Kojo sits down with Gary Cohen, recipient of the 2015 MacArthur "genius" grant, to find out more about his work promoting environmentally sustainable practices in hospitals and healthcare settings worldwide.
Andrew Valmon will coach America’s finest track and field athletes at the London Olympics later this month. But on the home front, Valmon, also the head track coach at the University of Maryland, is fighting for the survival of his program. Valmon joins us to discuss the challenges and rewards of both of his coaching jobs, and the business of collegiate athletics.
- Andrew Valmon Head Coach, U.S. Olympic Track & Field; Head Coach, University of Maryland Track & Field; Gold Medalist, 1988, 1992 Olympic Summer Games
MR. KOJO NNAMDIAt the end of the month, the world's greatest athletes will arrive in London with their sights set on Olympic gold. It's a competition that puts a completely unique kind of pressure on elite athletes, pressure that the University of Maryland's head track Coach Andrew Valmon knows all too well. He's a two-time gold medalist himself and he's set to serve at the 2012 games as the head coach of the U.S. men's track and field team.
MR. KOJO NNAMDIBut his athletes back home in Maryland are also under a mountain of pressure with financial burdens weighing down the university's athletic department. The school's men's track program is in danger of being dropped altogether. Valmon is entering uncharted territory working tirelessly to salvage what he can of the men's program. The team cleared a crucial fundraising hurdle just a few weeks ago but the future of men's track at Maryland is still very much in doubt.
MR. KOJO NNAMDIAndrew Valmon joins us in studio. He is the head men's and women's track and field coach at the University of Maryland. Also will serve as the men's head track and field coach at the 2012 Olympic Games. He's a two-time Olympic gold medalist himself. Andrew Valmon, welcome. Good to have you in studio.
MR. ANDREW VALMONThank for having me.
NNAMDIThis has been a stressful past month for your Olympic athletes. They fought through trials during the last few weeks to earn spots in the London Games. But it was your athletes here at the University of Maryland who just might have felt the most under the gun, if you will. Those students and the supporters of the program were fighting against fundraising deadlines just to keep the team alive. You cleared the first hurdle, but what are you looking at now?
VALMONWell, you know, we keep it in the context of a race. We cleared the first hurdle which was the early benchmark in April. So we felt like we had a victory there. And then so we set our sights on that big crucial July 1 deadline and we -- obviously it was a weekend, it was a Saturday. So by that Monday, we wanted to inform the team that we met the second goal. And so now we're gearing up for the second phase, which is probably going to be our biggest phase, but also trying to get that team ready to compete this year.
NNAMDII'm glad you say you're looking at it as a race because I was wondering how your athletes first responded to the devastating news that the program might be lost and what steps they've taken to rise above that kind of disappointment. What was their role? What has their role been in trying to save this program?
VALMONYou know, it's been tough, but one of the things that we try to do is -- you go to college to grow and we wanted to make them stronger men. I mean, ultimately we talked to them about -- there's this transparency -- we talked about everything that was going on and why and the next steps in how we're going to go forward. And one of the things that I can say that's been remarkable for these guys is they've embraced it and so they're behind us. And they know that they have an exciting opportunity. It's a smaller team but it's going to be streamlined but ultimately we're going to try to focus on straight quality.
NNAMDIGlad you mentioned it's a smaller team because as coach, you want the largest team you can get. You want the best athletes you can get. But in interviews that I've read with you, you've always put your students' interests first. What concerns do you have or have you found that your student athletes have during an uncertain year like this? And how have you helped them get to get through this confusing and sometimes devastating process?
VALMONYou know, the first initial period we let them vent. You know, you got to be able to let students be students because, you know, ultimately just saying it's going to be okay is not good enough. And so, you know, it was a tough period early on but now what we've done is we've kinda looked on ways that we can all grow from this experience. And ultimately, I think the guys that will remain will be focused on the future of the program.
VALMONAnd one of the things that I, you know, get asked about is, you know, why take on this challenge. I didn't go to Maryland and I do owe the legacy to people who've run before me that, you know, this was a storied program and it should be around.
NNAMDIHow -- or have many present student athletes considered transferring to another track program at other universities?
VALMONWe had a few. We had a few early on. I think the exodus happened early in the process 'cause students want to get another opportunity to go to school to run. But the majority of them stayed and, you know, they're looking at the future. And, you know, the long term goal is to start here with the outdoor and try to bring back the indoor and then try to bring back the cross country. But you got to start somewhere.
NNAMDIHow has the uncertainty around the men's track program survival affected your ability to recruit new athletes to maintain a continuing program?
VALMONIt's a different mindset. I mean, there's a lot of kids who come to college and they want a combined program. They want to run indoors, they want to run outdoor. But you kind of have to focus on young men that really are looking at individual goals more so than team goals. And the way we'll be successful is a collection of all those individual goals together we'll be that strong team.
NNAMDIWe're talking with Andrew Valmon. He's the head men's and women's track and field coach at the University of Maryland. He'll also be serving as the men's head track and field coach at the 2012 Olympic Games. He's a two-time Olympic gold medalist himself. We're inviting your calls at 800-433-8850.
NNAMDIWhat do you think a university like Maryland gets out of having a competitive athletic program? Would you argue that the average student benefits of the school can feel the top flight team in a revenue sport like football or basketball? And what do you think the University of Maryland stands to lose or gain by its decision to cut several teams from its athletic program? 800-433-8850 is the number to call.
NNAMDIThe track and field season ended in May and your team ended the season well with some athletes competing in the NCAA regional prelims and at nationals. How have you and your athletes maintained such strong focus and such performances at the same time as dealing with these program cuts?
VALMONYou know, I look...
NNAMDIIt's a distraction.
VALMONYeah, I look back and I reflect. I mean, we haven't had two men at the NCAAs in quite some time. And, you know, the meet prior to that, the NCAA regional we had some good representation, had two people on the national teams this summer. So, you know, our kids show the resiliency and I think the big thing is they want Maryland track to be here.
NNAMDIYour team has been safe for the 2012, 2013 year. You mentioned that you have to make some sacrifices. The men's roster has been reduced from almost 30 athletes to what, about 14 now?
NNAMDICross country and indoor seasons have been removed. How were some of those changes decided upon?
VALMONWell, we're still settling on the exact number for the 14 guys, but to meet meet sponsorship, you have to have 14 men. That's the minimal number to have a sponsored NCAA team. So that's how we got to that number. And now we're into the tough decision of figuring out, you know, what that 14 roster looks like. And it's going to take some time and, you know, with some involvement with staff in really trying to make the right decisions 'cause it will affect people's future.
NNAMDIThe indoor track and field program was dropped. What is the relationship between indoor and outdoor seasons? And what are the possible setbacks for your athletes when they can only compete in outdoor?
VALMONWell, there is a strong correlation and so to catch that curve ball, what we've tried to do is we've, you know, got the men prepared that they're going to run unattached to indoor so which they'll have an opportunity -- we have a home meet. We have meets at Mason and meets at the PG Center which will keep them fit because the indoor season is just the jumpstart for the outdoor. So the two work together pretty strongly so running unattached will help them.
NNAMDII know this is thinking ahead down the road. I'm not sure how far down the road you're thinking, but is there any way that the indoor and cross country seasons could be reincorporated someway or down the line?
VALMONYeah, I mean, that's the goal. We've seen it throughout the country. Now Middle Tennessee has done it. West Virginia's looking at bringing their program back. So, you know, ultimately if we just keep the fight, keep raising money and, you know, it's a challenge, but I think it's one that I think we can actually win this battle 'cause our alumni base is pretty strong and they're active right now. So we have one hurdle that we're able to clear pretty safely.
NNAMDIWell, with such a successful program, you must spend a lot of time with your athletes training. And just looking at you, I think you do spend a lot of time with your athletes training, along with being a coach, though. What kind of role model do you strive to uphold for your athletes?
VALMONYou know, I think the key that I learned from this experience is, you know, these are going to be grown men. I mean, they come to college as younger men, but, you know, by the time this experience -- it makes you wiser. And so we've talked to them pretty open about things and I think for myself, you know, it's a right that I'll -- the responsibility to give back to these guys, 'cause that's what I benefitted from this sport.
NNAMDIOn to the telephones. Here is Mark in Burke, Va. Mark, you're on the air with Andrew Valmon. Go ahead, please.
MARKYeah, hi coach, Kojo. I was a college athlete. I went to Florida State on a decathlon scholarship back in the mid '90s. And Florida State's always had a fairly strong team, you know. And what's unfortunate is you see the non-rev sports are the first thing to suffer when -- especially if the revenue sports aren't doing that well. Coach, I'm curious. I just -- how do you -- I know that you just mentioned recruiting is -- and how it may or may not be a challenge. I just don't understand how you manage to control this kinda like kind of spiraling out of your program because of the risk involved.
MARKIf I was a college athlete and you're recruiting me, if it's -- so now I come in and I'm part of the university, maintain the program then why would you want to go to this school, especially if you wanted to compete?
VALMONWell, I mean, I think the first and foremost you're going to have to look for a special kind of kid who wants to go to Maryland for something other than just athletics. And then ultimately athletic component is one of their strong suits. It could be a legacy kid. It could be someone that's international who actually doesn't do a lot of indoor. Or it could be someone in the form of like, you know, an outdoor event like a really talented steeplechaser or a javelin thrower.
VALMONThe high jump, you know, having the opportunity to use indoor as a training model to come back outdoor 'cause we've been really successful in that area. So we're going to try to hit areas that we're really successful in. And ultimately you're correct, there's going to be some areas that we're going to have to bypass.
NNAMDII guess what Mark would also like to hear is, what do you say to the kid that you're trying to recruit?
VALMONWell, first and foremost, you're upfront with them. I mean, you talked about potentially bringing back the sport, but you tell them that that's just a potential. And as long as you can be upfront with the student athlete, I mean, the good thing is there's hope. But we haven't had those recruiting conversations yet. So, I mean, this is still uncharted territory.
NNAMDIThank you very much for your call, Mark. We move on to Greg in Clifton, Va. Greg, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
CLIFTONThank you and thank you, Kojo, for your great body of work. Coach, my question is -- I have two quick questions. One, would you comment on the women's program? And then number two, would you explain a little bit more how you get funded and how you gonna earn revenue in light of the cuts by the school?
VALMONThe women's program is intact. We're fully funded. You know, we brought in a pretty good class. We have a young woman competing tomorrow at the World's Youth Games -- I mean the World Games in Barcelona. We had someone just win the NACAC Games in Mexico. So we're pretty strong there in terms of our funding. We're fully funded and we're hoping to be able to receive a little bit more resources in some of our travel budgets to be able to take our women to some of the meets that we need to be really successful.
VALMONSo from that standpoint, we haven't gone backwards. The hope is that we'll continue to take stronger steps forward in terms of support. What was the other part of the question?
NNAMDII think we lost that caller, but in case you're just joining us, Andrew Valmon is our guest. He's the head men's and women's track and field coach at the University of Maryland, also serving as the men's head track and field coach at the 2012 Olympic Games. He's a two-time Olympic gold medalist. I think the other part of the question had to do with the funding stream in general. But I think our next question -- our next caller will get to that issue. Here's Barnard in Washington, D.C. Bernard, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
BERNARDHello there, Kojo. And congratulations, Andre (sic) . This is Bernard. Actually, Andrew almost walked me down (sounds like) relays back in the day in 1982. And actually I just came back from Eugene, Ore. and I wanted to congratulate Andre (sic) on his assignment as the head coach of the track and field program.
BERNARDI just have a point of confusion. I don't understand how these universities are, you know, justifying you having to raise money for a program that -- the overhead cost of that program can't be much. Could you give some clear explanation of the justification for the university closing down the men's track program and forcing you to raise 1.2 million or whatever their amount is for a program in which you're giving scholarship athletes? And there's not -- you know, other than the traveling for the hotels and the meet entry fees, the costs cannot amount to 1.2 million or whatever the amount is that they're charging you.
NNAMDIWell, but thought you'd be interested in this email we got from Keith in Silver Spring who simply says, "Ditch basketball and baseball and give the track program the money." But here is Andrew Valmon.
MR. JOHANNES ULRICHWell, I think a few things. There was a commission's report with an independent group that, you know, the recommendation was to cut eight sports. And one of the things that Dr. Lowe (sp?) said in terms of his response, if any of the sports can come back and fundraise for their existence that he would have that as an option. Because the commission's report looked at the overall budget of the athletic department, how money was spent, how we can better serve our student athletes in terms of, you know, to be compared to Florida State, NC State, any college that they're maximizing their resources.
MR. JOHANNES ULRICHAnd so the only way for us to come back for us to be -- was to be independent. Our women's team is still under the mandate of the athletic department. Their budget is still remaining the same. My staff's going to be paid from the women's budget of course. And the long term goal is to fully endow some of the positions and also endow the men's program. And that's why the dollar amount is so high.
NNAMDIAnd we pointed out earlier you are also the head coach for the women's programs. And their program has been safe from the program cuts. That has to do with Title 9, is that correct?
NNAMDIUnder Title 9. 800-433-8850 is the number to call. Our guest is Andrew Valmon. You can also send email to firstname.lastname@example.org or you can send us a Tweet at kojoshow. Were you a student athlete? What did athletics mean to your overall experience in college? Have you ever had a course -- coach who served as mentor to you? What did you get from that person's guidance? 800-433-8850. Are there specific principles, specific models that you try to instill within your athletes? And how do you think athletics helps to improve their performance in the classroom as well as on the track?
ULRICHWell, balance. I mean, we've had -- you know, if you look at our GPA, it's pretty high. We won the Director's Cup points for a while, the Champ's points. So we've done well but I think that what we stress to them is balance. We have some engineering majors, kinesiology is one of our big majors in our team. And what we allow kids to do is to realize that they're coming into this environment to grow. And that's what we try to instill in them from day one.
NNAMDIWhat response -- and, Bernard, thank you very much for your call. What response -- what support has your program received from the University of Maryland community as well as the national track and field community?
ULRICHWell, from the national community, I mean, athletes from Tyson Gay to Barnard Lagat. Throughout the whole Olympic trials, one of the things that we try to do is separate Maryland from the Olympic trials in Oregon. But a lot of the athletes were cognizant of what we're going through and said, hey, tell your kids keep fighting -- keep the fight. 'Cause they realize that, you know, we don't have a professional track organization that sends us to the Olympics. It's the colleges that really put these guys and ladies on teams.
NNAMDII'm glad you mentioned professionals because with a lot of college sports programs spending more money than they're bringing in, it's suggested that a lot of other schools may have to reduce or drop some of their Olympic sports. What impact do these cuts have on the future of America's professional athletes in those sports do you think?
ULRICHWell, I think the nonrevenue-generating sports are going to have to be wiser. We're going to have to be stronger in fundraising and take a little bit more ownership in the sport to be able to say that, you know, we're going to have to be responsible for our survival. . In the revenue-generated sports there's got to be some wealth and sharing, and I think that, you know, with two new schools coming into the conference, Syracuse and Pittsburgh, it's gonna make the ACC even stronger.
NNAMDIDo you think that a showcase like the Olympics, that only comes around every four years, can help in that regard?
VALMONOne hundred percent. Because when you turn on the TV, one of the marquis sports is track and field.
NNAMDIYeah. For me, it is the marquis sport. Here is Al in Fairfax, Va. Al, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
ALThank you for taking my call. It just seems like -- and if I'm not mistaken, you had a show sort of like this several weeks, months ago, but it just seems like more and more education is just being taken over all sectors by, you know, fundraising and endless private interests and going, you know, hat in hand for money. And this brings to mind the situation, and this is kind of not sports-related, but it brings to mind the situation that just happened at, I believe it was UVA where the, you know, the university president was dismissed because she didn't want to cut, you know, these sort of programs that weren't necessarily the most popular or the most profitable, but benefits came from those programs that were unseen because they weren't profit driven.
ALAnd I feel like this situation harkens to the same exact point, is that -- and my question is how much do you think -- how much talent is not being uncovered because it's, you know, it develops late or something to this effect, all because it just doesn't make enough money so to speak, and as you mentioned earlier...
NNAMDIWell, and just as importantly Andrew Valmon, how does somebody like you have to adjust to that reality?
VALMONYeah. I mean, we all have to reinvent ourselves, my staff, myself, I mean, in terms of how we coach, how we recruit, and how we deal with the day-to-day job. And so in reinventing, we have to realize the economy and the times that we're living in, and how important it is for survival.
NNAMDIThank you very much for your call, Al. We're going to take a short break. When we come back, we'll continue this conversation with Andrew Valmon, but you can still call us at 800-433-8850. What were some of your favorite moments from this year's track and field Olympic trials? We'll talk a little bit about the Olympics when we come back. What events are you most excited to watch at the Olympics? 800-433-8850, or you can send email to email@example.com. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
NNAMDIWelcome back to our conversation with Andrew Valmon. He is the head men's and women's track and field coach at the University of Maryland. He will also serve as the men's head track and field coach at the 2012 Olympic games. He himself is a two-time Olympic gold medalist. We're taking your calls for Andrew at 800-433-8850. Maryland's track and field program has a deep history of successful athletes and prosperous alumni. How have past alumni helped to save the men's track program?
VALMONWe put together a steering committee, and the majority of the funds that were raised came through the steering committee and their active involvement in terms of calling former alum and reaching out and donating themselves. And so, you know, they've been the lifeline of what we have right now.
NNAMDIHave you also looked to generous donors such as Kevin Plank, the founder of Armour All, or have you geared your fundraising towards people more closely connected -- Under Armour -- people more closely connected to the track and field legacy?
VALMONI think the first wave was close to the track and field community, but ultimately for us to do this the right way and finish off the job, we're gonna have to go outside the circle, because, you know, we've tapped a lot of resources there.
NNAMDIFor those of you who may not know it, Kevin Plank is the founder of Under Armour. He's also a University of Maryland graduate. He's currently a consultant for the renovations of the University of Maryland's football field which is all financed through private donations, but as they say, that's another story. Here is John in Sparks, Md. John, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
JOHNHi Kojo. Coach Valmon, congratulations for being selected as the Olympic track and field coach. That's quite an honor. I'm a high school -- Maryland high school coach. I coach the distance events in track and cross country, and some of my athletes have looked at Maryland and one is going to Maryland this coming year, and I'm just curious with the cuts in finances, what is the -- what staffing changes do you contemplate, because it does have an effect on I guess the -- what the kids who are sort of nervous about coming in as freshman, they're very curious at what's going to happen because they have relationships with some of the coaches and some of the coaches may not be there when they get there. Can you address that?
VALMONYeah. I've reached out to everyone and offered to anyone who wants to come and talk, one of the things that we still have is a women's program, so we will have a women's cross country team. So we will have a cross country coach. We'll have throws, jumps, sprints, hurdles, and everything that we have. We might have to restaff a little bit in terms of to fit the model because we don't have the number of volunteers that we had last year, but we will still have a full team and a full staff.
NNAMDIJohn, thank you very much for your call. We mentioned, and everybody's mentioned, you're the 2012 men's Olympic head track and field coach. How are you balancing the requirements of coaching Olympians along with coaching and fundraising at the University of Maryland? When do you sleep?
VALMONIt's been tough, but, you know, one of the good things is separation has been -- was the key for me. I worked all the way to the time I left for the trials on Maryland. At the trials I focused on the trial so any decisions that we made were gonna be done on July 2 when the trials were over except for the run off that didn't happen, but with the exception of that...
NNAMDII was gonna ask, I mean, I will ask you about that run off, but go ahead.
VALMONYeah. With the exception of that, now I'm back and, you know, the focus is all on Maryland before we go to a relay camp.
NNAMDIAs the men's head track coach at the Olympics, what are your major responsibilities?
VALMONFacilitation, media, just making sure that we have a pretty full staff, that everyone's in the right place, and just reinforcement to everyone to stay in their lane. I mean as long as everyone stays in their lane, we're gonna be fine.
NNAMDIHow many Olympics have you attended as an athlete or as a coach?
VALMONLet's see. I ran in '88 and '92, and then my wife ran in '92 and '96, so that's four total.
NNAMDIAnd you won gold in both '88 and '92, in the 4 by 400?
NNAMDIHow would you describe the experience of being on the Olympic team? I got to tell you, every time I look at that initial parade, I get -- I mean, I get almost dizzy.
NNAMDIMy imagination starts, you know, you're running into people from so many other places. There are people from all over the world looking at you. So if I'm experiencing that watching it on television...
NNAMDIWhat is the experience like for you, the athlete?
VALMONIt's undescribable. You know, basically you lose your mind for a little bit in the opening ceremonies. I mean, you see -- like in '92 you saw the Dream Team. That was the first opportunity, and seeing those men walk in the opening ceremonies meant that this was, you know, level playing for everyone, and so it was great. It was a great experience and one that I'll never forget.
NNAMDICan any other competitions be compared to being at the Olympics?
VALMONI'm biased so I would say 100 percent not.
NNAMDIOnto the phones again. Here is Anthony in Annandale, Va. Anthony, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
ANTHONYYes. How you doing? I was listening while I was driving, but I'm not driving now. I stopped.
ANTHONYI was a student athlete. I went to high school in New Jersey. I graduated from Long Branch High School about 30 years ago. But when I went to Virginia State University, we had a coach that the first -- in the first track meeting we went to, he put 2.00 on the board, and we were all looking at each what that meant. He said, you must have this in order for your feet to hit the track, and that meant a 2.0 grade point average. And he stressed it. He said, I'm not going to get anybody any grade. I am going to get you a tutor, but I will not get anyone any grades.
ANTHONYAnd that was the best experience that we had because we had the highest academic average on campus, and we beat the girls' basketball team which was percentage points behind us, but very, you know, like in the thousands of percentage points. But we were able to maintain good grade point averages because the coach stressed it. When we went to track meets, we took our books and it was excellent. It wasn't just about winning championships. It was about making men -- boys to men and getting your education.
NNAMDITalk about how you try to do that, Andrew Valmon.
VALMONWell, you know, we ask them why did they come to college, and so when we think about how are you gonna get somebody to come to college, and how are you gonna come to College Park. We're gonna stress what College Park has to offer. We're gonna stress what we can give, and we're also gonna stress the future that these men that will come to enter these unchartered waters will be the pilots who hopefully bring back the program in strength.
NNAMDIThank you for your call, Anthony. Here is Gelda in Frederick, Md. Gelda, your turn.
GELDAHi. Thank for you taking my call.
GELDAI have a question for the coach. I have a son who is gonna be next year in high school, and he was doing (word?) and cross country as well, and now he's kind of discouraged to continue because we want -- he wants to go out to the Maryland University because it's in state and close to home. How now -- I am worried about it because at all these other schools the team, it looks like it's only for girls there opening, and not for boys. How now I can address with my son and probably another kids they are running and they are looking for Maryland University?
VALMONWell, if he's a recruitable athlete, and if he's a senior, have him call me, and I'll direct you to whatever you need to get this done. But, you know, obviously with the outdoor track there's the 5,000 meters, there's 10,000 meters, there's 3,000 meter steeplechase. You know, there's unattached cross country meets in the fall, but you know, I'll be very happy to answer any other questions. Just send me an email or drop -- have him give me a call.
NNAMDIAnd have any of the other kids who would like to do that do the same. You will probably find a link at our website kojoshow.org for how to get in touch with the men's track and field program at the University of Maryland. We are talking with the head men's and women's track and field coach, Andrew Valmon who will be coaching the U.S. -- the men's track and field at the 2012 Olympic games in London.
NNAMDIThis year's Olympic trials made a lot of headlines because of some tough questions about the qualification process. What was your response to the third place tie in the women's hundred-meter run? Why was there not already a ruling on this issue, and do you see the delay in determining how to deal with issue as negatively affecting the athlete, especially when it ended up with Jeneba Tarmoh declining to compete in the run-off against Allyson Felix.
VALMONWell, I think that the one thing that it brought to light is that we needed that ruling, and we didn't have it, and so, you know, I don't think there's any excuse for that, but the one area that we might have made a mistake is putting the third place up so quickly, because usually when there is a close to tie you wait and you'll just see, and you see, and you wait, and you wait. But you'll notice after that one race that they were taking their time. I mean, usually what it is, is the torso, the upper portion of it, and so once you have a protest and an appeal, you go back and -- but the problem was they already release who was third, and so ultimately the one thing that people forget is they have the same coach.
VALMONSo, you know, when people think about things that went on behind the scenes, but really it wasn't much of that because they have the same coach, Bobby Kersee, who is a great coach.
NNAMDIAnd they train together.
VALMONThey train together. And it gave Allyson Felix an opportunity to go out in that 200 and run one of the fastest times in the U.S.
NNAMDIAnd Gelda, thank you very much for your call. In South Africa, Oscar Pistorius, also known as the Blade Runner, was announced as a member of the South African Olympic team, making him the first amputee track athlete to complete at the Olympics. How does that decision, in your view, change the state of track and field?
VALMONWell, I mean, it's, you know, there's gonna be a lot of questions with it, and we're gonna openly talk to our 400-meter runners because ultimately that shouldn't be their focus because we've dominated that event, and we're going to remind them of our legacy in the 400. So hopefully we'll avoid that part for them worrying about it, because really we should be up in the finals.
NNAMDIAnd of course that's the event in which you participated in 1988 and 1992.
NNAMDISo I suspect you will have a lot to say. What are your expectations and what are your goals for the U.S. men's track team this year at the games?
VALMONWell, there's, you know, there's rumor out there of different medals that we're trying to achieve in terms of anywhere from 25 to 30 and, you know, we're gonna chip away one medal at a time and try to pick up some medals that we're not expected to get, which is hopefully gonna get us close to that goal.
NNAMDIAs you transition into coaching the Olympic team after ending another year of coaching collegiate athletes, what are some of the differences, the benefits, the challenges in coaching older professional track athletes instead of athletes as young as, oh, 18 years old?
VALMONIt's a different hat, you know. You walk in the lobby and it's eleven o'clock, and you see somebody at the bar having a drink, it's not like your college athlete where you can say go up to your room. These are grown men. You can ask them what time they compete the next day as a reminder, but ultimately, it's a different hat that you wear, because these are professionals. There's money in the sport. A lot of people make a living in a sport and then you got to transition back to your college program where they're there for an education.
NNAMDIDoes it mean that the men at the Olympics generally even though they've had coaches themselves, have an understanding of how they have to prepare, what they have to do, and therefore, you don't necessarily have to play that kind of mentoring advisory role that you would be playing at the college level?
VALMONCorrect. Your main role is a facilitator, and to make yourself available. I mean, from the two fronts I'm gonna try...
NNAMDIThere's nothing you're going to teach these guys.
VALMONNo. Absolutely not. We're gonna practice the relay and that's about it in terms of practicing and, you know, giving them something back in terms of instructional.
NNAMDIWe got an email from Jane in Bethesda who says, "Is it possible at all for Andrew to run the men's track program, just without scholarships, or will not having scholarships for men basically kill the program?"
VALMONWe won't be competitive. It'll be difficult -- we can be okay, but we won't be able to be competitive. If you look at the last couple years, we've had most of our scholarship athletes that have performed well, but it's something that we've toyed with, but we won't be competitive on a national level.
NNAMDIAnd this email from Ellen. "I'm a competitive athlete, but don't see why athletics should be so important at colleges and universities. It's totally integrated, and it's not likely to go away, but I think we're the only country in the world that has athletics integrated into university. I know a lot of blockheads at university with full scholarships, but they were not scholars. I think it downgrades the seriousness of the academics." How do you emphasize the seriousness of the academics to your athletes? We heard about the earlier, but how do you emphasize that?
VALMONWell, if you think about the other countries, they have professional sports from young. I mean, you think about China, their gymnasts are starting early. The U.K. where the games are going to be, they have a professional track organization running making sure that they get athletes ready. Our college programs are what's preparing the next Olympic team. So the balance and being able to think on your feet and learn different traits, I think it's a good balance for athletics and athletics -- and academics, I mean.
NNAMDIAndrew Valmon is the head men's and women's track and field coach at the University of Maryland. He'll be serving as the men's head track and field coach at the 2012 Olympic games. He's a two-time Olympic gold medalist himself. Best of luck to you and the men's track team. Go USA.
VALMONThank you for having me.
NNAMDIAnd thank you all for listening. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
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