Children use broomsticks to simulate barbells during Friday's third annual Olympic Days at ETSU. (Photos by Tony Casey/Johnson City Press)
Who wants to win a medal at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics? Holler “I!”
The main requirements, as relayed by East Tennessee State University’s Olympic Training Site Director Meg Stone, include high-bar athletic talent, love for country and a willingness to be a part of something that’s bigger than oneself. On Friday, she and about 30 ETSU master’s and doctoral students, including some on the U.S. Olympic Committee, were at Memorial Park Community Center, helping expose, teach and cultivate talent between the ages of 6 and 12 in several not-so-highlighted Olympic sports.
The day’s events were called the 3rd Annual Olympic Days.
Six years before the Games of the XXXII Olympiad are set to begin might seem like a stretch to scout out talent for coming world championships, but Stone said this is what’s necessary to achieve that level of success. Plus, she’s seen the long-view approach to athlete development work before.
In 2001, three years shy of the Athens Olympics, Stone was in Chula Vista, California, another U.S. Olympic Training Site, when a team formed to shoot solely for American medals in the marathon. The team analyzed the course and trained two runners specifically for success at the longest Olympic distance. It was bronze for Deena Kastor in the women’s race and silver for Meb Keflezighi, for nothing short of an accomplished mission.
And Stone knows about the Olympic process well, having competed in two Games for her native Great Britain in her successful days as a discus thrower and shot putter, two field disciplines where she’s still the NCAA record holder.
The next mission, set for all members of the USOC across the country, too, is to find that next great American weightlifter for a 2020 podium result. Stone’s mission doesn’t end there. She, specifically, wants that athlete to come from Johnson City, from where she said no native has ever gone on to compete at the Olympics.
Not a shot in the dark, Stone said she sees many talented youngsters and working with the MPCC in providing sports training with their summer camp kids. The approach and the benefits are two-fold, Stone and her colleagues said, as they spread out, teaching groups of kids the basics of sports like track and field, field hockey, rugby, bobsledding and weightlifting.
These sports don’t frequently get the attention basketball, soccer, baseball, football, hockey and other international sports receive, so the main reason they’re there is to expose kids to sports they might not see frequently.
Fundamentals and basics were taught to about 80 aspiring athletes in the most-fun manner possible, said MPCC Program Coordinator Renee Ensor, who frequently puts on summer camps with the city of Johnson City. Ensor said the talent she sees displayed by many of the kids is impressive, and it wouldn’t surprise her in the least to learn one of them could go on to athletic greatness. Often all they need is that exposure, she said.
“I feel like a lot of kids don’t get the exposure,” Ensor said. “Half of them don’t know what (those sports) are.”
And that’s where Stone and her crew come in, to help introduce sports not as popular in the East Tennessee area.
She said the region is an untapped golden nugget for training and as a resource for talented, potentially Olympic-caliber athletes. If not a golden nugget, she joked that she’d be OK with a silver or a bronze nugget.
From track and field relays and races on scooter boards to introduce the teamwork needed to excel in bobsledding, kids were able to bounce from sport to sport, receiving advice along the way. Outside MPCC, where field hockey, foot races and rugby took place, ETSU’s rugby team had several players on hand teaching the basics of how to move the ball up and down the field.
“Are you the one that made me bleed?” Thomas Lawson asked one of the kids he was instructing, donning an ETSU jersey.
Tim McInnis, weightlifting coach, was instructing nearly a dozen athletes on the proper way to do an overhead squat, using just a broomstick-like bar, more focused on technique than anything else. He and the ETSU students and USOC members, including Stone, were wearing Team USA Olympic Day shirts.
A smooth overhead squat, combined with an impressive vertical leap, Stone said, shows a certain level of athleticism that often catches the eyes of her group, which is why many of them had their phones out, recording video of the potential weightlifters.
Stone agreed that many young athletes have better opportunities when they come from a higher economic standing, which is why she said she and her colleagues welcome any interested athletes, regardless of income, or parents of athletes, to go to an ETSU training site for a tryout, with no cost.
Follow Tony Casey on Twitter @TonyCaseyJCP. Like him on Facebook at www.facebook.com/tonycaseyjournalist.