David Neville III dives for bronze in Beijing (© AFP / Getty Images)
It was a splitsecond decision that forever changed the career of David Neville III as he was fading down the homestretch of the Olympic 400m final with a bronze medal slipping away.
Instinctively, Neville dove across the finish belly first to secure third by four hundredths of a second to complete a U.S. medal sweep with compatriots LaShawn Merritt and Jeremy Wariner.
The “dive” as Neville calls it became the signature moment for a breakthrough campaign in 2008.
“What I was really trying to do was get a super lean going, I just ended up leaning too far and couldn't get my feet,” Neville said. “That turned into looking like a dive or as some have told me `Superman’.’’
Neville said that a brisk early pace in the final began taking its toll and he instinctively decided to lunge at the finish. It was only the second time that Neville has ever dived at the finish – the first was at the 2007 Pan American Games to earn a silver medal.
“I didn't really know what was going to happen and I didn't know what to do,” Neville said about the Beijing 400m final. “In the last split second I just told my self give it all you have, just lean for it.”
The bronze in the 400m was the first of two medals in Beijing that also included a gold medal as part of the U.S. 4 x 400m Relay. For Neville, the effort in the 400m remains most significant.
“I know that I put all the work in myself where as with the relay it was a group effort. I am extremely proud of the Gold in the relay but the open 400m just happens to mean more to me because of the self effort.”
Move to California
Neville, 24, credited his Beijing showing to his move from his native Indiana to Los Angeles in August 2007 to train under John Smith.
“I know that last season was only my first with John Smith and that makes me very excited,” Neville said.
Working with Smith, in a training group that includes Torri Edwards, Leroy Dixon and Tyrone Edgar, Neville clocked a career-best 44.61 in the U.S. Olympic Trials to finish third for the last and final U.S. Olympic berth after running a season-best 45.24 in 2007.
“I am really able to focus on what I am trying to do in my career,” Neville said. “Most importantly, I have the opportunity to train with a great coach in John Smith and that was the biggest effect in my decision to move out here.”
The move to California, the cinematic capital of the world has also been a boost for his wife Arial Neville, an aspiring actress.
After the Olympics, Neville returned to Indiana in September where he was honored at his alma mater Merrillville High and had a day named in his honor.
Neville won a silver medal in the 200m in the 2003 Pan-American Junior Games and was a three-time Big-10 Conference champion in the 400m at Indiana University.
Neville’s first love, however, is music. He has been playing music since the fourth grade and plays at his church, the Santa Clarita Christian fellowship, and played snare drum for the Indiana University Marching Hundred band for two years where he graduated with a degree in Music Education in 2007. After his athletics career, Neville would like to teach music at middle school or high school.
Currently, Neville teaches bible study at his church in a ministry named ‘Out The Box Ministries’ which caters to high school graduates through to age 30.
Neville lives in the Santa Clarita Valley, a suburb of Los Angeles whose residents also include 2004 and 2008 Olympic silver 200m medalist Allyson Felix and two-time reigning World 100m Hurdles champion Michelle Perry.
In October, Neville and Felix were honoured by the Santa Clarita City Council along with the city’s other Beijing Olympians, softball player Crystl Bustos, skeet shooter Kim Rhode and Mike Day, a silver medalist in BMX.
Neville and his wife along with Felix and her boyfriend 400m Hurdler Ken Ferguson participate in a bowling league in Santa Clarita on a team called ‘The Four By Four’.
“It's pretty nice knowing that I am not the only elite athlete living up in this area,” said Neville.
The 24-year-old Neville has plenty of company in the 400m in the U.S. with Merritt and Wariner, who combined for the world’s top 16 performances in 2008. Neville, who will not compete indoors, said he will be ready for their challenge in 2009.
“I knew that I was going to have very tough competition with Jeremy and LaShawn,” Neville said. “That competition always makes you strive to be greater. So they are only helping and pushing me.”
“I plan to have a great (2009) season. I will be stronger and faster. So this year, the times will drop and I will move higher up the rankings.”
Kirby Lee for the IAAF