SE: Rovelto Trading Purple for Red, White and Blue
SE: Rovelto Trading Purple for Red, White and Blue
Patient. Intelligent. Precise.
Ask a random sample of Kansas State track and field athletes to describe head coach Cliff Rovelto and words like those will probably follow.
There are undoubtedly more ways to characterize the Wildcats’ renowned coach: even-tempered, encouraging and even crazy — the good kind — are a few others his athletes have expressed.
It is these traits, and the repetitive success his teams produce, that continue to attract stellar track athletes to K-State. And it is these traits that helped Rovelto become a household name in track and field circles around the globe.
Notably, Rovelto’s success and reputation earned him an assistant coaching spot on Team USA for the Olympic Games this August in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, where he will be in charge of the men’s decathlon and jumping events.
“I’m honored to serve and it’s a thrill to be involved in the Olympic Games, but at the end of the day, I’d much rather coach Olympians than Olympic teams,” Rovelto said at a press conference Tuesday morning. “To me, it’s all about the athletes. So whether I have a title or role officially from a team perspective — I appreciate it, I love to serve, I love to do that — but to me that does not trump having athletes that you personally coach at the Olympic Games.”
That is Rovelto: deflector of attention and activist for the athletes he’s spent countless hours working with and watching develop.
“That man is crazy,” former K-State high jumper Alyx Treasure, currently the No. 1-ranked Canadian female in her event, said with a laugh. “He’s just really supportive of his athletes, the family here. Without him I wouldn’t have been able to do anything — long career, short career, any of it. He’s really been there for me and supported me.”
“He’s just been there every step of the way,” added former K-State multi-athlete Erica Twiss, who will run the 400-meter hurdles at the upcoming U.S. Olympic Trials. “He’s so knowledgeable and so encouraging that it really makes it easy to want to work hard for him.”
Oddly enough, Rovelto never ran track in high school. His starting blocks into the sport were placed then, however, by learning from other coaches like Bob Knoll at Leavenworth High School and Bob Timmons, a National Track and Field Hall of Fame member, at the University of Kansas.
“I think it was those people teaching me work ethic, organization and those types of things that probably had the biggest impact on me,” said Rovelto, who recently wrapped up his 24th season as head coach at K-State that included the women’s second consecutive top-10 finish at the NCAA Outdoor Championships.
K-State’s track and field success since Rovelto took over in 1992 has been nothing short of impressive.
He’s coached 10 student-athletes to 15 NCAA Championships, and that doesn’t include more than three-dozen combined runner-up and third-place finishers. The total number of All-America honors earned by athletes during Rovelto’s watch sits well above 200.
The blueprint to his success has plenty of pieces, but he credits one coaching change specifically: allowing professionals who didn’t compete at K-State to come train in Manhattan.
“I thought (originally) it would detract from our own team and our post-collegiate (athletes),” he said. “But what we found is having some of those athletes around really helps the athletes that are a part of our program. We take on additional work, for sure, but I think the benefit to the kids who are a part of our program is invaluable.
“So you kind of create an environment of really high performance.”
The first event Rovelto created that type of environment in is high jump, where he has coached six athletes to nine NCAA Championships and earned the title of Master Coach for USA Track and Field.
The shift started in 1996 when Ed Broxterman, before his senior year, and Connie Teaberry, a K-State alum, both qualified for the Olympics.
“When high jumpers were coming into our program at that time, their perception of what was good changed real quick. You jump 5-10, 5-11 in high school and now you’re out there training with a girl jumping 6-4, 6-5, so you work harder,” Rovelto said. “I think the athletes feeding off each other helps a lot. The environment that we created with the training groups helps a lot.”
Seven times has Rovelto been named the Women’s Midwest Region Coach of the Year, including in 2001 when he was recognized as the Women’s Outdoor National Coach of the Year. He’s coached for plenty of U.S. national teams — the 2002 IAAF World Cup, 2003 and 2005 World Outdoor Championships and 2011 Pan-America Games, to name a few.
August will mark his first experience on the Olympic squad, however. It is a task he is honored to take on, but he knows the responsibilities won’t be too foreign.
“In terms of the day-to-day duties, it’s really not that much different than the Outdoor World Championships,” Rovelto said, listing a larger time commitment as the biggest difference. “Really our goal is, as coaches, to assist the athletes any way that you can.”
With most athletes working with their personal coaches, Rovelto said the role of Olympic assistants isn’t as significant for most of the preparation period.
“Often times the personal coaches can’t be there for three weeks, four weeks. They can’t afford to do that, they have day jobs,” he said. “A lot of the workout sessions that the athletes do, their coaches may not be there, and so the athletes having a comfort level with the staff is pretty important. The fact that I know a lot of those athletes pretty well makes it a little bit easier dealing with them.”
Rovelto will likely be doing some personal coaching of his own while in Brazil. He said as many as 10 former and present K-State athletes could reach the Olympics for their respective country.
Akela Jones, one of those athletes, chose K-State largely because of the impact Rovelto has on so many of his athletes.
“His mind is just kind of explosive. I don’t know what he has in his mind but it’s a different kind of coaching skill,” said Jones, who will look to high jump and compete in the heptathlon for Barbados. “He doesn’t shout, he just tells you what you need to do, and it’s precise and he puts it in a simple way. It’s fun training with coach.”
While Jones and many other athletes before her chose K-State for Rovelto, he and his wife Karol, a former Olympic high jumper, stuck with the Wildcats for one main reason: comfort.
“I love Manhattan and the people here have always been very supportive of myself and Karol and our program,” he said. “We like doing what we do here. It’s hard to measure people’s support and caring, so 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’ve produced Olympic medals, World Championship medals, lots of NCAA Champions and lots of high finishes with a lot less than what other people have, so obviously you can get it done without those things. For us it’s the comfort level of being here that trumps everything.”
For Rovelto, training Olympians is hard to beat too. There is one part of his job he may enjoy even more, which is simply seeing an athlete, of any skill level or ability, realize his or her potential.
It’s why his most memorable coaching moments don’t necessarily hover around the consecutive run of Summer Olympics he’s been to since 1996.
“The truth of the matter is some of the moments that stick out the most in my memory of my career to this point might have been a girl who got fourth or fifth at the conference championship because I know that what she did on that day was far beyond what she or anyone else thought she was capable of doing,” Rovelto said. “To me that was as big of a win as a medal at the Olympic Games or the World Championships because I just want to see people realize their potential, and when that happens then that’s a big thrill for me.”
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