pregnancy, running career on hiatus
1982 Husband cut from Philadelphia Eagles
1983 Resume training under tutelage of Bobby Kersee
1983 Husband cut from Los Angeles Express of the United States Football League
1984 Wins 3 Gold Medals in the Los Angeles Olympics
1984 Appears on "Cosby Show" defeating Bill Cosby on final leg of a charity 4×400 meter relay race
1985 Begins speaking to Los Angeles school children about dangers of using drugs
(Valerie Brisco-Hooks - Brother's Death Shaped Her Life - Brisco, Robert, Hooks, School, Brother, One, Track, and Family at

Valerie Brisco-Hooks (L) and Florence Griffith

Smiling and laughing, Valerie Brisco-Hooks (above left), winner of the gold medal in the 200 meter dash, and teammate Florence Griffith, winner of the silver medal, hold the American flag after the race. The victory gave Brisco-Hooks her second gold medal of the games at the 1984 Olympic Games in Los Angeles.
Valerie Brisco won the AIAW 200 metres whilst studying in California. She also won gold in the 4x100m Relay at the Pan American Games. At 21, she married her former athletics teammate Alvin Hooks, who had become a wide receiver with the NFL's Philadelphia Eagles, and their son Alvin Jr. was born the following year. At this point, in 1982, Olympic gold medals seemed far from realistic for her but, with the encouragement of her husband, Brisco-Hooks returned to running under renowned trainer Bob Kersee with the Los Angeles Olympics as her goal. That year, she won the 400m at the US Championships and finished as runner-up in the US trials. In the 200m she won the US Olympic trials. On 6 August 1984, Valerie Brisco-Hooks lined up in her first Olympic final and the woman who had not ever run under 50 seconds over 400m until 1984, broke the American and Olympic record to beat her compatriot Chandra Cheeseborough in a time of 48.83. Three days later, Brisco-Hooks won the 200m gold ahead of Florence Griffith Joyner to become the first person – male or female - ever to win 200m and 400m gold at the same Olympic Games. She added gold in the 4x400m Relay on 11 August to follow in Wilma Rudolph’s footsteps as an American woman with three golds on the track at the same Olympic Games.

Valerie Brisco-Hooks
© of George Herringshaw &

1984 Olympics 200m Final women
From athlete5399 at

1984 Olympic Women's 400m final
From AwsiDooger at

1984 Olympic Women's 4x400m Relay final
From AwsiDooger at

After her phenomenal triple gold medal winning performance at the 1984 Olympic Games, it was not surprising that Valerie Brisco-Hooks had difficulty maintaining that form the following year. Nevertheless, she turned in some impressive performances in 1985. Her greatest achievement was at the Weltklasse meeting at Zurich on 21 August where she beat the top East German sprinter Marlies Gohr over 100m in a personal best time of 11.01sec, and on the same day, she defeated world record holder Marita Koch (East Germany) over 200m in 21.98sec. Her fastest time over 400m was 49.56sec recorded at West Berlin on 23 August. In 1986, she again performed better at the shorter distances, improving her 100m personal best to 10.99sec when winning an early season meet at Westwood in May. Her best time over 200m was 22.24sec, but her best performance was at the Grand Prix final in Rome on 10 September where she won the 200m in 22.30sec and came second to world record holder Marita Koch in the 400m in 50.21sec. At the 1987 World Championships in Rome, she did not compete in either the individual 200m or 400m events, but she was a member of the USA 4 x 400m relay team which won the bronze medal. In 1988 Brisco-Hooks concentrated on the 400m in a bid to defend her Olympic title at the Seoul Olympic Games. She ran her best time (49.90sec) of the year in finishing second in her semi-final at Seoul, but in the final, finished a disappointing fourth in 50.16sec. In the 4 x 400m relay final, held on 1 October, Brisco-Hooks finished her career in grand style, running the third leg (photo above) for the USA team which broke the existing world record, but unfortunately finished second to the team from the Soviet Union.
(Ron Casey at

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