Jason Rouser keeps his 1996 Olympic gold medal tucked away in a safe and takes it out only for special occasions.
Rouser, now 52, grabbed it a few weeks ago for the Junior West Coast National Championship in Reno, Nevada, so the next era of track and field athletes could get the chance to see it up close.
The Lawton native was a part of the 4x400 meter relay team that won gold at the Atlanta Summer Olympics. As the team’s alternate, he ran in the early heat rounds. Rouser was also a three-time All-American sprinter at the University of Oklahoma and is the school’s most recent gold medalist in track.
Since then, he has moved to Dade City, Florida, his wife’s hometown, and works for Pasco County. He also coaches the local youth and spent time as an assistant coach at the University of South Florida.
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“It’s very special,” said Rouser, speaking on what Norman means to him. “Being able to represent Oklahoma and the United States will always hold a special place in my heart.”
To this day, Rouser still keeps up with his “relay brothers” from the Olympics — LaMont Smith, Alvin Harrison, Derek Mills and Anthuan Maybank. He also met and became close friends with legendary track athlete Carl Lewis, who won nine Olympic gold medals and is now the head coach at the University of Houston.
For Rouser, it wasn’t until his senior year of college when professional sprinting seemed like a career option. At the time, he was the No. 1-ranked collegiate sprinter in the 400-meter indoor event but failed to reach the finals at the 1994 national championships in Indianapolis.
Although he didn’t advance, he was approached by Reebok Racing Club for a potential spot on its team after graduation. The next spring, he ran the second-fastest 400-meter time in the world, behind only Michael Johnson, at none other than the John Jacobs Invitational in Norman.
“That’s when everything started to come together,” Rouser said. “I was like, ‘maybe I can do this for a living for a little while.’ And sure enough, nine years later, I was able to do that (career). It was a blessing for sure.”
From small town Lawton to the bright lights of the Olympics, Rouser takes his humble beginnings with him to every stop of his life.
“Lawton has always been special to me,” Rouser said. “The Olympics were a dream come true. (Lawton) is a small area, but there (are) some athletes that actually made it out and did pretty well for themselves. And I’m glad to be a part of that.”