Olympic Experience Like No Other For Licari And Crater
Sept. 3, 2012
By Daniel Roth
SEATTLE - At this summer's Olympic Games in London the UW contingent was a little bigger than most fans realize. In addition to the current and former Husky athletes, who won ten medals, two Husky Track and Field coaches made the trip as well. When they are not busy working with current Washington athletes, Pat Licari and T.J. Crater also serve as personal coaches for a pair of Olympians.
Licari has been coaching pole vaulters at Washington for 15 years and has worked with conference, NCAA, U.S., and World Champions during his tenure. The latter two categories have been achieved by Brad Walker, the 2004 Husky grad who won two NCAA Indoor titles among his many accomplishments. Since his UW career ended, Walker has been among the best vaulters in the world and has kept Licari on as a coach.
"If it's not broke don't fix it," Licari says.
Prior to the Olympics, Walker finished first at the U.S. Olympic trials and hopes were high heading into London. The Walker-Licari team tried to improve on their first Olympic trip in 2008 when Walker failed to get through qualifying in Beijing. This time around Walker did advance to the finals but still came up short of reaching the podium.
The result was disappointing for Licari but he still managed to have a good experience in London. After his first go-around in Beijing, Licari learned to cherish being at the Olympics and enjoy the ride.
"In Beijing it was just business, I went over there just for Brad's competition and turned around and came right back," Licari says of the 2008 trip. "This time it was a nice family trip. Outside the pole vault it was a great trip."
Because Licari has family in Europe he decided to bring his daughters along and really enjoy himself. He took in the atmosphere and applauds the planners for putting on a great show.
Licari thinks that Walker also learned from Beijing and tried to enjoy the experience a little more this time around.
"The first Olympics that he went to he didn't walk in the opening ceremonies and take in that part of it," he says about Walker. "This time I think he kind of enjoyed the whole experience a little more."
Even though Walker came up short in London his coach thinks that he has more than a little gas left in the tank.
"I think Brad is young enough and is in a good place right now physically and mentally that he can definitely be around for one more Olympic games," Licari says. "Maybe the third time can be the charm."
Whereas Licari brings experience, both at Washington and at the Olympics, T.J. Crater has had to learn on the fly. Crater came to UW from Penn State last December and this summer was his first trip to the Olympics.
While Crater was at Penn State, Ryan Whiting, then a senior at Arizona State, contacted him about coming to train with him. Whiting, a Pennsylvania native, had already established himself as one of the top shot putters in the country; he finished his collegiate career with six national titles and the collegiate indoor shot put record and Crater was excited to get to work with such a phenomenal athlete.
"I felt like I was getting the keys to the Ferarri," Crater says about getting the chance to coach Whiting.
But Crater did not slam the gas pedal right from the start. Whiting's coach at ASU, David Dumble, had helped Whiting a lot over the years and Crater did not want to come in right away and change Whiting's routines and fundamentals, which had obviously been working.
"The first year I was very cautious about what I said and when, but later in the year I felt more comfortable to say what was on my mind," he recalls about the first year the two worked together. Since then they have developed a level of trust that has enabled Crater to really help Whiting grow even more and it has been an exciting year for the two of them.
Crater travelled to Daegu, South Korea, for the Outdoor World Championships last year as well as Istanbul, Turkey last winter for the Indoor Championships where Whiting won with a personal best throw, but neither can compare to the Olympic experience.
"I thought I knew what to expect being at two World Championships with him but I had no idea," Crater admits. "In hindsight (the Olympics are) a bigger monster to deal with. There are all these moving parts and it's not just a track meet."
The first day of the track and field competition gave Crater a taste of just how unique and exciting the Olympics are. Whiting's qualifying was at 10 in the morning and, to their surprise, the stadium was packed with 75,000 people "going nuts".
Whiting managed to handle that first dose of the Olympic-sized stage, advancing through qualifying into the 12-man finals. But under the lights of the night time final, it was a bit of a struggle, as Whiting finished ninth after aiming for a medal in his first Olympiad.
"As a coach I can point out things in the ring that looked off but I don't think the cause was that he wasn't prepared technically," Crater says. "I think the cause was that this is the Olympics and we're jumping over more hurdles than we normally do."
One issue that the two had to deal with was simply not spending as much time together as they would have liked. Whiting stayed in the Olympic Village while Crater remained across town with the other personal coaches, unlike most major international competitions. They would meet every day at a public track that Team USA rented, but relied on Skype and frequent text messages to stay in contact throughout the rest of the day.
"I had a lot of other coaches that have been around the block telling me what to expect," Crater points out. "But still it's tough to really know until you experience it yourself."
Like Licari in 2008, Crater spent his first Olympic trip adjusting and learning the ropes. For Whiting, who is still young for a shot putter at just 25, the sky is the limit. He is extremely talented and this experience, both for athlete and coach, will certainly prove valuable moving forward.
Hopefully 2016 will see both coaches back in action and able to enjoy the experience even more.