LONDON – Andrew Valmon was in some very fast company.
Then again, so was America’s First Lady.
Call it just another step for Valmon on the upward mobility register.
He’s bound to be in the spotlight once Team USA opens track & field action at the Games next Friday. Do glorious things and Valmon will surely exult in his countrymen’s performances. Do some not-so-glorious things and Valmon is certain to be the man on the spot, giving the answers to questions that actually be unanswerable.
Such are the responsibilities of the main man of the main team in the main sport of the Olympic Games.
“And to just think, at one point I didn’t think I had much of a future in this sport,” he was telling friends a month earlier, at the USA Olympic Trials in Eugene, Ore.
“I guess I’ve been proven wrong,” he said, with a very wide smile.
With a powerful USA team to pilot, Valmon expects to do a lot of smiling in the days ahead. He’s been doing all his homework. He’s been picking the brains of some of his predecessors as USA head coach. He’s more than ready. And he trusts his athletes are, too.
With track and field so incredibly global, anyone asking Valmon to supply an estimated USA medal count gets a polite dismissal of a question beyond anyone.
Olympic track is so full of imponderables, always has, always will. Even the best of educated guesses can be proven far off the mark in this anything-can-happen-and-often-does game.
The sport itself was totally imponderable to him his days at New Jersey’s Manchester High School, in Ocean County, a member of the Shore Conference. He wanted to be a basketball player, he wanted to follow in the footsteps of big brother Oscar, himself a hoops standout for the Manchester Hawks.
But track coach Bob Conover was a persistent man. He could see Valmon’s track potential from day one. Fortunately, he persisted. Fortunately, Valmon relented.
One thing quickly led to another and another and another. By his senior year at Manchester High, he was breaking 47 in the 400.
Seton Hall coach John Moon came courting and Valmon quickly signed on to be a Pirate.
By his freshman summer, he was the USA Junior National 400 champion. That 1984 meet was held at the Los Angeles Coliseum, in conjunction with the USA Olympic Trials, which chose the home team for the Olympic Games to come at that same Coliseum a month-plus later.
Little could Valmon guess it at the time, but he was destined to be a member of his Uncle Sam’s next Olympic team, the one bound for the Seoul Games of 1988. And he returned to New Jersey with a gold medal, after running the first round of the 4x400 relay for the U.S. which then went on to take the final. He collected a second gold by leading off the USA four that won it all in the 1992 Barcelona final.
Running consistent sub-45 legs out of the blocks, at the Olympic Games, World Championships and other major stops on the global circuit, Valmon gained recognition as perhaps the finest 4x400 leadoff man in track history. His best solo 400 was a sizzling 44.28.
He put all that expertise to work in his first big coaching stint, at Georgetown, and has been the head coach at Maryland for the past nine years. Twelve of his Terrapin athletes have gained All-America recognition, but whether he has a Maryland men’s team to coach on his return to College Park is a good question.
The Maryland administration has put the men’s track and field program on the endangered list, citing fiscal concerns and threatening its exctinction. All that’s needed to save Maryland track is several million bucks. Alumni are at work raising the dough, but Valmon has no certainty they’ll succeed.
(ed. note: Earlier this month, Maryland Athletics characterized the Terrapin track program as reaching its "first benchmark" and extended the program — with just 14 athletes — into the 2012-13 season).
In the meantime, he has more pressing business straight ahead.
All Valmon’s athletes need to do at Olympic Stadium is maintain this nation’s status as “The World’s Number One Team.”
That’s heavy, heavy responsibility.
But the man from Manchester knows what it takes. He’s the first Olympic gold medalist to serve as head coach of America’s Team. He’s been to the top of the podium many, many times. When he sees his 2012 athletes get to the same place, he’ll be a very happy man.