SE: Rovelto has Unparalleled Passion for Teaching

Cliff Rovelto has coached every Summer Olympic Games since 1996.

Oct. 31, 2011

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By Mark Jansen

Kansas State has perhaps never had a better collection of head coaches on staff as it does now.

While the majority of those are known nationwide, there’s only one - Cliff Rovelto - who turns heads in stadiums all over the world.

“When he walks into an Olympic stadium, he is well known by coaches across the world,” said K-State assistant coach Steve Fritz, who placed fourth in the decathlon in the 1996 Olympic Games when he was coached by Rovelto. “He’s recognized as one of the best.”

That was demonstrated again last week when the Wildcat track and field coach of 20 years served as head coach of the United States Pan American team that competed in Guadalajara, Mexico.

Rovelto, who coached the team to six medals, called it “…a tremendous honor. I don’t want to minimize what I do here, but this is representing the United States. It’s about your country, so it was a tremendous honor.”

While better known in Europe than at the Manhattan Town Center mall, Rovelto laughs as he says, “That’s OK because I never go to the mall.”

Turning serious he added, “I don’t do this to be recognized. Coaches who put on an ‘I coached that kid’ show make me sick to my stomach. I’m a teacher at heart. What I do is all about the kid and not about me. When it comes to a competition, I should be almost invisible.”

Rovelto has coached 11 Olympians from four different countries, 15 World Championship athletes, seven NCAA title winners, and has been a part of seven USA coaching staffs at international competitions.

While having attended every Olympic Games since 1996, Rovelto calls the Games “just another track meet” where the important thing is the process to get to that level rather than the meet itself.

He adds, “My job is getting a kid to realize his potential. If that’s the Olympics, that’s my goal; if that’s to be eighth-place in the Big 12 meet, that’s my goal.”

That’s his mission statement for current Wildcats, K-State graduates, international athletes and post-graduates from other universities.

Of K-State graduates, Rovelto says, “A lot of programs kick kids out the door, but we feel they are a part of our commitment if they want to continue their career.”

With foreign athletes, he adds that football and basketball players want to reach the NFL and NBA, and, “My sport is no different. If they want to reach the Olympics, I’m here to help them.

“If Lithuania would ask me to be their Olympic coach, I would hesitate to do that. But if individuals want my help, why not jump at that opportunity?” asked Rovelto. “My commitment is to the individual, and not the country.”

Last week at the Pan Am Games, current Wildcat Jeffrey Julmis ran 13th in the hurdles for Haiti while former Wildcats, Beverly Ramos was 12th in the 1500 representing Puerto Rico and Korene Hinds ran for Jamaica, but did not finish the steeplechase.

Due to working with athletes of all ages within the K-State program and from the outside, Rovelto works Bill Snyder-type hours. Twelve-hour days are the norm, plus when he returns home he studies his trade until the wee hours of the morning.

“That’s every night, including Saturdays and Sundays,” said Rovelto. “A lot of people say I don’t have a life, but they don’t have what I have, which is a passion for what I do. You don’t put a price tag on that.”

But the 56-year-old Rovelto admits that he’s probably not that much of a husband to his wife, Karol, who serves as the administrative assistant for the K-State track program.

To that, Karol says, “Track is always going to come first no matter what time of the year and no matter where we are. Someone, somewhere always needs a workout done. If I didn’t work for him I would never see him.”

Twelve years younger than her husband of nine years, it was coach Rovelto who tutored Karol to a personal record of 6-5 ½ in the high jump in 2000 when she was on the United States Olympic team at the age of 33.

Rovelto once carried a 2-handicap in golf, but says he hasn’t smacked a Titleist “for three years,” and hasn’t gone to a movie “… I can’t remember the last time.”

He says he’d much rather watch a college basketball game than a track meet, but says, “If I’m sitting at a basketball game, then I’m not calling a recruit, or I’m not doing a workout for a kid, and I feel guilty.”

To Rovelto, 2011 NCAA champions like K-State high jumper Erik Kynard and multi-eventer Ryann Krais “… deserve everything I have to get to that level. If I’m not working those hours to get them to that level, then I’m cheating them.”

Rovelto came from a military background that had him attending schools at Ft. Riley, Junction City, Wamego and Leavenworth in a five-year period between 8th and 12th grade. He played some football and basketball, but never competed in track, other than a little cross country running.

He planned to attend the University of Kansas and enter Law School, but instead became a Jayhawk and started hanging around legendary coach Bob Timmons’ track team.

At that time, the 1978 Kansas graduate says, “I knew absolutely nothing about track. Nothing … but all the events intrigued me.”

Rovelto’s first teaching job was at McLouth High School where he taught government and history, but his passion was in track and field.

“It was a two-year period that I totally engrossed myself into learning the sport. I went to every clinic I could find and spent every dime on books and tapes,” says Rovelto, who estimates that he has up to 15,000 books and tapes on track.

Today, Rovelto is recognized as the most premier multi-event and high jump coach in the United States, but he says if there is one event he enjoys most to coach “… it would be the 400-, 800-type kid. That’s a special animal. They have to love to work and have to work hard with a lot of heart.”

He adds, “The thing I admire about track athletes is you can’t hide. In a team sport you can hide for a short time but if you do that in track, if you’re even at 95 percent, you’re going to get embarrassed.”

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