K-State Sports Extra: Rovelto Attracts Foreign Talent

by Mark Janssen

MANHATTAN, Kan. - Most have never set a spike on USA soil, and certainly never heard of Manhattan, Kansas.

But in European track circles, young athletes have heard of Kansas State coach Cliff Rovelto, and welcome the opportunity to jet across the ocean to be tutored by the Wildcat track and field coach.

"We're in a state with a small population base, so you're always looking for other areas where there is outstanding talent," said KSU's 18-year head coach. "Kids from some of these countries really are only looking for an opportunity to get better, so they look for where that can happen."

And, it does happen on the K-State campus.

In the 2008 Olympic Games, K-State had four of its former track and field athletes: Christian Smith from Kansas, Korene Hinds from Jamaica, Austra Skujyte from Lithuania and Attila Zsivoczky from Hungary.

In the 2004 Olympics, it was Skujyte, Zsivoczky and Cedric El-Idrissi from Switzerland.

On the current Top 8 list in the Big 12 Conference are 16 Wildcat athletes. Of those, the countries of Hungary, Germany, Puerto Rico, Lithuania, Switzerland and Slovenia are represented by nine student-athletes.

Not all came to K-State as premier athletes in their home country. Rovelto gives Germany's Moritz Cleve as an example of a decathlete as one who was only ranked as a Top 10 prep athlete in his home country, but has matured his craft to be as good as any multi-eventer in the Big 12 Conference and a member of Germany's World Championship team last year.

"These are decent high school kids, but they didn't come here ready-made," Rovelto said. "Most of them tend to have a superior work ethic on the track and in the classroom. They better understand what it takes to really be good. Every one of them comes to this country to make a statement and that starts by demonstrating a superior work ethic."

While on the surface one would think foreign recruiting would take a mega-budget, Rovelto says the opposite of that is true.

"We have literally signed kids through our research, a phone call, e-mails and a fax," said Rovelto. "Even with a Kansas kid, you normally have the expense of an in-home visit, plus a recruiting trip to campus."

Rovelto does the majority of his international recruiting during times when he has been a member of the coaching staff of six different USA Track & Field Teams that traveled to various countries in Europe.

"The reality is, international recruiting is less expensive than traveling all over this country, plus bringing in kids for official visits," said Rovelto. "Internationally, we're only recruiting kids who we feel can score in the Big 12 and have a chance at the NCAA Championships.

"They are top tier kids who receive a full scholarship in many cases," said Rovelto. "In the past, that meant we were counting on them to score 10 points at a championship event. But now, with the competitiveness of the Big 12, that might mean they just score a point or two. The Big 12 is that strong and you have to go where you can find athletes who can compete."

KANSAS STATE'S INTERNATIONAL TRACK ATHLETES

MEN
** Balazs Baji, Hurdles, Bekescsaba, Hungary
** Moritz Cleve, Decathlete, Bochum, Germany
** Armando Del Valle, Distance, Caguas, Puerto Rico
Rok Derzanic, Decathlete, Artice, Slovenia
** Martynas Jurgilas, Sprints, Kaunas, Lithuania
Tomas Kirielius, Decathlete, Kaunas, Lithuania
** Mantas Sikauskas, Decathlete, Kaunas, Lithuania
** Dezso Szabo, Jumps, Budapest, Hungary

WOMEN
Boglarka Bozzay, Distance, Veszpren, Hungary
Klaudia Demeter, Heptathlete, Keszthely, Hungary
** Nina Kokot, Jumps, Velenje, Slovenia
** Beverly Ramos, Distance, Trujilo Alto, Puerto Rico
** Martina Tresch, Distance, Rueti, Switzerland

** -- Top 8 ranking Big 12 athletes