New Jersey's Andrew Valmon named Olympic coach

It was an Olympian conversation for the ages - the mid-90ish silver medalist  of the 1912 Stockholm Games chatting it up with the 20-something lad just back from the 1988 Seoul Olympics, and now adorned with the first of the two gold medals he’d collect in a remarkable Olympic career.

       The setting was the Lakehurst Diner in Central New Jersey. The gathering was of Manchester Township’s two celebrated, New York-born notables.

    The nonagenarian was the amazingly still-sprightly Abel Kiviat, who’d twice set world records in the 1,500 meters, the man who headed to Stockholm in ‘12 heavily favored to bring home the 1,500 gold, but who settled for the silver in a huge upset fashioned by Great Britain’s Arnold Strode Jackson.

     The 20-something young man was Andrew Valmon, the graduate of Manchester Township High School, just a few miles east of Lakehurst, and of South Orange, NJ’s Seton Hall University, who’d run a sizzling 4x400 relay leadoff leg in the semifinals at Seoul (thus earning a gold when USA took the final.)

   (Kiviat would pass away just before the 1992 Barcelona Olympics took place. Valmon, the other Manchesterite, would reach the top of the podium there with great 4x400 leadoff legs in both the semis and finals.)

    Their respective Olympics had taken place an astounding 76 years apart, and their
Games had differed so dramatically.  But they still shared that ultimate pride of performance and achievement garnered by Olympians and record-breakers of every vintage.

   Kiviat got to his Games by slow boat to Sweden. Valmon reached the Olympics by jetting off to Korea and then Spain.  But they got to their respective medal stands the old-fashioned way, by running their buns off in training, by putting it all on the line when it counted most.

    “I have tremendous respect for everything you’ve done,” Valmon told Kiviat.

    “Young man, I can tell that you’re going to go far in life,’ Kiviat told Valmon.

    Kiviat is gone, but all these years later, he has been proven right, all over again.

    Valmon, who now serves as head coach at the University of Maryland, was named
Thursday as head coach of the USA men’s team bound for the London Games of 2012 (which, most interestingly, will mark the centenary of Kiviat’s Games of 1912.)

   Final approval of Valmon’s appointment must still be made by the US Olympic Committee, but that’s considered a mere formality.

   The job of head coach of a USA Olympic team is no easy chore.

   Just ask the University of Texas’ Bubba Thornton, who had to shoulder the heavy burden of explaining how the USA 4x100 relay team had managed to botch its
exchanges and run itself out of the Games, and of doing the arithmetic and coming up with the same medal count as all his critics, a mere four golds, five silvers and five bronzes (that from a nation that had an astounding 15 men’s golds in 1956, and 30 total men’s medals in 1952.)

   His biggest Olympic assignment may just be to assure that his 2012 runners, jumpers, throwers and racewalkers are at their absolute peaks on the day they report for action.

   Many an Olympian has either peaked too early simply to make the team at the Final Trials, or has slacked off once the original goal (simply making the team) has been reached.

  Andrew Valmon - who now becomes the first gold medalist ever to serve as a men’s Olympic head coach - vows to bring his team to London in both peak physical condition and peak mental attitude.

   Valmon has already huddled with 2000 USA Olympic coach John Chaplin on the vital nuances of getting a team to the Games in top form.  He’ll be certain to confer with as many other Olympic head coaching predecessors, too, in coming months.

   A frequent global traveler, he knows the Olympic world is getting much wider.

   Once upon a time, just a handful of nations - USA, Soviet Union, Germany (East and West), Great Britain, etc - hogged the top positions in all the medal tables.

  Well, certainly no more.  Just look what one man, Usain Bolt, has done to Jamaica’s place in the
Olympic hierarchy.

   Andrew and Meredith Rainey Valmon - she a two-time Olympian (like her husband, out of Brooklyn) and NCAA 800-meter champion for Harvard - now live in Rockville, Maryland and are the parents of three.

  Once upon a time, Andrew Valmon’s favorite sport was basketball, and he starred on the hardwood for the Manchester High School Hawks.

   It took a whole lot of coaxing and heavy-duty arm-twisting by Manchester track coach Bob Conover to get him out for track in the spring.

   At first, a single lap around the Manchester track felt as long as a marathon.

   “There was a lot of pain I didn’t appreciate at the time,” Valmon would recollect years later.

  But then he was saying it with a smile.

  He’d traveled light years in his attitude to his new and now-favorite sport, and jetted to some far corners of the planet competing on the global circuit.  His basketball-centric days were long gone.

 Harking back to the Lakehurst Diner, Valmon had worlds of admiration for all that Kiviat had achieved.  And Kiviat knew that Valmon had what it took to take on the world, then as a runner, and all these years later, as the man who’d lead America onto the world stage.