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What does it take to be an Olympic champion? Ask Monique Henderson Phillip Brents | Fri, Jul 27 2012 03:04 PM

Five-time Olympian (1988-2004) and three-time Olympic gold medalist Yolanda Gail Devers, a 1984 graduate of Sweetwater High School, is the South Bay’s living track and field legend. The school’s football stadium is named in her honor; her records at the National City school may last a lifetime — or two.

Monique Henderson was among the legion of San Diego high school stars who followed in her footsteps, emulating her greatness and reaching for the stars.

Henderson, who now lives in Eastlake after standout careers at Morse High School and UCLA, was among the select few who extended that reach to include an Olympic gold medal. In her case, there were actually two — both as a member of the U.S. 4x400 relay team at the 2004 Athens Games and 2008 Beijing Games.

Henderson remains the only four-time 400-meter dash champion (1998-2001) in the history of the California high school state track and field championship meet. In 2000, she became the first high school athlete to make the U.S. Olympic track and field team since 1976, earning honors as the national female high school athlete of the year from Track and Field News.

At UCLA, Devers’ alma mater, Henderson became a five-time Pac 10 champion and set a new NCAA record of 50.10 seconds in winning the 400 dash (2005).

Now retired, she continues to keep her hand on the pulse of running in the San Diego region. She was a guest celebrity at May’s San Diego Section track and field championship meet at Mt. Carmel High School, handing out medals.

Her outlook remains positive.

“It’s great to see all these young people get started with their dreams,” she said at the CIF finals. “This is just the starting point for many of them.”

But what does it take to be an Olympic champion? Henderson didn’t hesitate to answer.

“You’ve got to be completely dedicated and committed to your goal,” she said. Most importantly, she said, “You can’t be scared to fail.”

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