Thursday, February 21, 2008

"The New Olympians" in the Chattanooga Olympic Zone

In escaping the shadows of winter, it's time to push aside memories of tearful apologies from an Olympic champion and an ugly fight on Capital Hill featuring one of baseball’s greatest pitchers and his former trainer. In regards to recent months in the world of sport, it’s fair to be asking yourself, "Should I be more optimistic or pessimistic about the upcoming Olympic season?"

A week ago, I may have thought twice about how to answer that question myself but that was then – this is now. Since that time, I traveled to San Marcos, Texas to watch the first of the qualifying races for the Olympic Whitewater Canoe/Kayak Trials, which will be contested later this spring in Charlotte, North Carolina. This kind of event isn't as much about who moves on to the next level of Olympic qualification but much more about who doesn’t. In this case, the standouts were young whitewater racers, such as 10 year-old, Chelsea Bornemann, getting their first rub with the Olympic Games and wearing smiles equal to any Gold Medalist you’ll find in Beijing. Check it out right here:

Back in Chattanooga, Baylor Swim Coach, Dan Flack is getting ready to oversee daily swim practice. His varsity athletes file into a top-flight, state-of-the-art aquatic center that shouts, “Serious Swimming Here.” But, strike up a conversation with Baylor star swimmers, Alison Lusk, who is preparing for U.S. Olympic Trials, or Brad Hamilton, who is hoping to represent is Jamaica at the Olympics in China, surprisingly, they’re not talking about personal bests or Gold Medals. Instead, they're talking enthusiastically about representing their school, their families, and what it means to be good teammates. To me, as an Olympic Gold Medalist, it's music to my ears. It’s as if these young athletes are saying, “Don’t worry, the future of the Olympics are going to be ok.”

To be honest, I’m not too surprised – I kind of expected this. A few hours earlier, I’m sitting pool-side waiting for our camera crew to set up, Coach Flack and I get into a frank conversation about coaching philosophy. Most coaches love talking about their star athletes and how far they could go in sport. But, Coach Flack is different. This energetic and value-driven coach really lights up when he talks about helping young people take ownership of their dreams, becoming better citizens, and developing an appreciation for “the process” over and above “results.”

At the end of our interview, I ask Coach Flack about what he looks for in good role models for his athletes. He speaks about people who appear to have meteoric rises but in fact, overcame real challenges life challenges and persevered. But the question was answered before I asked – the right role model for tomorrow’s Olympians is sitting right in front of me.


Catch Coach Flack's Chattanooga Olympic Zone profile on Tuesday, February 26, 2008 on Channel 3's Eyewitness News at 6pm or right here on later that evening on the Chattanooga Olympic Zone blog.

1 comment:

Mike said...

I had the good fortune of working with Joe before during and after the 2000 Olympics. I think it's important to point out that Joe is not only a great athlete (and coach) but someone who lives the Olympic ideal in everything he does. Joe gives elite sport a good name, especially noteworthy during times when others top athletes are motived by greed. Mike Lewis