SE: Once an Olympian, Always an Olympian

In time, memories fade and certain accomplishments are forgotten. Some feats, however, alter lives so significantly that they are always a part of that person — connected to everything they do. 

Making the U.S. Olympic Team is one of those achievements. Twenty years ago, four former K-State track and field athletes — Ed Broxterman, Connie Teaberry, Kenny Harrison and Steve Fritz — did just that. 

For them, it doesn’t seem so long ago. 

“It’s shocking that it’s 20 years,” said Broxterman, who qualified for the United States after his junior season at K-State. “It’s pretty amazing how fast the time goes.”

“My body would say, yes,” Teaberry added. “My mind is, like, ‘It’s been 20 years?’”

For those athletes, the memories from the 1996 Games in Atlanta are still engrained in them like it occurred days ago, not decades. 

Unforgettable 

When asked specifically what memory stands out now from 1996, the answers varied.  

For Broxterman, he is taken back to the moment he qualified for the United States at its trials. Right before his clinching jump, the “right music was playing at the right time,” and he got into “the zone.” He even remembers being “too amped up” and having to calm himself down before clearing the 7-6.5 bar.  

“As soon as I landed on the mat, I just got an amazing amount of adrenaline that I’ve never had in my life,” he said. “Nothing compared to that moment. I just remember my chest felt like it was going to explode.

“It’s a once-in-a-lifetime moment. I’ll never forget that moment.”

In regards to the actual Olympics, one event unanimously came to mind. 

“The thing I remember most is the opening ceremonies.  We started in the old (Atlanta) Braves stadium across the parking lot and entered over the top of the Olympic Stadium and came down a ramp to the infield,” Fritz said. “The scene as you came over the top and could see all the people was incredible.  Just being a part of that is something I will always remember.”

Broxterman will also never forget the opening ceremonies and hearing “U-S-A” chanted deafeningly from the 85,000 people in attendance. Another notable memory was walking into the stadium with Fritz. The two tried to hang back in the U.S. Olympic Team line to be near the Dream Team in an effort to increase their time on TV, an attempt that failed and Broxterman still laughs about.  

Harrison, a gold medal winner in the triple jump in 1996, first recalled the bombing in Centennial Olympic Park. Secondly, he thinks back to a moment during the Games when Linford Christie of Great Britain — the defending Olympic champion in the 100-meter dash at the time — false-started twice and, at first, refused to leave the track. 

As for the gold medal that Harrison won with an Olympic record mark of 18.09 meters (59-04.25), which still stands, “it was not even a big deal,” he said. Having won 15 Big 8 titles and three NCAA championships, highlighting 11 All-America performances, Harrison expected to win at the Olympics. 

His unforgettable moment arrived while standing on the top of the podium, where hearing “The Star-Spangled Banner” changed his perspective of the song for life. 

“Whether I’m at a restaurant, whether I’m at a sporting event, every time they play ‘The Star-Spangled Banner,’ I almost want to stand up and be, like, ‘Oh, my God. I did something special, didn’t I?’” he said. “It’s pretty cool to hear it.”

Always an Olympian 

The title of Olympian is one that lasts long after athletes stop competing. Nearly all who achieve Olympic status will attest to this. 

“Making the Olympic team was a culmination of six years of hard work, day in and day out,” said Fritz, who finished fourth in the 1996 Olympic decathlon. “It’s a piece of history and an accomplishment that can't be taken away.

“Once an Olympian, always an Olympian.”

Broxterman attempted to make the 2000 U.S. Olympic Team, but injuries plagued him constantly after the 1996 Games. Now, he lives in the Kansas City area with a wife and two kids — Braelyn, 5, and Tyler, 2 — working for Westar Energy as a business manager. 

The Baileyville native said being an Olympian has followed him through life. His accomplishment in 1996, he added, allows him to gain trust — of being a hard worker, most notably — quicker than others. 

“Those thoughts automatically go through people’s minds when they think of an Olympic athlete, generally,” he said. “I think I build up trust much faster because of that.”

Ironically, Broxterman said it might have been his hard work that ended his track and field career.

“I think because I trained too hard, I just kept jumping over the edge. Instead of being right at the max of training, I kept going overboard,” he said, suffering a torn patella tendon, broken foot bone, a burst appendix and even mono after 1996. 

“By working as hard as I did,” he added, in a more positive light, “maybe I would’ve never made the ’96 team, though.” 

Teaberry, entering her 13th season as the head track and field coach at Northern Illinois, has benefitted from her hard work and Olympic status as well. Being able to talk from experience on what it takes to reach that level, her words carry more weight with athletes than they would otherwise. 

“Sometimes, this is a quick-fix society, as far as our generation of kids,” Teaberry said, “and if you don’t have, sometimes, that experience to go behind what you’re asking them to do, they may not listen.” 

Fritz, who coached for K-State track and field for 21 years and now leads the track and field program at Riley County High School, has encountered similar experiences with athletes.

“I think athletes in general are reluctant at times to buy into new ideas and new people unless they see results fairly quickly.  Most athletes are impatient and want to see improved results right away,” he said. “I think my background has, at times, bought more time with athletes and a little more patience that the results would come if they stayed the course and worked hard.”

Turning Point

When K-State head track and field coach Cliff Rovelto talks about the process of building up his program, the 1996 group usually comes up in conversation. It was the first Olympics K-State sent current or former athletes to since 1984 and, at the time, it was the most Wildcats ever to make the Games. 

This accomplishment isn’t lost on the athletes who were part of transforming K-State track and field into its current state. 

“Knowing that there were other K-State athletes, the joy of knowing that the hard work that we put in, we represented our school to the fullest and now we’re representing our country, that’s a good marketing tool for our university, our alma mater,” Teaberry said. “You’re actually elated not just for yourself, but for the other (Olympic) athletes that went to the same university as you did.”

In 2012, the Wildcats topped the 1996 group by sending seven athletes to the Olympics in London. They tied that mark this year for the Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, where track and field competition begins today. (Click here for more information on K-State’s Olympic athletes)

To get to this level, the precedent had to be set somewhere, or more specifically, sometime. Again, look no further than 20 years ago. 

“You always take pride when your alma mater does well, and if you have been able to have a hand in that in some way, it makes it even more special and personal,” Fritz said. “There were a lot of great athletes and personalities around the program during that time.  It was definitely a fun time to part of K-State track and field.”

For Broxterman, training in an environment with Olympic-level athletes eliminates potential “mental blocks” or doubt for other athletes capable of similar accomplishments. 

“I think it can kind of take you to that next level much faster,” Broxterman said, drawing from personal experience. “Steve Fritz had yet to make an Olympic team at that point, but I saw him train in practice every day. Did I actually train with him? No, but he was out on the same track I was out on. Did we do the same exact workout? No, but just seeing how hard Steve Fritz was working, and then all the other athletes, it’s a special place in that way.”

The benefits go beyond the competitive side, too. 

Harrison, now the owner of a company called Signature Athletics — a training outlet for athletes in numerous sports — said he came away from K-State as more than a world-class jumper. 

“I think I just became a better man from Kansas State,” he said, now married and living in the San Francisco, California area. “That’s probably the most positive thing that I can really express to people. Kansas State was an amazing place for me, not just educationally, but the people were just so awesome.”

It is why Harrison takes exceptional pride in being a part of the 1996 group and helping build a tradition at K-State, which has sent no less than three athletes to the Games since then. 

“It just brought in new people, new amazing folks, and people started to believing in Kansas State,” he said. “That’s my probably my most proud thing on Earth, is just having Kansas State step their game up.”

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