John Chaplin has landed the hottest seat in Sydney for the 2000 Olympics.
The former Washington State University coach has been named head coach of the United States track and field team for the XXVIIth Olympic Games in Australia.
“It’s an honor more than anything else,” said Chaplin. “It’s nice to know your peers think you can take the helm and lead the delegation.”
In voting conducted at the annual convention of USA Track and Field in Dallas, Chaplin was elected on the first ballot by the International Competition Committee, made up of 40 individuals from all the disciplines of track and field. Also on the ballot were Sam Bell of Indiana, Harry Groves of Penn State and Bill Moultrie of Howard University.
The vote must be approved by the United States Olympic Committee, but USATF’s selection process has already been endorsed by that body.
So Chaplin, who served at the 1988 Olympics as an international technical official and as the head referee in Atlanta, becomes the 18th different man to lead the U.S. team.
“You’ve got three jobs,” he explained. “A, you’d better not screw up the relay teams. B, you’d better handle the media in a way that doesn’t embarrass the country. And C, you have to be a good guy with athletes’ agents. You’re there to be of service to the athletes.
“You wind up in the middle of the bull’s eye - not much power and you have to dance a lot.”
Erv Hunt, head coach of the 1996 U.S. team in Atlanta, discovered as much when he stood up to some last-minute politicking to get Carl Lewis placed on the 4x100-meter relay team. It didn’t help when the group Hunt settled on was blown away by Canada for the gold medal.
Chaplin, 60, was WSU’s head track coach from 1973 to 1994, amassing a dual meet record of 202-15 and winning the school’s only NCAA team championship, indoor track in 1977. He resigned in 1994 and accepted reassignment to the provost’s office. He also teaches geography at WSU.
For 12 years during his coaching career at WSU, he also served as chairman of the International Competition Committee, and thus was ineligible to be Olympic coach.
“In this day and age, it’s probably better if the (Olympic) coach isn’t a college coach,” Chaplin said, “because with the time demands, your team could go to hell in a handbasket. Your college kids suffer and that’s not right.”
He said he plans to take a sabbatical fall semester of 2000, since the Games are in September that year.
Chaplin’s staff will include Baylor’s Clyde Hart, who coaches sprinter Michael Johnson, and Wabash College coach Rob Johnson, a former Idaho sprinter who used to compete against Chaplin.
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