Aug. 11, 2012
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Editor’s Note: The 2012 Olympic Games in full-swing in London. Each Olympic year brings back some special memories for four current-day Wildcats: Associate Head Women’s Basketball Coach Kamie Ethridge, Assistant Track Coach Steve Fritz, Director of Track and Field Operations Karol Rovelto and Head Rowing Coach Patrick Sweeney. Today, K-State Sports Extra continues its Olympic feature of Wildcats in the Olympic Games with Rovelto.
By Mark Janssen
The year was 2000 and Karol Rovelto, then Karol Damon, was not in the conversation to make the women’s high jump field for the Olympic Games in Sydney, Australia.
And for that matter, Rovelto, herself, sort of laughs at how she made the USA team by winning the Olympic Trials at 6 feet, 4.25 inches.
“If you talk to Cliff, he’d tell you I got lucky,” said Rovelto of her now husband, and head track coach at Kansas State. “I had no coach, I was living in Kansas City working with my own system and going up to Nebraska to train every now and then. Honestly, I was pretty much doing my own thing.”
Today, Rovelto calls winning the 2000 Trials was a “force of will.” That force of will came from the 1996 Trials when she placed fourth.
“At a meet like the trials where only three make the team, I think some would rather be last than fourth. Fourth is absolutely the worst placing,” said Rovelto in reference to missing the USA team by one spot. “I was crushed. I mean, absolutely crushed. It was a competition where I blinked and did it to myself. Just for a second, I lost focus, and you can’t do that at the trials.”
The University of Colorado graduate and four-time All-American was so devastated, she said, “I quit high jumping. I didn’t do anything that involved track and field for at least six months.”
Slowly but surely, Rovelto came back and entered the 2000 season as a 30-year-old focused on nothing but jumping 6-4.25.
“I wasn’t concerned about winning, but only concerned about jumping 6-4.25,” she said. “I knew if I did that, everything else would take care of itself.”
That would end up being the height that Rovelto cleared to win the 2000 trials. At the Olympics in Sydney, she topped the bar at 6-2.5, which was the leading American, but only good for 24th place at the games.
Today, Rovelto, K-State’s Director of Track and Field Operations, says of her experience, “I’m very proud of making that team. As they say, ‘Once an Olympian, Always an Olympian.’ You’re not an ex-Olympian, but you’re always an Olympian.”
Looking back, Rovelto says at 26 years of age in 1996, she probably wasn’t ready for the “instant celebrity” of being an Olympian.
But four years later, she says, “I was more prepared mentally for all the stuff that goes on around an Olympic Game setting. There wasn’t a concern of being star-struck with the surroundings.”
While saying that she took part in some of the hoop-la, she said, “I went down the last minute possible because I wanted to train in the United States. When I got there, it was to do a job and not hang out with other athletes.”
Rovelto, who has a personal record of 6-5.5 in the high jump, does say the Olympic ceremonies were “the coolest thing,” but it didn’t come without some pain.
For whatever reason, Rovelto was near the head of the pack of USA Olympians when their turn came to circle the stadium, “We had the largest group, and I remember turning around and all I could see were USA athletes. That really gave me the chills. It was really, really cool.”
What wasn’t really, really cool was the team uniform, which includes a dress-type shoe.
“It was the first time I had worn those shoes, and I was on my feet for hours with the ceremony, and then we had to walk a long ways to catch the bus to go back to the village,” said Rovelto. “I had blisters everywhere.”
While Rovelto stayed in the village with the vast majority of the USA team, the true headliners like the basketball “Dream Team,” Marion Jones and Serena Williams opted to stay in private housing.
“What you really tried to do is not get sucked into all the hoop-la,” said Rovelto. “It was such a hassle to get places, so you stayed in your own routine. You were there to do a job. If you’re not careful, it can be an over-whelming experience.”
Rovelto says all of her Olympic gifts, such as a leather jacket and watch, are packed away, but there is one Olympic memory that she carries with her all the time: a tattoo of the Olympic Rings on the inside of her right ankle.
“I got that as soon as I got home from the trials,” said Rovelto. “It indicates Olympian forever.”
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