SE: Rovelto Reflects on Rio Olympics, K-State Performances

K-State head track and field coach Cliff Rovelto took in a different perspective of the Olympics during last month’s Games in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, and that’s not only a reference to the city’s partly mountainous terrain. 

Coming off his first Games as part of the Team USA staff, Rovelto reflected on his most recent Olympic experience in an interview with K-State Sports Extra

Being an assistant coach for Team USA certainly kept the veteran coach busy. During the track meet, Rovelto was on a bus by 6 or 7 a.m., and usually not back in the team’s hotel in the Olympic Village until well after midnight. He spent little time sightseeing, only getting to check out the Christ the Redeemer statue, and plenty of hours at the U.S. practice facility or the Olympic Stadium. 

In his role, Rovelto was allowed to only work with U.S. athletes. This meant his interaction with six of the seven former and present Wildcats competing in Rio was very limited, though three of those didn’t train with him for this Olympics and his wife Karol Rovelto, a former Olympian and assistant coach at K-State, was on hand to help out where he could not. 

“My goal is to have them be as self-reliant as possible and not dependent on me,” Rovelto said. “So even early on with freshmen we’re doing things, whether it’s at practice or it’s at meets, where I’m making it difficult for them to communicate with me in the competition itself and forcing them to figure out things out on their own.”

Rovelto complimented the historic performance from Team USA’s track squad that included 32 medals, marking the first time a U.S Track and Field team won at least 30 since 1992 in Barcelona. 

“I really do think that there was a really neat team dynamic. It wasn’t two separate teams, men and women. The staffs worked a lot together, we helped each other out, both in practice and in competition,” he said. “So to me, that was probably the neatest thing of the whole experience was just seeing how well the U.S. team did.”

Rovelto also shared his thoughts on all seven Wildcats who competed at the Games. 

Erik Kynard — United States 

Kynard, the lone ex-K-State athlete Rovelto was able to personally coach in Rio, finished sixth in the men’s high jump. The former silver medalist cleared the same height (2.33 meters/7-7.75) as he did in London four years ago, but faced what Rovelto described as the greatest high jump field in history. 

“It’s just the best it’s ever been,” said Rovelto. 

After watching the qualifying round, Rovelto knew the two-time national champion at K-State would either have to make it through 2.36m/7-8.75 without any misses or clear 2.38/7-9.75, which would be a personal best for Kynard.  

“I went into the final with absolutely no doubt in my mind that he’s going to have to jump 2.38 to medal,” Rovelto said. “He basically had to be at his best to medal in these games and he just didn’t have it.”

At age 25, Kynard was the third youngest jumper to finish in the top 10 at Rio and should be a medal contender again in Tokyo in 2020. 

“Failure isn’t fatal. I know and understand that,” Kynard wrote on his Twitter account after his second Olympic performance. “I will recover, and at 25 I am still growing and will attempt to clear heights that have grown all they are going to grow and will grow no more.” 

Alyx Treasure — Canada 

Treasure not only set a new personal best in Rio, she did so at her first Olympic Games. The former Wildcat finished 17th in the women’s high jump, making the finals with a personal record clearance of 1.94m/6-4.25. 

“Any time you have a personal best at a major championship, that’s pretty darn good,” Rovelto said. “That doesn’t happen that often, especially for somebody in their first go around.”

In the finals, Treasure, age 24, cleared the opening bar (1.88m/6-2) on her final attempt but would advance no further. 

“She was a little bit nervous in qualifying but I think she was much more so in the finals,” Rovelto said. “She’s just had a major breakthrough, and I think physically she’s at a point where I don’t think it was out of the question that she could’ve had good attempts at 1.97, which ended up winning a medal.”

Akela Jones — Barbados 

Also in her first Olympics, Jones wasn’t at her best but still managed to hang around the top of the standings for most of the heptathlon. She finished in 20th with 6,173 points in her sixth heptathlon ever. 

“Most of these girls did that many when they were in high school. The sixth one wasn’t in the Olympic games, so she still doesn’t really get it all yet,” Rovelto said. “The championship meets are so much different. They’re a totally different animal because you do a couple of events, have a big long break, do a couple of events, big long break. She’s never done anything like that before and it’s a huge adjustment.” 

Jones also came in 31st in the high jump competition at 1.85m/6-0.75.

To open the heptathlon, Jones ran a 13.00 in the 100-meter hurdles, her second fastest time in that event and the second best among her Olympic competitors. She then cleared 1.89m/6-2.25 in the high jump, threw 14.09m/46-2.75 in the shot put and ran 24.35 in the 200-meter dash to finish the first day in third place. 

In the second day, Jones’ long jump mark of 6.30m/20-8 along with a personal best javelin throw of 42.00m/137-9 positioned her in sixth before the 800-meter run, which she finished in 2:41.12. 

“It’s not like she was bad anywhere, but she wasn’t at her best and she’s still right there with the very best in the world, among the very best all time who are having solid meets,” Rovelto said. “The world knows now that this girl is going to be a player going forward. She’s just got to mature more and learn to be a better competitor within the heptathlon. The parts are there, she’s just got to figure out how to put it all together.”

Shadae Lawrence — Jamaica 

The only Olympic athlete returning to compete for the Wildcats, Lawrence capped her breakthrough first year with K-State in the Olympic women’s discus competition. 

The sophomore-to-be threw 57.09m/187-3 on her first attempt in the qualifying round, before heavy rains forced a delay in competition. She scratched on her final two attempts after the delay ended, but came back to Manhattan with an experience nobody saw coming a year ago. 

“If at the start of last Fall you had told us she was going to throw 57 meters this year, let alone 57 and get to the Olympic Games, we’d had taken that in a heartbeat,” Rovelto said of Lawrence, who surpassed the Olympic standard with a personal record throw to finish fourth at the NCAA Championships in June. “She ended up just getting better and better as the year went on. She had a phenomenal year and really did a great job.”

Balazs Baji — Hungary 

One of two former Wildcats competing in the 110-meter hurdles, Baji advanced to the semifinals. He ran a 13.52 in the first round to move on and duplicated that time in the semifinals to finish 15th. 

In July, Baji won a silver medal at the European Championships with a time of 13.28, which would’ve advanced him to the Olympic finals.

“He’s come a long, long ways,” Rovelto said. “He ran the first round in a pouring rain and ran well under the circumstances, and then in the second round he hit the eighth hurdle really hard and it just set him off enough to where he came up short of making the final.” 

Jeffrey Julmis — Haiti 

Julmis also advanced to the semifinals with a first round time of 13.66. He crashed on the first hurdle in the next round, however. Despite being disqualified, he got up and finished the race anyway. 

“He just got way, way, way too close in the first hurdle and crashed and it was all over there,” Rovelto said. “He did a good job in the first round.”

Beverly Ramos — Puerto Rico 

Ramos, a former distance runner at K-State, finished in 71st in her first Olympic marathon. Her time of 2:43.52 was better than more than 60 who finished, while more than 20 others could not complete the race. 

“I never even saw her there, but I think that’s only the second marathon she’s ever run, and to run a race like that in the Games is not bad,” Rovelto said. “She did a decent job.”