By Jewell Mayberry
For the Salisbury Post
By 12:30 p.m. on Aug. 8, competition had ceased at the qualifying round of the men’s pole vault in Olympic Stadium in London. With 32 vaulters beginning the competition, the round had been long and grueling. As vaulters tire, the possibility for injury increases dramatically. One vaulter had already stunned the crowd when his pole broke into three pieces, tossing him violently into the pit. The judges decided to “call” the round.
Fifteen vaulters had already been eliminated. Two vaulters had cleared 5.65 meters (18 feet, 6 inches). Six had cleared 5.6 meters. Nine had cleared 5.5 meters, but one had an earlier miss at that height, and two had two misses. In most meets, everyone who clears the same height in one of their three attempts advances, but this was not an ordinary meet. The judges could qualify the top 8, 14, 15 or 17. How many would move on to the final round and a chance for the gold medal?
Finally, the judges’ decision was posted on the giant video screen hanging strategically above the Olympic flame. The top 14 finishers would advance. Jeremy Scott was number 15, and we all watched helplessly as his Olympic dream for 2012 was crushed.
Jeremy Scott is our son-in-law. My husband, David, and I attended the Olympics with our daughter, Sarah, and six members of Jeremy’s family. As we watched the results flash on the screen, we turned to one another in disbelief and disappointment. Hank Scott, Jeremy’s father, said, “I prayed so hard that he would make the Olympic team. I guess we got greedy when we wanted more after he made the team.”
I don’t think we got greedy. Moving on to the finals seemed only fair after all the physical training, traveling, time away from family, and financial hardship Jeremy has endured to compete at this level. However, this just wasn’t Jeremy’s year. He spent most of the year trying to recover from severe tendonitis in his knee and only competed in a couple of meets. Ironically, his knee was feeling much better at the Olympics, and he says that may have been part of the problem. “I could run so much faster because my knee felt better, but I hadn’t trained at that pace. I just couldn’t get in the rhythm.”
The other American vaulters also had problems. Jeremy’s good friend and mentor, three-time Olympian Derek Miles, no-heighted at the preliminaries and ended his long and successful career. American record holder Brad Walker made it to the finals, but no-heighted there. The pole vault, this year, belonged to the Europeans.
So, we’re at the Olympics …
The Olympics were the most spectacular event any of us had ever attended. Over 10,000 elite athletes from 204 countries were gathered in an area smaller than two square miles, and everywhere we went, we were surrounded by athletes whose abilities humbled us.
We were fortunate to stay in an apartment directly across from Olympic Stadium that a local resident had vacated for the 17 days of the games. As we watched some of the events for which we didn’t have tickets on the BBC, we could hear the cheers of the crowd from our window, especially any time a British athlete competed. Every medal ceremony began with the theme from “Chariots of Fire,” the 1981 movie based on the 1924 Olympics, and I still can’t get that melody out of my head. We heard every national anthem played in honor of a victor, and we heard “God Save the Queen” close the ceremonies each evening.
One of the best places to watch the world’s top athletes just be themselves was at Westfield Shopping Centre, an extravagant mall adjacent to Olympic Park. Teams and individuals roamed freely there, some in uniform for attention, most in street clothes for anonymity, trading country pins with one another, shopping with family members, drinking pints in the food court.
We had dinner with Jeremy and some of his friends one evening, and it seemed like the first line of a joke: three pole vaulters walked into a bar, an American, an Israeli and a South Korean. We socialized with Olympic medalists and world record holders and realized in awe that these were the people Jeremy worked with every day.
Our experience in London could not have happened had it not been for daughter Sarah’s careful and timely planning. Jeremy qualified at the U.S. Olympic Track and Field Trials in Eugene, Ore., on June 27. The Olympics began on July 27. While Jeremy traveled immediately to San Diego, Calif., to continue training and strengthen his knee, Sarah coordinated the purchase of event tickets, made housing arrangements, and researched flight plans for nine family members in five states.
During that same time period, she taught summer school at Arkansas State University, organized a major fundraising campaign to help support Jeremy’s training, scheduled countless interviews for Jeremy with media outlets from the local radio station to the British Broadcasting Corporation, and took care of 21-month-old Cameron. If there were a gold medal for Olympic spouses, she should be wearing it.
Rule 40 controversy
This year’s Olympics faced many of the same issues as other recent Olympics: athletes dismissed for drug use, athletes performing poorly in qualifying rounds of competition to gain a more favorable position in final rounds, and athletes seeking asylum in London after the games ended.
However, this year the largest controversy was over the International Olympic Committee’s Rule 40, a regulation that prevents athletes from advertising for non-Olympic sponsors for a month period surrounding the games. The most visible offense was Michael Phelps’ ad campaign for Louis Vuitton that was leaked during the restricted period. While Rule 40 states that athletes engaging in unapproved advertising could be stripped of their medals, that is certainly not likely to happen to the high-profile Phelps.
However, Rule 40 ruled the world of Twitter during the Olympics as American track and field athletes campaigned against the regulation at #wedemandchange. Unlike Olympic athletes in many countries, American Olympians are not subsidized by the government. Many American Olympians hold full- or part-time jobs to support their training, competition-related travel and family expenses. Almost all American Olympians have one or more sponsors who provide free shoes, free apparel, and free equipment, and some sponsors offer appearance fees or performance-based incentives.
Though these sponsors make most American Olympians possible, the athletes were not allowed to thank their sponsors or even mention their sponsors on Twitter or Facebook during the Olympic ban period. Sanya Richards-Ross, American gold medalist in the 440 meters and three-time gold medalist in the 4×400 meters relay, was one of the leaders of the campaign, tweeting, “We love to entertain, inspire, and encourage the world, but Olympians are going home unable to pay their bills!”
Back to normal
Like fans from around the world, we flew home at the end of the games on a plane loaded with Olympic athletes, including volleyball silver medalist Destinee Hooker, decathlon silver medalist Trey Hardee, and several members of the U.S .women’s gold medal basketball team. As the plane landed in Detroit, the flight attendant asked for a moment of recognition for the Olympians on board, and I couldn’t help but look at the faces that I didn’t recognize and wonder how many of them had also competed but not won glory.
Because, no matter what prime time media would have us believe, most Olympic athletes don’t win a medal, much less several medals. In fact, most Olympic athletes don’t even make it to the finals in their field, and most certainly don’t make it to the television screen. But they were there. They represented their country. They were the best of the best. They are, and always will be, Olympians.
And where was our Olympian, Jeremy? Not headed home to fame and fortune and family, but back to work, on a plane to Germany, to the next meet on the circuit. After all, his knee is feeling better, and the 2016 Olympics in Rio are only 1,445 days away.
Jewell and David Mayberry live in Salisbury.
By Jewell Mayberry