By Ryan Kaczmarski
With the London 2012 Olympic Summer Games set to open on Friday, West Life tracked down pole vaulter, Westlake native, Cleveland Sports Hall of Fame member (class of 2012) and 2004 gold medalist Tim Mack to see how the Athens games affected his life.
Before he won gold in Athens, he was the 1995 NCAA indoor national champion and two-time World Championships qualifier (2001, 2003).
Mack is a unique figure in world-class athletics. He did not hit his peak until he was at the age of 31, a time when most Olympians are ready to it hang up. At that point, he was winning gold.
Mack (TM) took some time out to talk with West Life (WL) and let us know what he is up to today. Here is one from the “Where are they now?” files.
WL: First of all, congratulations on the nomination to the Greater Cleveland Sports HOF! How does it feel to be honored in such a way in the area you grew up in?
TM: Thanks a lot. It really does feel great. Growing up in, and going to school in the area, you never think you would be one of the athletes to be recognized in this way. It is a great honor and makes me reflect on what I did and how special it really was.
WL: When did you realize that you had the potential to become a world-class athlete?
TM: I don’t know if I ever thought I could actually be a world-class athlete until about 2001, when I was in my late 20s. When people think you are world-class, I think usually you are some kind of “phenom” or super naturally gifted. I never really had that, and so I never thought that. All I ever thought was that I had to work really hard if I want to be really good. I never thought I could be great.
WL: When did you know it was time to move up from national to international competition?
TM: When I was in high school, and even in college, I was competing against some really good competition. I went to Malone College (now University) for three years and then transferred to (the University of Tennessee). In college I actually won the NCAA Indoor Championship (1995), so then I felt like, “Oh, wow, maybe I can actually do OK.” If I can beat a lot of the guys in college, maybe I could go to the next level. After college, in 1996, I decided to go for the Olympic Trials. That’s just what you do. I didn’t make it to the finals that first time, but I still made it to the trials. In 2000, I made it to the (trials) finals, and in 2004, I won.
WL: What was your overall experience like at the 2004 games in Athens?
TM: I didn’t want to go over there just to have an experience, and just be happy to be there. If I was going to win (gold), I was going to do it because I was designed to do it and I wanted to do it, and it was going to happen. I was in control, and a lot of people are afraid to be like that. I wanted to compete against the event itself, and do the best I could. I felt like if I did that, I would come out on top.
WL: You are now running pole vault clinics around the eastern United States, helping high school athletes learn and excel in the sport. Why does it seem that there is a shortage of qualified pole vault coaches around the area?
TM: I think it is because (pole-vaulting) is such a complicated sport. You really have to know what’s going on. That’s what I’m doing now. I’m instructing high school athletes and I love it. I work with a bunch of kids from different high schools (at his training facility in Tennessee) and I’m able to give back to the sport and share what I’ve learned over the years. People come in from out of town, and I do camps and clinics, so I try to do as much as I can to help out the other (high school) coaches, if they want my help.
Before his retirement from competition, Mack won the 2010 USA Indoor Championships with his vault of 18 feet, 8.5 inches. If you would like to read more about him, pick up Bill Livingston’s book on Mack called “Above & Beyond: Tim Mack, the Pole Vault and the Quest for Olympic Gold.” For more information on Tim Mack and his motivational speaking, coaching and camps and clinics, go to www.timmack.com.