04 Aug 2012

Relatives of gold-medal cyclist Kristin Armstrong share their experiences at the sidelines

By Lindsey Gelwicks  |  BSU at the Games

As the last notes of the U.S. national anthem echoed across Hampton Court Palace, 2-year-old Lucas Salvola was finally allowed to join his mother, Kristin Armstrong, on the podium. Smiles spread across both their faces as Armstrong scooped the toddler up into her arms and held the gold medal around her neck.

“I think it brought a tear to all our eyes,” Armstrong’s sister-in-law Marge Wilson said. “Just to see her on the podium and hear the ‘Star Spangled Banner.’”

For the group of 12 sisters-in-law, nieces, nephews and significant others, seeing Armstrong win her second time trial (the first was at Beijing in 2008) was the highlight of their trip to the London Olympic Games.

The family finally got a chance to relax Thursday morning as it sat in the lobby of the London Hilton Metropole reflecting on the last few days and making plans for the rest of its trip.

“It was surreal,” Marge said. “[My husband] Brady always knew she’d win. You just want it so bad.”

Between two races, a minor crash and a gold medal, the days leading up to Armstrong’s second gold medal were full of both excitement and anxiety for the Wilson clan, related to Armstrong through her husband, Joe Salvola.

Anxiety at the sidelines

July 28 marked the family’s first day in London, but its true purpose for being there didn’t come until the next day.

Joined by Lucas, the Wilsons stood by the 500-meter mark near Buckingham Palace late Sunday morning awaiting the start of the women’s cycling road race.

The family didn’t have any signs or American flags to hang over the railing lining the course (“We’re lamenting that fact,” said Armstrong’s nephew Matt Wilson), but it did bring the love and family support.

Although the group was there to cheer Armstrong on, her brother-in-law Brady Wilson knew it wasn’t her event. Amidst gasps from his family, he said he doubted she would win the race.

“She’s not much of a sprinter,” he said, defending himself.

The nerves the family felt as the race drew closer weren’t just because it was about to watch Armstrong compete, though. About 30 minutes before the race, the group became anxious as umbrellas popped up along the course to shield the crowd from the rain.

Armstrong had broken her collarbone on a wet track in a race in her hometown of Boise, Idaho, three months earlier, and none of them wanted her slipping again. But two-thirds of the way into the corner, Armstrong was involved in a minor crash at the bottom of Box Hill, falling on the same shoulder she broke in May.

“We all got sick to our stomachs,” Marge said.

It’s crashes like these that make it rough knowing an Olympic athlete at times. According to Marge, Armstrong’s mother can’t even watch her race—live or on TV.

Armstrong recovered after the fall but still didn’t win the road race. She placed 35th with a time of 3:36:16.

‘No luck. No nothing.’

Although Sunday didn’t bring another medal, the family was more confident on Wednesday as it prepared to cheer Armstrong on in what cyclists call the “race of truth.” With just the rider against the clock, it’s the true test of their ability.

“She can just do her tunnel vision,” Armstrong’s niece Audrey Wilson said. “She just goes out there and knows what she has to do.”

After recovering from Sunday’s scare, Armstrong’s family was ready to take its place on the sidelines once again, this time near Hampton Court Palace.

Wednesday morning, as Marge stood by the side of the course accompanied by her husband, daughters and son, she could feel the electric tension in the air. This was Armstrong’s last attempt at a gold medal.

The family positioned itself as close to the finish line as it possibly could without having tickets. Shortly after 1 p.m., everyone watched on a big screen as Armstrong rolled down the ramp, the last of the cyclists to start her time trial.

As Armstrong neared the point where the family was standing, many around it had realized the group was related to the reigning gold medalist defending her position. Murmurs of, “That’s Kristin’s family. That’s her family,” echoed through the crowd.

Although Team Great Britain fans surrounded the family, cheers erupted throughout the area as the 38-year-old cyclist crossed the finish line and claimed her gold medal. Her family couldn’t have been prouder.

“She deserved this,” said Armstrong’s sister-in-law Sue Henderson, one of the few able to stand in the ticketed area with Lucas to see the finish line. “No luck. No nothing. She just worked hard.”

Sharing in the celebration

Despite the pride the family has for Armstrong, it isn’t always easy having an Olympic athlete in the family.

Want to go out on a leisurely bike ride with her? Not possible, said her niece Audrey Wilson.

“You could only stay with her for half the ride,” Audrey’s brother Matt said.

Even Armstrong’s husband, Joe Salvola, who also cycles, can only keep up with her for half the ride, Marge said.

It’s no surprise for the family Armstrong won her second gold, but it also knows how far she’s come since it first met her. At that point, she had just picked up cycling after being diagnosed with osteoarthritis in her hips and told she could no longer participate as a triathlete.

“We were just so happy when she made her first pro cycling team,” her niece Michelle Wilson said.

Training and preparing mentally for her two races have kept Armstrong busy throughout the past week. Only her husband and parents, who helped with bike preparations, were able to see her prior to Wednesday night’s celebratory dinner, when the rest of the family joined. Even her son Lucas stayed with his aunts, uncles and cousins for a majority of the time.

But the family has been understanding throughout.

“We don’t want to distract her,” Brady said. “We know she’s so focused.”

Now that the Olympic Games are over, Armstrong is heading back to the U.S. to watch the rest of the Games from the comfort of her home. Her family is off to explore the rest of London and the United Kingdom.

Check out our full photo gallery of the Women’s Cycling Road Race.

Lindsey Gelwicks is a senior magazine journalism major at Ball State University and features reporter for BSU at the Games. Follow Lindsey and the BSU team at @lbgelwicks@bsuatthegames and www.facebook.com/bsuatthegames.

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03 Aug 2012

Fighting for gold: The Rau’Shee Warren story

By Josh Blessing and Alex Kartman  |  BSU at the Games

“Boxing saved my life.”

Those words, spoken by Rau’Shee Warren echo the harsh past he left behind when he started boxing for Team USA.

Now competing in his third Olympic Games, Warren fights for a chance to bring gold back to his hometown of Cincinnati, where crime devastated the streets he grew up on.

Also check out our full photo gallery on Rau’Shee.

Josh Blessing is a junior telecommunications major and Alex Kartman is a graduate student studying digital storytelling at Ball State University. They both cover sports for BSU at the Games. Follow Josh, Alex and the BSU team at @JoshJBlessing, @ajkartman@bsuatthegames and www.facebook.com/bsuatthegames.

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03 Aug 2012

An Olympian’s fight for a better life

By Emily Thompson  |  BSU at the Games

JoJo Diaz grew up as part of a poor family in a rough part of El Monte, Calif. Kids in his neighborhood wanted him to join one of the local gangs, but Diaz liked school. He got good grades. For that reason, and because he was so small, he was bullied a lot.

One time he fought back.

The fight landed him in a special class for troubled students, and he swore to never fight on the street again. But the bullying didn’t stop.

He turned to his father for advice, and his dad took him to the local boxing gym to learn how to defend himself the right way. The very first day, Diaz ran into one of the bullies from school at the gym. The other boy had two years experience in the ring.

“You think you’re tough?” the bully said. “Let’s spar.”

Diaz agreed to spar in a week. During that time he practiced with his father. A week later, he put on his boxing gloves and walked into the ring for his first match. He gave the bully a bloody nose and made him cry. He found his passion in life.

“Ever since then, I just got hooked on boxing,” he said. “And I said, ‘Dad, we could do this for a living.’”

Joseph Diaz Jr. completes an intense heavy bag workout during a Team USA Boxing training session at SCORE training center in Leyton, an area of east London. Photo by Valerie Carnevale.

Joseph “JoJo” Diaz Jr. is now the youngest boxer on Team USA for the 2012 Summer Olympic Games. USA Boxing gives him a monthly stipend, which supports Diaz, one of his sisters and his two unemployed parents.

“If it wasn’t for boxing, I don’t know where I’d be,” he said. “I don’t know if I’d be in a gang or what. But boxing really helps me out a lot, with everything: helping out my parents financially, helping me stay of trouble, everything overall.”

But the stipend was not enough for his parents to come to London and watch him in the Olympic Games. So he and his family washed cars, sold t-shirts and autographs, collected donations and held beer pong tournaments.

After what seemed like endless fundraising, they raised enough money to bring seven people to watch him: his mother and father, his two sisters and brother-in-laws and his boxing director. They met Diaz in London last week.

Another person in his corner is fellow Olympic boxer Marcus Browne. The two spend a lot time together outside of the ring.

“JoJo’s my boy,” Browne said. “He’s a great kid. If I would have a son, I want my son to be like him because he’s well mannered. He’s just a good-spirited person.”

Since arriving in London, Diaz said he’s ready to compete.

“I’m already here,” he said. “I’m already really well trained. I’m already focused. I’m in the best shape of my life. So I know that it’s going to be really hard to beat me.”

He and the rest of Team USA Boxing are preparing for the Games at the SCORE Training Center in London. At a typical practice, the team trains with four coaches.

Although the center doesn’t have air conditioning, Diaz wore a gray, long-sleeved Nike shirt and black athletic shorts Thursday. After stretching and conditioning, he put on his gloves and started hitting the punching bag. His punches got harder and faster as he progressed, with a “hut” sound each time he hit the bag. Eventually his nice, clean clothes became sweaty. Although several other athletes and coaches were buzzing around him, he looked as focused as if he were alone.

Al Mitchell, Team USA head boxing coach, said he’s confident in Diaz’s skills.

“He’s a very smart young man, and he wants to learn,” Mitchell said. “He’s just getting better and better each day. When he came here, he could box. And he’s working on strategy now.”

Although USA Boxing hasn’t done well in recent Olympic Games, Diaz said he believes that will change this year. In fact, he has his heart set on gold.

“If I bring back that gold medal, I’m going to change my whole family’s life,” he said. “I’m going to buy them a house. I’m going to buy them a car and just pay all their bills for them and everything. So that’s actually making me more focused and more determined.”

Emily Thompson is a senior magazine journalism major at Ball State University and features reporter for BSU at the Games. Follow Emily and the BSU team at@ekthompson2410@bsuatthegames and www.facebook.com/bsuatthegames.
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01 Aug 2012

Former BSU field-hockey player designs Olympic logo

By: Tyler Poslosky | BSU at the Games

Kaitlan Mitchell

Former BSU Field Hockey player, Kaitlan Mitchell, designed Team USA Field Hockey shirt.

Kaitlan Mitchell sat comfortably by her computer with her family at her side watching Team USA Field Hockey defeat Argentina 4-2 in the finals of the XVI Pan American Games last fall.

When the final horn sounded, Mitchell couldn’t believe what unfolded.

“At the end of it, Lauren Crandall, the captain, was running onto the field with the American flag in one hand and in the other hand, she’s holding up my shirt,” Mitchell said.

“It was one of those moments where chills were going up and down my back. I was crying. Completely surreal. I remember my friends and family just cuddling around my computer jumping up and down with tears, crying. I don’t cry, ever. It was a big deal.”

Mitchell, a Ball State University alum, was a four-year backfielder and midfielder for the Cardinals. Upon graduating in 2011 with a degree in journalism, she accepted an internship with USA Field Hockey, serving as both graphic designer and writer.

Her idea surfaced during the Pan American Games last October. It was the U.S.’s first chance to qualify for the Olympic Games in London.

Team USA Field Hockey shirt

Kaitlan Mitchell designed this Team USA Field Hockey logo in her first year after graduating from Ball State University.

“I was told to come up with a logo just in case we did win so they could put it on different pamphlets and things to hand out,” Mitchell said. “They made a bunch of shirts just in case, and what do you know, we end up beating Argentina [4-2].”

Mitchell wasn’t set on designing just one logo. Instead, she turned in five with the hopes of one being used.

The chosen design “exudes a modern vibe while still being within the tastes of a broad generation of field-hockey fans across the nation,” Mitchell said. “I brought in the Union Jack and placed it within the 2012 font as a tip of the hat to this year’s host country.

“The Olympic rings are a trademarked logo, so I had to be careful with the design. The layout of the sticks are used to frame the 2012 logo. The sticks create leading lines to establish further visual interest instead of the traditional circle logo.”

On June 24, the U.S. wrapped up its final preparation match before heading to London, and Mitchell was in store for another surprise.

“I just thought the logo was going to be on shirts,” Mitchell said. “I walked around and found it everywhere. It was mind-blowing. I saw it on pins, beer glasses, jackets, hats [and] backpacks. The Olympic team was announced wearing custom-made jerseys with my logo on it. It left me totally speechless. It was so [thrilling], a complete dream.”

Beth Maddox, Mitchell’s previous coach at Ball State, was thrilled to see one of her former players get such an amazing opportunity.

“She is so talented that I’m not surprised how amazing the logo is,” Maddox said. “Kaitlan is such an extraordinary person. She works hard and has a passion for the sport. We couldn’t be more proud of her.”

Given an opportunity of this significance right out of college wasn’t what Mitchell expected, but it certainly was a dream come true.

“I didn’t think I’d be doing something this big,” Mitchell said. “I had to work my way up, but it happened really quickly. …

“Just to think, coming out of college, designing a logo for the national team is wild.”

Tyler Poslosky is a senior journalism news major at Ball State University covering sports for BSU at the Games. Follow Tyler and the BSU team at @tylerposlosky, @bsuatthegames and www.facebook.com/bsuatthegames.

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31 Jul 2012

For family of Olympic cyclist, waiting’s the worst part

By Lindsey Gelwicks  |  BSU at the Games

Nearly an hour before the women’s road race began; crowds start to appear beside the gates lining the track near Buckingham Palace. Up until that point, small clusters of people space themselves out along the edge of the road for one of the few free events of the Olympic Games.

Several groups hang their nations’ flags over the railing, clanging bells and cheering as their favorite cyclists ride past warming up before the 140-kilometer race.

Many are supporting athletes they’ve seen only in the media, but one group of Americans is there for a more personal reason—to support their family member.

Nieces, nephews and brothers- and sisters-in-law of U.S. Olympic cyclist Kristin Armstrong stand near the 500-meter mark of the race awaiting the start.

“I’m more anxious,” Armstrong’s nephew Matt Wilson said about what it’s like being there for a family member.

Matt was joined by his girlfriend, Laura Tedrick, his parents (Armstrong’s in-laws), Brady and Marge Wilson, and his sisters, one of which held Armstrong’s nearly 2-year-old son, Lucas.

This wasn’t the first time the family has supported Armstrong in her cycling endeavors. Brady and Marge were in Beijing in 2008 when Armstrong won gold in the time trials.

According to Brady, she keeps her medal in the gun safe.

“We’re from Idaho; everyone has a gun safe,” Matt added.

Brady is convinced Armstrong will win the time trials again this year on Wednesday. He isn’t as convinced about this race though, he said amid gasps from his family, telling him he couldn’t say things like that.

“She’s not much of a sprinter,” he said, defending himself.

Brady explained the end of the road race comes down to sprinting head-on against the other competitors.

As the 30-minute mark before the race approaches, the previously sunny sky becomes overcast. Rain falls as umbrellas pop up along the track, sheltering spectators.

“I’m hopeful it’ll pass momentarily,” Matt said, who unlike the rest of his family had forgotten to bring a rain jacket or umbrella.

“At least we’re all packed in here. We can’t get too cold,” his father said.

A little rain isn’t a problem; they were more worried about the track being wet. Armstrong broke her collarbone after crashing in an Idaho race in May. Her family doesn’t want her to slip.

“It makes her more cautious,” Marge Wilson said of the uneasy weather.

The race is getting closer as the announcer introduces each of the countries in the day’s event. As the U.S. is called, the family cheers and pounds on the railing to make noise.

“It’s pretty amazing,” Tedrick said. “People come from all over the world to support their countries. I expected Europeans to be here, but there are people all the way from South America.”

Finally, the sky begins to clear up minutes before the race begins.

“Ten! Nine! Eight!” shouts the crowd, counting down to the start. Even little Lucas joins in.

Seconds later, the 66 cyclists fly by.

Armstrong’s family doesn’t have any signs or American flags to hang over the edge, a fact they lament Matt said, but they do have loud cheers of support to provide as Armstrong zooms past with the pack of riders.

“Did you see mommy?” Marge asked, turning to Lucas.

“Yeah!” Lucas shouted as he raised the red lollipop clutched in his hand up in the air.

UPDATE:

Kristin Armstrong finished 35th in the women’s road race. Two-thirds of the way into the race, at the bottom of Box Hill, she was involved in a minor crash. Her final time was 3:36:16. Armstrong competes in the time trials Wednesday.

Lindsey Gelwicks is a senior magazine journalism major at Ball State University and features reporter for BSU at the Games. Follow Lindsey and the BSU team at @lbgelwicks@bsuatthegames and www.facebook.com/bsuatthegames.

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31 Jul 2012

Underdog wrestler keeps his Olympic promise

By Conor Hockett  |  BSU at the Games

When Ben Provisor was a freshman on the wrestling team at Stevens Point High School in Wisconsin, goal cards were handed out to everyone during a practice.

Provisor kept his blank for a while as his teammates filled theirs out with aspirations for the season and state tournament. Finally, Provisor wrote down two words—2012 Olympian.

It may seem crazy for a 22-year-old who never finished higher than third in the Wisconsin Wrestling High School State Championship or won a collegiate wrestling title to qualify for the 2012 Olympics.

But after defeating No. 1 seed Aaron Sieracki in the final of the Greco-Roman wrestling Olympic qualifying at 74 kg (163 lbs) in April, Provisor left the mat with his hand raised, a tattoo of a cross with angel wings only half visible under his singlet.

“I know if I wrestle to my full potential, I can beat everybody in the U.S. [at 74 kg],” Provisor said. “I wrestle all the guys [in my weight class] all the time so it was awesome to win it. I was expecting to win the whole time, but I don’t know if anyone else did.”

Making it to London took more than confidence. Years of training under a former great and a promise to a special mentor put Provisor on track for Olympic glory.

A helpful neighbor

With no other athletes in his immediate family, Provisor said his parents, Dennis and Tammy, signed him up for various sports to see what would catch. It turned out he was attracted to the more violent sports.

“I was a really physical kid when I was younger,” Provisor said. “I played a lot of football and was always a little rougher than normal. My mom went to a wrestling tournament one time and she thought I would be good at it. I signed up for wrestling the next day.”

Provisor started entering city tournaments when he was 6 years old but said it was just for fun. When he turned 9, he decided to get more serious and joined the World Gold Wrestling Club.

That’s where he met Dennis Hall.

Hall was a bit of a local hero. He was originally from Plover, Wis., about two hours south of Stevens Point, but had lived, trained and run the club in Stevens Point for years.

A Greco-Roman wrestler himself, Hall was a three-time Olympian (1992, 1996 silver medalist and 2004), 10-time U.S. National Champion, and 1995 World Champion.

Inducted into the 2011 National Wrestling Hall of Fame, Hall also turned out to be Provisor’s neighbor.

The two began working at the club, and it didn’t take long for Hall to recognize Olympic potential in his young pupil.

“First time I saw him, I knew he was somebody that could possibly get to that level [the Olympic Games]. It was what I saw inside him—his dedication, his heart and how he loved to compete. I think if you don’t have it in your heart, no matter how much training you do, it’s not going to get you there.”

With all the tools in place, Hall started making special arrangements for his young wrestler. When Provisor was in eighth grade, Hall brought over several training partners from Bulgaria. One of those training partners stayed with Provisor at his house and they became close.

Shortly after, an opportunity to train back in Bulgaria came up for Provisor. At age 13, he lived in Bulgaria for a year, repeating eighth grade and training with top-tier Greco-Roman wrestlers.

During his time in Bulgaria is when he first realized he could be an Olympian, Provisor said. His stay there was part of Hall’s plan to get him ready to be just that.

“I think the trip showed him that guys are doing the Greco-Roman part full-time,” Hall said. “If he wants to win at the world level, he’s got to train at that level more.”

When Provisor returned, he started showing significant strides as a wrestler. As a freshman in high school, Provisor remembers the first time he ever could go toe-to-toe with Hall on the mat.

“I was like 130 pounds the first time I scored on him,” Provisor said. “I was super happy, but then I got my ass whooped by him.”

Once Provisor got to be a junior in high school and weighed about 170 lbs, he said Hall could no longer beat him. Hall wrestled competitively at 121 lbs and 127 lbs, and Provisor said he was too big for him.

Two dreams

After high school, Provisor enrolled at Northern Michigan. He didn’t wrestle there, but the Olympic dream still burned inside him. He went to school for one year but then had to make a choice. It was going to be London or bust.

“The partners I wanted to train with and the people I wanted to be around left, so I came to Colorado with them,” Provisor said. “It was sort of a choice between school and wrestling, and I picked wrestling. That’s what I’ve been working for my whole life and that’s what really matters to me. Education is super important, but if I wanted to get better at wrestling, I had to come to Colorado Springs.”

As a mother, Tammy Provisor was hesitant to let her son walk away from higher education, but she saw the potential in Ben.

“I supported him and he obviously knew where he was in terms of his body and his mind,” Tammy Provisor said. “He made the right decision because all his hard work has paid off.”

At 20, Provisor left the Midwest behind and moved to Colorado Springs. It was the wrestling environment he wanted. Provisor said he tried to go to school at the University of Colorado-Colorado Springs for a while, but when he won the U.S. Open Wrestling Championships in 2011, he got too busy.

Provisor has been training in Colorado Springs for two years now, but no matter how busy he gets, Hall is never out of the loop. Hall said the two talk about three to five times a week about not only wrestling but also attitude and approach.

“I try and help Ben with the mental side of the game,” Hall said. “If you go watch the Olympics this summer, everyone is chiseled—there’s not one guy who doesn’t look an Olympic athlete. The difference between the guys who win and who don’t is the mental focus they have.”

Back in Stevens Point, Hall was doing more than just long-distance coaching.

Hall hadn’t competed since the 2004 Olympics in Athens, but something was drawing him back. It wasn’t the fact that Provisor was attempting to qualify—Hall had seen that coming for years. It was the desire to compete.

At age 41, Hall decided to try and qualify for the Olympic team at 132 lbs.

“I didn’t want any regrets,” Hall said. “Last year I was a training partner for the No. 1 guy in the country and I was going with him toe-to-toe. I was there to help him out, but I felt I could still compete. For me it was about not looking back 10 years from now saying, why didn’t I do it? Could I have made the team? I know the answer now.”

Back in Iowa City in April, both Hall and Provisor wrestled for their Olympic fate on the same day. Competitors wrestle lowest weight to highest, so Hall would go first. His bid for a fourth Olympic team fell short, but that didn’t stop him from cheering or Provisor from winning.

“Of course I was disappointed, but at the same time I was happy for Ben,” Hall said. “It’s a step in the right direction to winning an Olympic medal. I told Ben four or five years ago, if you don’t have more Olympic and world medals than I have at the end of your career, I’ll be disappointed. You have more potential than what I had. I knew he’d get there, I just didn’t know when or how.”

A wrestling family tragedy

For Provisor, it was always a question of when, not how.

Beyond Hall’s lessons in the mental game of wrestling, Provisor always had the motivation in his heart to make an Olympic team. He said his inner belief has always been strong, and it is fueled by a promise he made back when he was a teenager.

Provisor’s mom Tammy worked with a man named Art Cone at Culver’s in Stevens Point. Provisor also knew Cone through wrestling.

“Our families got very close, and his son was also a wrestler so we got very close,” Provisor said. “He taught me a lot about being a good person and what really matters in life. Things like who I am, what I should be and how to treat people.”

Hall said the wrestling community is unlike a lot of other sports. The same people travel to tournaments together and interact from a young age. It involves parents and kids alike.

The connection between Provisor and Cone was one of those special relationships that went beyond the sport.  But Cone never got to see all that Provisor would turn out to be. He died when Provisor was a senior in high school.

“He was just a special guy to me,” Provisor said. “I wrote a letter to him to put in his casket. It was probably like three pages, but one of those things said, ‘I will be an Olympian and represent this country.’”

As the ref raised Provisor’s arm in victory back in April, two things were clear: Provisor never betrayed that promise and he never forgot Cone.

The tattoo partially covered under Provisor’s London-bound singlet pays tribute to his lost friend. Two passages accompany the cross and angel wings. The words ‘Carpe Diem’ are displayed atop the cross with ‘Rest in peace big papa’ along the bottom.

Although he won’t be there to watch the competition, Provisor made sure Cone would at least be part of the journey.

London-bound

It’s been years since his promise to Cone and the Olympic declaration to his teammates, but Provisor said he doesn’t feel any different now that the dream is reality.

“I don’t think anything has changed yet [since qualifying],” Provisor said. “When I get to the Opening Ceremonies, I’m going to understand that it’s real. Right now, I’m just focused on training and making sure I’m 100 percent for my competition.”

For Provisor, that means doing anything and everything to make sure he doesn’t burn out in the opening rounds.

“My cardio is really good right now and I’ve been going to yoga to keep my body flexible,” Provisor said. “I’ve been trying to work on wrestling on my feet to score so I don’t have to go into the up-and-down position. I’ve just been trying to make every little thing a bit better. I know I’m not going to make everything perfect. I’m just trying to make everything I’m good at now as good as possible.”

He’s also been pouring over a booklet of notes on each wrestler in his 74 kg weight class. For over a month, Provisor has been studying the strengths, weaknesses and tendencies of his opponents from all positions to prepare.

Provisor won’t know the exact opponent he’ll face until the day of weigh-ins. Until then, he and his mentor have a lot to talk about.

Although Hall hasn’t been in Colorado Springs over the past two years, he is coming to support Provisor in London along with a group 20-25 people.

Provisor’s mom Tammy said a strong supporting class from Stevens Point has been one of Ben’s driving forces since the beginning.

“I knew Ben was capable of winning. He just had to believe he could,” Tammy Provisor said. “We had 82 people from Stevens Point come [to qualifying], and I think that loyalty and love really inspired him. It just happened that day for him. He wrestled the best he’s ever wrestled—even his coach [Hall] said that. You have to have something going for you that day and he just did it.”

Since Provisor qualified in April, Hall has been giving advice about the competitive atmosphere in London.

“I said, ‘Ben you’ve got to understand the Olympic stage is different than a tournament in January,” Hall said. “In a tournament in January, guys are just wrestling to wrestle. When you get to the Olympic Games, you’ve got to expect a guy is willing to do almost anything to win an Olympic gold medal.’”

Getting out-willed doesn’t happen often to Provisor, and he doesn’t expect that to change. But through all his goal cards and promises that got him to this point, Provisor said he will be OK with just himself on the mat in London.

“I want to wrestle as hard as I can every single day [that I compete],” he said. “If I’m prepared the way I am now, I will have no regrets. I’m going to be calm and wrestle to my full potential. Hopefully I bring home a medal for the U.S.A. That’s the goal. Then I can start a long career in the sport of Greco-Roman wrestling.”

Conor Hockett is a junior journalism major at Ball State University covering sports for BSU at the Games. Follow Conor and the BSU team at @bsuatthegames and www.facebook.com/bsuatthegames.

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31 Jul 2012

Cancer survivor swims for a cure

By Josh Blessing  |  BSU at the Games

Standing on the blocks at the 2008 U.S. Olympic Swimming Trials, seconds before one of the most important swims of his career, breaststroker Eric Shanteau was not just physically competing against those swimmers to his left and right.

Like most world-class athletes, he tried to put himself in the moment of his race. The chance to realize a dream and qualify for the Olympic Games was on the line.

But as much as he tried to clear his head and focus on the task at hand, he faced even more challenging competition outside the pool.

The day life changed

Shanteau will never forget June 19, 2008. It’s the day doctors told him he had testicular cancer. He was 24 years old, and the timing was made more terrible by the Olympic pressure he already faced.

He was in the middle of vigorous training for the Beijing Olympics, and the U.S. Olympic Swimming Trials were just a week away.

“It was devastating to say the least,” Shanteau said. “You get hit with all these emotions all at once. I think the biggest thing is the loss of control. All of a sudden, the control is ripped out of your hands and replaced with a doctor who is essentially giving you a battle plan to save your life.”

Shanteau was forced to make a decision—postpone treatment and risk his cancer advancing or miss a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity in Beijing to start his treatment.

He consulted with his doctors, family and coaches, and “they gave me the go-ahead to compete at the Olympics,” Shanteau said. “It was an experience of a lifetime. It’s something I worked my entire life to do, and stepping foot on that deck for the first time in Beijing—I’ll definitely never forget that.”

While undergoing weekly tests to make sure his cancer remained stable, Shanteau swam a personal best in the 200-meter breaststroke but missed the finals by 0.13 of a second. Then he traveled back to the U.S. and underwent surgery to remove the cancer at the end of August.

He was declared cancer-free six days later, but the mental challenges never evaporated.
Brian Balmes, a six-time cancer survivor and Shanteau’s good friend who has competed in 12 marathons, seven half Ironmans and one full Ironman, knows the toll cancer can take on someone over the years.

“One of the things you have to get through when you have cancer is living with the fear of it coming back,” Balmes said. “As a human we have to find things to do to help you deal with that mentally.”

Shanteau visited his doctor every two months for routine check ups. An elite athlete who dominated competition in the pool now hoped to hear everything was fine.

“Coping with everything I had been through was a struggle,” Shanteau said. “After everything finally calmed down and I realized what I actually had been through, I was worried about a recurrence—where it would come back, when, or even if it would come back. These thoughts are always going through your mind.”

Now four years later, the cancer has not returned.

Swimming from an early age

There was little question Shanteau, a native of Lilburn, Ga., would be back in the pool as quickly as possible. Swimming has been part of his life since childhood.

He broke onto the national scene at 16 when he competed at the 2000 Olympic Trials. Upon graduating from Parkview High School two years later, Shanteau became the first male in the history of the USA Swimming Scholastic All-American Program to graduate with a 4.0 grade-point average and win a national title.

His swimming prowess continued at Auburn University where he was undefeated in team competitions. Swimming for the Tigers, Shanteau was an 11-time NCAA All-American and helped his team compile 32 dual meet victories, four SEC titles and four NCAA titles.

Shanteau quickly put himself in the international swimming spotlight. At the 2005 World University Games, he won gold in both the 200-meter and 400-meter individual medley, making him the first American to sweep both events.

Cancer didn’t slow his trajectory.

“I got back into the water and back in to shape,” Shanteau said. “I started swimming faster than I ever had before, pretty quickly. That’s really what led me to want to come back to the sport of swimming after 2008. I realized I hadn’t reached my potential quite yet.”

At the World Championships in 2009, Shanteau set American records in both the 100- and 200-meter breaststroke. He also broke the world record and became a world champion as part of the 4×100 medley relay, joining teammates Aaron Peirsol, Michael Phelps and David Walters.

“The success in 2009 was a really big catalyst to helping me continue on for another four years and go for another Olympic Games,” Shanteau said.

Swim for your life

Although his success in the pool is undeniable, his story goes much further. It’s what Shanteau has done outside of the pool that is changing lives.

After becoming cancer free, he began getting involved with the LIVESTRONG Foundation. He then was able to meet Lance Armstrong and attend his first LIVESTRONG Challenge.

“The LIVESTRONG Foundation has grown to multiple cities, and that got me thinking,” Shanteau said. “I want to do this for the swimming community.”

Two years later, Shanteau started his own cancer awareness event called Swim for Your Life. The open-water event is held at Lake Lanier near Atlanta, Ga.

Now in its third year, it has continued to grow. All funds raised from the full day of open-water swimming races and clinics go to the Patient Navigation Center and other programs that LIVESTRONG offers.

“I try to and run it like a LIVESTRONG Challenge, just in the water.” Shanteau said. “The goal is to continue to grow it. As long as there’s a fight against cancer, it’s something I want to be involved with.”

Shanteau, who qualified for the London Games in the 100-meter breaststroke and relays, is hoping his exposure in London will help attendance numbers for Swim for Your Life once the event kicks off September 22.

“Year three is huge,” Shanteau said. “People only get to see the Olympics once every four years, and that’s when swimming is most popular. We’ll really get a feel for how much we can grow from this year. This is the year where we can expand and adjust more than we did last year.”

Balmes, a member of the organizing committee for the event, agrees with Shanteau.

“Participation last year was enormous, and I think we can double that this year—especially when he does so well over in (London),” he said with a smile, “which we all are hoping and praying for. It can be spectacular.”

Shanteau said one of the more specific messages behind Swim for Your Life is how it relates to men and testicular cancer. He said there are treatments that work, but it’s up to people to take action at the first signs of the disease.

“My message is that it’s OK to get help and it’s OK to acknowledge you have a problem,” he said. “Don’t be ashamed. Don’t be embarrassed. Straight, open talk about cancer is the biggest weapon we have against this disease.”

When Shanteau steps on the blocks in London, his incredible four-year journey likely will be identified as one of the great stories of this year’s Games.

“The mission of this has been to always give back,” Shanteau said. “I was given so much help and so much support from people I had never even met before. That was part of the reason why I started this, in some small way, to give back to people who I don’t know who will go through this or have a loved one go through this.

“There is life after cancer.”

Josh Blessing is a junior telecommunications major at Ball State University covering sports for BSU at the Games. Follow Josh and the BSU team at@JoshJBlessing@bsuatthegames and www.facebook.com/bsuatthegames.

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30 Jul 2012

Last-minute change in routine propelled hurdles favorite to Games

By Jonathan Batuello |  BSU at the Games

One step doesn’t seem like much, but for Aries Merritt it could help propel him to a gold medal.

Eliminating a step that is.

Merritt, one of the favorites in the 110m hurdles, had been using eight steps before he came to the first hurdle until December 2011. He decided to switch to seven steps and is now considered a favorite to win gold along with China’s Liu Xiang and Cuba’s Dayron Robles.

“It was very risky to make a change (in an Olympic year), but something had to be done if I was going to be able to compete with Liu and be able to compete with Dayron, and it worked out for the better, for the best,” Merritt said.

Merritt made the switch to be able to keep his momentum going through the first hurdle. He said he had to “slam the brakes” with eight steps. Now, he can keep his speed consistent.

Still, the switch didn’t become natural until the World Indoor Championships in February, when he ran a 7.43 in the 60m hurdles, Merritt said. By the USA Olympic Trials, it was second nature, and he posted a world leading time of 12.93.

“It contributed, it really helped with me gaining momentum going forward into the other barriers, but it’s the package of being healthy and training more consistently that also has made me break through this season,” he said.

Despite all his recent success, Merritt still doesn’t think he is the favorite to win Olympic gold. He gave the nod to Xiang, who is competing in his third Olympic Games, while this is the first for Merritt.

“I’m going into the Games with no pressure. I don’t have anything to prove,” he said. “If I do what I’ve been doing all season, you know, something special will happen, and, you know, I’m not a reigning Olympic champion, not a former Olympic champion, and I don’t have a world record or a former world record, so I don’t think I have any pressure.”

Jonathan Batuello is a graduate student studying journalism at Ball State University and an adviser and writer for BSU at the Games. Follow Jonathan and the BSU team at@jcbatuello@bsuatthegames and www.facebook.com/bsuatthegames.

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28 Jul 2012

Men’s archery preps for noise, competition today

By Jonathan Batuello  |  BSU at the Games

“Thwip, thwip, thwip” ringed through the SCORE Training facility as Team USA Archery released their arrows late last week. This was followed seconds later by “thud, thud, thud” as they hit the red, blue and yellow circular targets 70 meters away. Only the occasional click of a camera by the three photographers in attendance interrupted this repetition of sound.

As all six archers stood within 10 feet of each other practicing, the luxury of being able to concentrate in near silence was something they won’t have as the men’s team gold-medal round commences today at Lord’s Cricket Ground.

“I remember in Beijing the camera noises when our first arrows (were drawn) stepping into the team round, how many cameras there were and just the thought process and stuff that was interrupted on the first and second shot,” world No. 1 recurve archer Brady Ellison said, describing advice he gave to fellow teammates who were at their first Olympic Games.

The men’s team went into qualifying as one of the favorites to win gold with South Korea. It qualified fourth during a ranking round yesterday. All the archers are trying not to think about what could be.

“We’re just trying not to put expectations out there,” Jacob Wukie said. “Just going to have a good time because you hear too many stories about people expecting the best and having the worst happen. We are going to expect nothing and make the best happen.”

It was a sentiment shared by Ellison, who described the need just to think about it like any other practice, even if there is a larger focus and more sound around them than normal.

“It’s us shooting a bow toward a target at 70 meters,” he said. “It’s all the same. It’s 70 meters, it’s us and our bow shooting, and that’s how you have to think about it and how you have to train …

“Why put all that extra pressure on ourselves? It’s the same thing as when we are back home shooting in our backyard.”

The men’s team begins its attempt to win gold in the quarterfinal round at 10:25 a.m. ET. The semi-finals and finals are scheduled for later this evening.

Jonathan Batuello is a graduate student studying journalism at Ball State University and an adviser and writer for BSU at the Games. Follow Jonathan and the BSU team at@jcbatuello@bsuatthegames and www.facebook.com/bsuatthegames.

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23 Jul 2012

USA Track & Field hosts community day in England

By Alex Kartman | BSU at the Games

The sounds of children laughing and screaming for joy usually echo throughout playgrounds at recess.
However earlier last week, those joyful noises flooded the USA Track and Field team’s training grounds in Birmingham, England, as thousands of local primary school children flocked to a local field day with the athletes.

Children and some of the world’s elite athletes played sports ranging from lawn tennis, javelin, soccer and boxing.

Three Olympians – Craig Kinsley (javelin), Jarred Rome (discus) and Lance Brooks (discus) – joined Birmingham primary school children, playing games while also signing autographs.

“I think it’s a really good opportunity for the kids to get out and meet other kids and just be active,” Brooks said. “That’s a big part of growing up. It’s fun to see their faces as you walk around and participate with them.

“They don’t really know what do at first. Then you play with them a little bit and it’s like I’m a cool kid. A big little kid.”

Kinsley participated in several English sports before he found familiarity in the form of his native Olympic sport – the javelin.

“I see people throwing foam javelins and I knew I was in my comfort zone,” Kinsley said. “It was a good time. We had a good little competition.”

One might expect the athletes to be in the heat of their actual training, but fun and games have their place.

As hundreds of U.S. athletes arrive into the United Kingdom, it sometimes takes days to adjust to the new time zone. Most athletes battle jet lag before returning to normal routines, making activities around the community great transitional events into the Olympic Games.

“You’re going to be about a week in before you get back into your routine,” Brooks said. “That’s why we come over so early so we can have fun, do stuff like this, see the locals, and interact with everybody.”

According to Kinsley the relationship between Olympians and communities around England are mutual.

“Great Britain is appreciating me significantly more than I have ever been appreciated, so this is unbelievable. They really know their track and field, and they’ve been incredibly hospitable.”

The entire country’s appreciation shined through the smiles of the school children.

“We come out here and actually get to be appreciated by a bunch of kids,” Kinsley said. “Hopefully they are enjoying the experience as well.”

By early next week, the laughs and the chants of children will fade, but these Olympians soak in every moment England provides.

“It’s natural,” USA Track and Field assistant coach Tom Pukstys said. “What you’re seeing is natural from our guys. They’re really enjoying it. I think it’s imperative that they to come over with that mindset. They are grateful to be Olympians, but these moments keep you in touch with the community and ground you to make you understand how special it is to be an Olympian.”

Events in track and field are slated to begin August 3 at Olympic Park in London.

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