An Elyria connection played a role in jump-starting the track career of Tianna Madison.
Betsy Riccardi, a 1977 Elyria High grad, is the wife of Brooks Johnson, Madison’s new coach. Riccardi is also the former teammate of Jackie Below, Madison’s high school coach, and a friend of Bobby and JoAnn Madison, Tianna’s parents. Bobby Madison is a ’76 Elyria High grad.
The 73-year-old Johnson is a U.S. Track and Field Hall of Famer who has coached at the Olympic level for half a century.
Johnson was instrumental in Tianna’s third-place finish in the 100-meter dash at the U.S. Track and Field Championships on June 25 at Drake University. He had only coached Madison for about a month, but the relationship goes back even further.
Without a coach for two years, Madison was referred to Johnson by sprinter Oushami Robinson, a 1999 graduate of Columbus Brookhaven.
But Tianna already had a good inkling about Johnson. She first met him six years ago.
“My family all went to Brooks’ house my freshman year in college,” said Tianna. “It’s really a small world.”
A 1996 inductee of the Elyria Sports Hall of Fame, Riccardi was a Division I state champ for the Pioneers as a member of the 880-yard medley relay and a five-time All-Ohio sprinter.
Riccardi also well remembers the Madisons’ visit to her home Tianna’s freshman year.
“It was a joy having her family over,” said Riccardi. “It was such a joy to see such a close, sweet family. Obviously, they love each other very much. They had a lot of fun. They laughed the whole time.”
Riccardi ran in college for Eastern Michigan and later became head track coach at the University of Toledo (1984-88). She was also an assistant for both Stanford and California Poly at San Luis Obispo.
“I’ve known Bobby since we went to Franklin Heights Junior High together,” said Riccardi, age 50. “Bobby was always a super nice guy in high school with a great smile. It’s just kind of funny that it’s come full circle.”
Riccardi and Johnson met in 1987. They both were recruiting at the same meet. The couple has two sons, Brooks R., 15, and Cole, 12.
“If you’re in track you know Brooks,” said Riccardi. “I went to conventions (as a coach) and read different things that he wrote, but didn’t think too much about it at all. We first met when we were at a high school indoor track meet at Harvard University. I was recruiting for Toledo and he was recruiting for Stanford. That’s where we met.”
Johnson’s sprint coach left so he offered Riccardi an assistant’s job at Stanford. Riccardi was Johnson’s assistant for four years before Johnson left for Cal Poly. She followed him there two years later.
Riccardi’s been hooked on track almost her whole life.
“Elyria High track was such a great experience,” said Riccardi, an elementary school teacher in Orlando. “I still have a lot of friends from that. Jackie’s still a close friend of mine. It was a great experience. It definitely moved me in the direction I am now.”
Riccardi’s been out of coaching since the mid-1990s, busy raising their two sons. Both boys are involved in track as well as in music.
“Brooks called me after Tianna’s final at nationals,” said Riccardi. “He said, ‘Elyria was represented well today.’ I said what do you mean? He said, ‘She did Elyria proud. That girl got third place.’ They were very, very pleased. He said he was so proud of her and so happy for her. She’s had a rough couple of years. He was so pleased for her.”
Johnson and Riccardi are impressed with Madison’s resume.
“She’s a tough competitor,” said Riccardi. “She won the 2005 World championships (for long jump) in the pouring rain even though she wasn’t one of the top-seeded athletes. She rose to the occasion. She rose to the top. Brooks compliments her all the time what a tough competitor and hard worker she is. She’s very, very smart.”
Johnson is optimistic about Madison.
“She’s a very impressive athlete,” said Johnson. “We spoke at a meet in San Juan, Puerto Rico. I told her if she wanted someone to keep an eye on her to come on out to (the ESPN Wide World of Sports Track Complex at) Disney World. She did. I was immediately impressed with her ability to grasp concepts and convert them into performance. She did exactly what she needed to to get the best result.”