In 1968 a wiry framed American high jumper established a world record at the Olympic Games in Mexico City with a leap of 7 feet, 4 1/4 inches. His unorthodox technique of flying over the bar backwards, head first, revolutionized the sport and his namesake, "Fosbury Flop," became a legacy.
The man behind the legacy, Dick Fosbury, recently presided over one of the most fascinating, eclectic, elite sport gatherings on the planet when members of the International Olympic Committee (including President Jacques Rogge) and Olympians (past and present) from over 150 countries met in Europe for the quadrennial meetings of the World Olympian Association.
The list of accomplished athletes gathered for the WOA in the quaint town on the shores of Switzerland's Lake Geneva was beyond impressive, but more importantly, the opportunity to promote the Tiffin University Olympic Academic Experience to an audience of Olympians and organizers of the 2012 London and 2016 Rio de Janeiro Games was worth its weight in gold.
It is still difficult to grasp that anyone from Tiffin, Ohio, would have the opportunity to be part of such a world-class stage along with Fosbury and icons such as Willie Banks, president of the USOC, and Michelle Ford, the famed Australian swimmer who in 1976 was the youngest Olympic competitor at age 13. The only "other" non-Olympian or IOC members permitted inside the closed auditorium were several lawyers.
In addition to being permitted to participate in the General Assembly, exclusive dinners and national parties with scores of medal winners, world-record holders, and sport legends made the trip to Europe a professional highlight. A welcomed sidebar was the opportunity to engage in casual conversations to enhance the TU Olympic Academic Experience and to create virtual internships for Tiffin University MBA students to service national Olympic committees. While at the 2012 Games next summer, the TU contingency will participate as official volunteers for two of the Olympic Reunion Centers and will engage in a special program with Olympians and underprivileged children from one of the poorest boroughs in London.
The WOA can be equated to the players unions in professional sports, but without a true collective bargaining agreement with its counterpart, the IOC, which happens to be its only revenue provider (imagine the bill to fly and accommodate all 150-plus delegates from every part of the world imaginable to Switzerland for the three-day affair).
Part of the General Assembly meetings which allowed for integration of the Olympic Academic Experience focused on educational activities to promote "Olympism" around the world. The first national report was in Russian, but since the automated translator only worked in English, French, and Spanish, five-time fencing medalist Galina Gorokhova brought her own translator. Banks (USA) described a walk-a-thon from Los Angeles to London and two-time Olympic swimmer Jorge Delgado (Ecuador) suggested every country should create a commemorative coloring book. Professor Urion Galin-Galler (Israel-water polo) was the eldest presenter, who proposed a memorial stone in Greece engraved with names of every Olympian. Dr. Selwyn Maister, interim sport minister and three-time Olympic hockey player and coach from New Zealand, described a commemorative pin program. Two-time Olympic sprinter Francis Dove-Edwin of Sierra Leone (Africa) presented on the challenges to replace kids holding guns with kids holding sports equipment. Edwin resides in London and is the catalyst to create special opportunities for participants of the TU Olympic Academic Experience.
It is still remarkable to grasp the reality that Tiffin University had a presence in the closed door meetings, which offered a privileged opportunity to experience the blending and clashing of international culture, sports, and politics
The only shared ethos in the room was the apparent respect for the age-old Olympic ideas of peace and solidarity. Brief homage was paid to the luger from the country of Georgia who lost his life in a trial run at the 2010 Vancouver Winter Games. Otherwise, deliberations were generally tense due to the acute language barrier (translation headphones were essential) coupled with individual country agendas related to the political importance of seats on the coveted Executive Board that governs the world's Olympians.
When softball and baseball officially were voted out of the Olympics by 160 members of the IOC, media reports revealed some delegates admitted to not knowing what they were voting on and others who understood softball and baseball were one in the same. Having witnessed hundreds of countries participating in the somewhat flawed decision making process that doesn't do enough to address the acute translation problem; it has become clear how such a travesty can occur.
Still, there is the livelihood of Olympians to consider especially in post-competition and in third-world countries, where too many athletes become forgotten and faded away in their homelands. The regional and national WOAs are extending efforts to commemorate athletes when the glory days are long gone with a campaign of "Once an Olympian, Always an Olympian."
And so there it was for the first time in four years the WOA General Assembly in Switzerland began each day with a long roll call of participant nations. In a few months, Katie Tiell from Calvert High School, four professors, and 16 college students participating in the TU Olympic Academic Experience will convene in London to hear that familiar roll call that signifies the glorious start to the Olympic Games.You can bet one professor will be there with a new appreciation for the sentiments of the Olympians and a few new-found international friends to share the experience.
Stay tuned in January for more inspiring and amazing sport stories from our small community in northwest Ohio to around the globe.
Bonnie Tiell is the Dean of graduate Studies at Tiffin University,