Once a Spartan, always a Spartan.
Ron Davis was a member of two outstanding Spartan cross country teams – the 1962 squad that won the NCAA Championship and the 1961 team that finished second. In track and field, he specialized in the 3,000-meter steeplechase.
His breadth of coaching men and women in track and cross country covers Olympic Games medalists and NCAA and conference champions. He trained 1980 Olympic Games 3000-meter steeplechase runner Filbert Bayi of Tanzania to a silver medal. 8 years ago, Vincent Rono of Kenya was the NCAA outdoor 1,500-meter champion running for the University of South Alabama.
Well-connected worldwide, he has coached and trained distance runners in Canada, Ireland, Mauritius, Mozambique, Tanzania, Sudan, Somalia, Djibouti and Nigeria. This interview focuses on during and after his time in Mauritius.
Ron Davis is a member of the San Jose State University Sports Hall of Fame, and in 2012, he was back at SJS as the Head Track and Field Coach. Talk about full circle… or oval in this case.
Here is an inspiring article from the May 26, 2011 edition of L’Express, Mauritius’s National Newspaper. The original article was in French, and this is the English translation.
Interview with Ron Davis 
Question 1: What have you been doing since you left Mauritius in the early 90’s?
Please view attached Resume.
Question 2: What experiences and souvenirs do you have from your few years at the head of athletics in Mauritius?
I have many warm, rich memories of Mauritius where I have some of the most rewarding memories center on my work in athletics, and the achievements of athletes. A few examples will demonstrate why I cherish those years in Mauritius.
Let’s remember Josiane Boulle, who won the Silver Medal, 3000 meters, in the 1988 Africa Track and Field Championship. That was a great win for the nation and Josianne because she achieved what she never thought possible. When I first requested Josiane to run the 3000 meter, she resisted. I will never forget how she ran every lap- passing me; she made sure that I heard her cursing nicely in Creole or French or saying funny kind of things about me. Man, she was mad at me! But, the important thing in all of this is that she never gave up. She demonstrated trust in her coach and such determination. I admired her for both because the effort was not easy. And, her family was so very proud of her accomplishment. Her excitement and the excitement of her husband were wonderful to see when we all knew she won the Silver Medal in the 3000 meter event. Of course, it was a great moment in the history of track and field for female athletes in Mauritius.
Then, there is Marie Lourdes Allysamba-Appadoo. When Marie Lourdes won the Silver in the Multi-Events, she became the second woman in Mauritius track and field history to win a medal in the 1988 Africa Track and Field Championships. Again, family and national responses were so very positive – full of celebration and excitement. We can never forget that Marie Lourdes Allysamba-Appadoo and Josiane worked so very hard for their success. I am certain that they can write a book about the hill training and difficult workouts they had to endure leading up to the 1988 Africa Track and Field Championships.
I want to acknowledge Mr. Robert Decotter and to thank him for the many times he was there to support me and encouraged the athletes. Robert’s thoughtfulness and support were greatly appreciated by me. He was faithfully there every Saturday morning when we had the long runs for an hour or more on a hilly road. He was often at our practice session to assist or encourage the athletes including his daughter Isabelle Decotter. He took many photos of the athletes in competition that are also appreciated today by the athletes and me. He had a celebration with food and cake at his house when Josiane and Marie Lourdes won the Silver Medals. Robert Decotter was the cornerstone of my success in Mauritius. When the athletes had a top notch performance like Judex Lefou, Christian Boda, Marie Lourdes Allysamba, and Josiane Boulle, his favorite comment to me was “It’s a great time to be a Mauritian.” I would have liked to have seen Robert face when Milazar and Buckland had the success at the IAAF World Championships as I am sure he was very proud of them.
At the 1988 Africa Track and Field Championship, I met Sam Matete for the first time. I assisted him to obtain a full scholarship to attend Blinn Community College. This College is the same institution that Judex Lefou, Desiere Pierre Louis, and Gilbert Ha Shan attended before they all went to university. Stephon Driver also attended Blinn Community College for one year. Sam Matete was also my assistant track coach when I was the Head Track Coach at the University of New Orleans. Sam is now coaching in Mauritius under the IAAF Coaching Development Program and sharing his knowledge and experienced coaching the youth. We have remained friends since meeting in Algeria in 1988.
Of course, there were many other achievements on and off the field. Prior to the success of Josiane and Marie Loudes, I was happy to be present for Judex Lefou success at the 1987 All Africa Games in Kenya where he won the first Gold medal for Mauritius. It was such a memorable event, and it got the attention of Africa. The victory proclaimed Mauritius had finally arrived on the scene among the other countries in Africa.
Coaching Francois Christian Boda to break the National Record in the 400 meters is another wonderful memory. I cannot forget my first year coaching in Mauritius. That was the year when Christian forecasted he was going to break the national record in the media, and be the first Mauritian to run the 400 meters under 50 seconds. Many people including the Honorable Minister of Sports, Mr. Michael Glover fill the National Stadium in February to boost him to his goal! The energy was high and, guess what? He won – he won in not 50 seconds but in 48 seconds. The folks in the stands went wild with joy!
In 1988, Christian Boda beat the top 400 meter runner from Madagascar. At the 1985 Indian Ocean Games, this same runner from Madagascar embarrassed the Mauritian 400 meter runners by waving to the crowd with 200 meters to go – in the event that he would win the event – Christian’s victory is even sweeter. Now, moving on, in 1990, Christian was the first Mauritian to win the 100 meters in the Indian Ocean Games. He also won other races – the 200m and, I think, the 400m. You can correct me on the 400m. He also ran on the 4 x 100m relay and 4 x 400m relay and ended up winning five medals. I think this is a record accomplishment for a participant in the Indian Ocean Games but maybe Buckland or Milazar have been able to win as many medals in the Indian Ocean Games afterward. Regardless, the results were outstanding.
Christian also had a gutty performance in the next Indian Ocean Games, anchoring the 4 x 400m Relay team to victory in one of the most exciting race of the games history and winning at the finish line – beating the Madagascar team in the Seychelles.
Although there are many more, I could mention, I will stop with Jane Thondejee, now Jane Jackson. I invited Jane to train with me after watching her perform in the National School Championship (intercollege). She won the 100 meters running barefoot. Jane ended up making the national team. I was able to get her a track scholarship to St. Augustine College in America, where she set the National Record in the 100 meters and 200 meter. The records still stand today. And when she was attending St. Augustine College in America she beat Marion Jones in a 200 meter race where she set the Mauritius National Record that exist until now.
Question 3: How would you qualify your experience in Mauritius?
Mauritius was exceedingly rewarding for me. I have already mentioned a few of the athletes that easily come to mind. Their increased mobility – to learn the importance of vision and discipline and maturity on the field, to obtain an education, to earn a livelihood for themselves and their families, and to contribute to humankind – made working in Mauritius very meaningful.
No coach can ever claim all the glory that athletes and those who love sports achieve. You have to appreciate the context that supports their success and development. First, you have the athletes’ foundation – their communities, families and friends. Community structures will care for them when they win and when they do not. Families and friends will boost them on to train another day. They will stand up for them during the good and bad times. If I could add one more activity to what we did in Mauritius, it would be to have Athletes’ Give-Back Days to community, family, and friends.
Beyond community, family, and friends providing the foundation for athletic success, you had the superstructure in Mauritius that contributed to that same success. In my 19 years of coaching in Africa, I came to know and appreciate the importance of the superstructure- the local and national governmental groups – particularly the Ministry of Sports- that influence coach selection, the quality of practice fields and available equipment and uniforms, and sometimes even athletes’ access to nutritious food. I recall Mr. Akioke, the National Director of Sports in Nigeria. He not only gave Lee Evans and me the opportunity to coach but also provided unlimited support to develop a top-quality track and field team for Nigeria – the first to beat Kenya (68 to 63) in the 1978 All Africa Games in Algeria, where we accumulated the most medals and points scored.
Such experiences afforded me the insight to appreciate the work of leaders in Mauritius – leaders such as the Honorable Michael Glover, former Minister of Sports in Mauritius. When I arrived in Mauritius in 1986 on a Sports America Goodwill Program, it was to assist with the preparations for the Mauritius National Team for the 1986 Commonwealth Games. I was very impressed with the vision of Mr. Glover and the outstanding work the Mauritius Amateur Athletic Federation was doing at that time. Mr. Glover offered a contract for me to return as the National Coach. I did not hesitate to accept the contract because, in meetings with Mr. Glover, I could tell this person wanted to see Mauritians successful on the international scene. And he believed it could happen. He made an impact in sports going to a higher level. Man, he turned it around! One of the most important highlights of his administration – and there were many, was to tie athletes to educational access. Athletes could obtain a university education. While they trained to win competitions, they studied to become champions for life.
Because of the importance of tying sports and education and the importance of officials who understand the role of sports in building citizenship, I want to take a few more minutes here to emphasize the impact of forward thinking by officials in sports. Before Christian Boda, came to track and field, he was a prison guard. He first trained as an athlete during the day; then he worked as a guard at night. I said to myself that this can’t continue for a national athlete who is also capable of qualifying for a university education. Honorable Glover and others felt the same way and encouraged me to identify educational openings for Christian and other athletes. This is how Christian obtained a full scholarship to attend Oklahoma Baptist University. Again, this is where Judex Lefou,, Ricky Wai Choon, and Desere Piere Louis all ended up and received their degrees. Christian, Judex, and Ricky played a major role at the school, winning its first Outdoor National Championship in Track and Field. Ricky Wai Choon made All-American Academic Honors that was also an outstanding accomplishment. The Mauritian Athletes are all in the Hall of Fame at Oklahoma Baptist University and will be remembered for a very long time for the impact they made at that school -bringing a National Championship, setting many school records, and graduating with academic success.
Question #3B: I see and hear that you are passionate about the role of sports in building citizenship and providing citizens with the skills to develop highly, rewarding productive lives.
Absolutely! You got that right! I can talk for days about sports, upward mobility, and leadership.
The first Mauritian athlete to attend a university in America was Sandra Groviden. We were able to arrange for a full scholarship for her at Iowa State University. She also was successful there academically not only improving her performance but contributing to the school’s success at the conference championships. She also graduated in 4 years – the first Mauritian to get a university degree from the Sports and Study Program developed by Honorable Mr. Glover and me.
Other athletes received scholarships from U.S. colleges and universities – Pascal Face, Christophe Cure, Barnabe Jolicoeur, Jane Thondjee now Jane Jackson, Christine Durverge, Gibert Ha Shan, Gilliane Quirin and Gilliane Edwards. Edwards transferred from LaGrange College to Oklahoma Baptist University, along with Desiere Pierre Louis, Lisebeth Curpanen and Stephon Driver.
Christophe DuMee is the most recent student-athlete from Mauritius to attend the University of South Alabama in Mobile, Alabama. Christophe graduated with academic honors and is now married to Jessica Miller DuMee. How did this happen? Again, Honorable Glover’s hands are positively in the mix! He contacted me when I was coaching at the University of South Alabama, and that was all I needed to jump at the opportunity to recruit Christophe. Ironically, when Honorable Glover contacted me, I was heavily recruiting Jessica, Jessica Miller at that time, from Uruguay. There were so many schools in America trying to recruit Jessica, but she finally decided to come to the University of South Alabama. Christophe and Jessica successfully graduated with academic honors and are now married. They are now living in Mauritius. Guess you might say that I am a good coach and marriage arranger! Just kidding, but I do remember both of them so very fondly.
All the Mauritian athletes were successful in getting their degrees but were also good ambassadors for Mauritius at their respective schools. They had positive visibility because they were model citizens of the world. Not too many people in America knew about Mauritius. However, because of these athletes’ leadership and their success in the classroom and on the track, many more folks in the USA came to know about Mauritius. They brought a lot of positive attention to themselves and Mauritius
Christine Duverge is now Dr. Christine Duverge, a Professor teaching French at one of the top universities in the state of California. I recently heard from her and was quite happy learn that she is about to have her first book published.
I also keep in touch with Ricky Wai Choon. We have met a number of times in California and once in Georgia. I have met his wife and children. They are wonderful and quite engaging. Ricky is always taking me to lunch at the best Thai restaurants. He travels all over the world using his knowledge from his university degree at the highest academic level. Did I add that Rickey received ALL American Academic Honors that is given to student – athletes in America universities for having a Grade Point of almost All A’s in all their subjects?
Now, I cannot forget Jeewajee Isram, whom I assisted to attend a sports administration course in Malawi. Jeewajee made such an impact on the course. He impressed officials, making it possible for us to arrange for him to attend a university in Ohio, where he earned a Masters Degree in Sports Administration/Management. The degree was a stepping stone to enable him to eventually get the position as a personal assistant to the President of IAAF.
Now, I have mentioned the role of community, family, friends, and government in the success of athletes and athletic coaching. Well, the international community is also important. The Sports and Studies Program, Honorable Glover of the Ministry of Sports, and I were able to assist athletes for many reasons. Some of the reasons touched on the work of U.S. Ambassador Ronald Palmer when he was the Ambassador in Mauritius. Ambassador Palmer wanted to make a difference, and he did.
All of us wanted to give Mauritian athletes the opportunity to have a higher quality of life once their careers in track and field ended. I have mentioned only a few examples to demonstrate the remarkable vision that we had and the courage of the athletes of trust us and themselves. The Mauritian athletes mentioned and other athletes as well attest to the fact that they are far better off now with a university degree. Athletics, in this case, track & field, contributed to their professional lives.
Lest you think that some of the athletes are too old to compete or are no longer competing, let me quickly mention that Christian Boda is still performing with success at the Masters Level. [Jimson’s Note: Born in 1964, his PRs for the 100m and 200m are 10.64 & 21.24] He plans to run in the World Championship in a few months. Oh yes, some of the athletes challenge me to race from time to time on the Internet. Now, that would be interesting!
Question 4: What do you think was the status of Mauritian athletics at the time you took over, and you left?
Mauritian athletics was well on its way, when I arrived. There many signs of progressive thinking and leadership in and around the Mauritius Amateur Athletic Federation. And the Mauritian athletes were ready. There were the “Golden Girls” – Sandra Groviden, Christine Duverge, Patrica Serret, Shelia Vapoury, Sheila Seebaluck, Christine Bechard – ruling the headlines. Along with them, there were Marie Lourdes Allysamba and Maryse. Judex Lefou, Karl Paul, Daniel Andre, Christian Boda, Dennis Kisnorbo, Bruno Potanan were making a name for track and field at the same time.
I was fortunate also to start coaching the youth – Kathy Louis, Daniel Lavigilliante, Lisebeth Curpanen, Jane Thondjee, Dario Lascie, Bruno Mikale, and Desiere Pierre Louis. I can also mention and many other athletes, including Marie Helene Rumjam, Eric Cando, George Batour, Glles Brelu-Brelu, Berand Aguste, Norbert Barbe, Dominic Myeyepa, J C Pirogue. Daniel and Yvan Flor to name a few.
Of course, there was also Josiane Boule. When I invited Josiane Boule to join me, I remember a comment in one of the newspapers questioning the invitation. Supposedly, she was too old to become a stellar athlete at the national level. Well, history confirms the correctness of that invitation and challenges our concept of age. Josiane’s outstanding national records still exists in the record books as well as being the first female track and field athlete to win a medal at the African Championships.
In a nutshell, when I arrived, sports in Mauritius was moving forward in a positive way and, I’d like to think, that I and so many others made a contribution to its future success.
Question 5: Do you believe that athletics had developed like it should have been since when you left?
The Mauritius Athletic Association has done an excellent job in a number of areas. Athletes have been coached well, performed well, and gained the necessary skills for life after those competitive years in sports. Some athletes have even entered the world of coaching – taking the theories and practices of what they have learned to a higher level and contributing to the next generation of athletes in the country. There are no doubt the results of Buckland and Milazar have taken athletics in Mauritius to a higher level internationally with their outstanding performances. Buckland and Milazar results have shown that Mauritian athletes can still compete at the level to win international championships and Olympic medals.
So, of course, the results are clear – significant improvements in athletics have continued since my departure. And, here I do mean that athletics did not stop moving forward when I departed. That is a crystal clear fact. However, we cannot become complacent with success. With the support of communities, families, friends, and ministry, I’d like to see even more athletes training hard to qualify for scholarships and taking advantage of educational opportunities in Mauritius, the USA, and elsewhere.
Hopefully, we will see more former athletes giving back to their communities and the nation by becoming involved in the Mauritius Athletic Association. By giving back for gigantic leaps forward, I mean that, with their university education and knowledge gained when they competed, they move sports, citizenship, and leadership forward.
Question 6: Did you expect that athletes like Buckland and Milazar would have emerged from such a program?
Yes, of course! The examples are there with Bruno Mikale, who was the first Mauritius Athlete to advance to the IAAF World Junior Championship Semi Finals running 800 meters. He still holds the National Junior Record for the event. Do not forget Desiere Pierre Louis, who recorded 1:48.22 the first time he ran the event in 1994. He liked the 400 meter and placed 3 rd in the Francophone Games that year. I could not convince him the 800 meters was his event. When he ran the 1:48.22, he beat a few of the top 800 meters runners in America in a meet in Florida. Do not forget the young lady that finished 3 rd behind Josiane Boulle when she won the silver medal in the 1998 African Championships eventually won a gold medal at the 1992 Olympic Games.
The above comments are not to take away from the outstanding success of Buckland and Milazar. There is no doubt that they had a natural talent. And, more to the point, they were not afraid to work hard and maintain their discipline to make them exceedingly successful. Their success surely brought international attention and the highest respect to Mauritius. Their successes and glories demonstrated that there were and are potential world champions and Olympic Medalist in the country. These two successful athletes were excellent ambassadors for Mauritius. They carried themselves with respect and the highest discipline when competing and meeting people from around the world.
Question 7: Have you followed closely, even in being far away from Mauritius, the impressive progress of these two athletes?
I did follow the progress of Buckland and Milazar throughout their careers, hoping they could win a medal at the Olympic Games or the World Championship. This would have been a great story internationally and putting Mauritius on the world map. In looking back, I wish Milazar would have had the opportunity to get coaching, at one time or another, from the great Lee Evans. Lee is so very knowledgeable about the event. I say this because of the system we had at San Jose State University when the athletes had 13 World Records – Tommie Smith had 11 of them. The system is now being implemented in Jamaica by former athletes who were our team members.
Glen Mills, the coach of Usain Bolt, has said Bud Winters inspired his coaching career and contributed to his approach to coaching Bolt. Now, these are big words because Bud Winters was our great coach at San Jose State University, and Bolt became the fastest man on the planet and world record holder. Do you see the connection between the coaching techniques and styles that we learned at San Jose State University and contributions of what we learned to advance future track and field? Many articles contain descriptions of how San Jose State University’s former athletes have played a major role in producing Olympic Champions and world record holders in Jamaica. Bud Winters our coach gave us this knowledge. Many coaches’ successes in the sprints, today has come from the knowledge of our great Coach Bud Winters. For example, Lee Evans is a scientist when it comes to knowledge in the 400 meter event.
As I previously mentioned about Christian Boda’s beating the runner from Madagascar in the 400 meters in the race in Mauritius in 1988, the success of Christian was his willing to work hard. He had the will to win. Equally as important, when he came off the curve the last 100 meters in that race, it was the San Jose Sprint Form and Arm Action that helped him to win.
Lee Evans and I watched Usain Bolt perform in the 2009 IAAF World Championships. We understood everything Bolt was doing in his race. Lee Evans made a comment at that time how it would have been interesting to see what a race it could have been between Tommie Smith and Usain Bolt because of the same type of training and Sprint Form Technique from San Jose State’s Bud Winters.
Question 8: We have now undoubtedly reached the end of a cycle with these two athletes’ success. What do you think should now be done to start a new cycle on the right track?
The planning and organization of the Mauritius Athletic Association are in place. The Mauritius Athletic Associate is well ahead of many countries with their outstanding program for the young people with different age groups. I will say when I was in Maurice, I was highly impressed with Mr. Gabreal Jules and the outstanding work he did with young people. He made a major contribution to developing a foundation for many youths that led to their success.
Sooner or later another Buckland or Milazar will rise from the program. Many countries around the world continue to send their promising athletes to American universities. Jamaica sends many to not only get an education but also to improve with training and competitions the system offers. I recruited a young lady from Nigeria to attend the University of South Alabama. She arrived when she was 17 years old and graduated. She also won the Gold Medal in the 400 meter hurdle event at the 2010 Commonwealth Games. This is an example of the type of planning that needs strong consideration.
I feel Jamaica has the model – how a country can work with a system similar to what Mauritius has developed for young people. The difference is Jamaica has taken advantage of the America University system to fit it into the local system for development. On this point, I return to Bud Winters, and the importance of taking advantage of learned lessons and best practices sustain athletic success.
As Frank Dick, former Director of Coaching for the UK Athletics mentioned about our former University coach Mr. Bud Winters: “For Bud, there is no hiding behind science. Instead, there is a real understanding of people and science’s relevance to the athlete development process. Every coaching decision is filtered through a unique expertise and that tough educator we call experience.” Coach Winters’ student-athletics learned from him and took that knowledge and their experiences on the field to train and teach the next generation of other athletes. That knowledge and teaching are as relevant yesterday, and they are relevant today. There is something to be gained from understanding the significance of those lessons learned and best practices when training today’s athletes and preparing for those of the future. There is not only something to gain from this message, but something to be considered as well.
Question 9: What could you bring to Mauritius in this respect?
There are many potential young athletes and Olympians in Africa looking for the opportunity to attend a university in America to train, compete, and prepare for an upwardly mobile life. No doubt about it – getting an education while competing and training for track and field are life-altering experiences. Dr. Edwin Moses of the USA and Dr. Mike Boit of Kenya have developed this point on many occasions. They emphasize the importance of providing athletes – those who go on to win medals at the Olympics Games and world championships and those who simply love sports- with the life and professional skills necessary to maintain upwardly mobile lives. Higher education provides such skills.
With the assistance of Dr. Edwin Moses, Dr. Mike Boit, and others, I am working on the Atlanta Plan, a project designed to offer athletes the opportunity to obtain higher education degrees. The project is based at Clark Atlanta University, a university in Atlanta, Georgia that is led by President Carlton Brown. We already have African students enrolled in Clark Atlanta University’s graduate school programs. I would love to work with the Mauritius Ministry of Sports or Mauritius Athletic Association to include former athletes or potential student-athletes in this endeavor. Similarly, I am interested in assisting athletes to receive sports and studies scholarship to other American colleges and universities.
Question 10: Do you believe the Atlanta Plan has a role to play in the development of today’s Mauritian athletes and that the Atlanta Plan could support future growth and development in Mauritius?
Absolutely!! I remain in contact with the vast majority of athletes that I trained – those that gained higher education degrees in Mauritius and those that did the same in the USA. The point is that higher education strengthened their life’s chances. They all remain loyal to Mauritius, committed to its transformation, and determined to assume their roles in the development. They are productive citizens, symbolize the discipline and determination of youth, and have become mature, highly respected citizens of the nation and world
I stress higher education in the USA because I currently live there and because my mind is always searching to identify ways that I might give back to Mauritius. When the Atlanta Plan was developed, I immediately thought of Mauritius, its athletes preparing for international competitions, and their productive lives after the long years of competition. I, as well as others, want to make a difference, and the Atlanta Plan can be a way to make it happen.