“Just forcing myself to be steady at the wheel has been tough,” said Valmon, 47. “Every so often, you want to deviate off the road, take a deep breath and just stop worrying about it. But the second you stop, you get reminded that it’s always around.”
Valmon, a former 400-meter runner and two-time Olympic gold medalist, will be in Portland, Ore., Thursday for the opening event of the U.S. Track and Field Olympic Trials. He will then head to Eugene for more than a week of races and events that will determine the makeup of Team USA. He’s in the unique position of leading a large contingent of athletes into the biggest track meet on the planet, while his own team back home teeters on the brink of extinction.
If he and his Maryland associates can’t reach a $940,000 fundraising level by June 30, the men’s track program will be eliminated. As of this week, about $835,000 had been raised, and men’s track appeared to be the most likely of the targeted Terps sports to receive a temporary reprieve. The June 30 deadline is just the first goal; a total of $1.88 million must be raised by the end of the year in order for the men’s program to continue next spring.
While fundraising has taken up the majority of his time in recent months, Valmon is focused this week on the task of turning around the USA Track and Field men’s program.
The USATF brass, including new CEO Max Siegel, has set a 30-medal goal for its men’s and women’s teams at the London Olympics, a mark the United States hasn’t hit since the Barcelona games in 1992. The Beijing games four years ago were considered an overwhelming disappointment, as the Americans brought home 23 medals — just seven of which were gold, the fewest for the United States since 1976.
“I try not to look at medal count,” Valmon said, “but I have an idea of what expectations will be like.”
Following 2008, USATF convened a special committee chaired by Carl Lewis, which produced a blistering report about the state of U.S. track and field. Among the charges: “chaos reigned” around the relays, there was a “culture of mistrust” among coaches and athletes, and “coaches should act and be treated” professionally.
Valmon was tabbed as a solution who could address many of the ills. He’s the first Olympic gold medalist to coach the men’s delegation. He was part of the winning 4x400 relay teams at the 1988 and ’92 Olympics and has the required expertise, USATF officials hope, to ensure Team USA’s relay teams fare better in London, after dropped batons eliminated both men’s and women’s teams in Beijing.