Kansas State track and field coach Cliff Rovelto has mentored Olympic athletes throughout his long career, but he has never officially coached for U.S. team.
When the top athletes in the world converge on Rio de Janeiro for the Summer Games in August, Rovelto will be there wearing red, white and blue as an assistant coach for his nation’s track and field team.
The experience is 45 days away, but Rovelto already says the job will make this turn the Olympics more meaningful than past trips.
“Absolutely it does,” Rovelto said Tuesday at a news conference. “I don’t want to minimize it in any way shape or form. I am honored to serve and it is a thrill to be involved with the Olympic games.”
Rovelto isn’t sure what duties the coaching job will entail, but he will focus on helping American athletes prepare for jumps and combined events.
One of the most respected high-jump coaches in the nation, he is up for anything. At the 2012 London Games, he served as the individual coach for all three American high-jumpers. Former K-State jumper Erik Kynard, who is expected to compete in Rio, took the silver.
Overall, he has coached 14 athletes at the Olympics, dating to 1996.
“I would say he is like a father to me, but he is old, so he is like a grandfather,” Kynard said. “I have learned a lot from him. … In my estimation, he is the best coach in the world as far high-jumping goes.”
Nothing should take Rovelto by surprise.
“At the end of the day, I would much rather coach Olympians than an Olympic team,” Rovelto said. “To me, it is all about the athletes, whether I have a title or a role, whatever. From a team perspective, I love to serve and to help, but that does not trump having individual athletes you coach at the Olympic games.”
Rovelto could be a busy man at these Olympics. Nearly a dozen current or former K-State athletes have a shot at reaching Rio. On Tuesday, he said Akela Jones and Kynard can both expect to medal with strong showings.
Assisting athletes with K-State ties on top of the U.S. team will be a lot of work, but he is up for it.
His 24-year tenure with the Wildcats taught him how to multi-task.
“I love Manhattan,” Rovelto said. “It’s hard to measure people support and caring. Facilities and money and all that other stuff is good and it helps, but, at the end of the day, it’s not what’s most important, in any way shape or form. We have produced Olympic medals and world championship medals and lots of national champions with a lot less than other people have. You can get it done without those things. The comfort level of being here trumps everything.”
Kellis Robinett: @KellisRobinett