By Terra Pinckley for The Sporting Nation
The Olympics are a trial of the best of the best any single country is able to produce, and for the United States, a lot of their talent can be traced back to Arizona State University.
In an event put on by the school earlier this month, ASU highlighted what they would be contributing and who they would be sending to Rio de Janeiro for the 2016 Olympics, and the amount of talent, both in coaching and athletics was staggering.
Some of the bigger presences ASU has in the Games is found in the aquatics arena. Most notably, ASU swimming head coach Bob Bowman is taking his spot as USA swimming head coach this Olympics for the first time in his career. Part of what made that possible was the fact that Bowman’s star trainee, Michael Phelps, will be competing in fewer events this time around.
"This time I"ll be the head coach for the first time and I think it's because Michael's only doing three events,” Bowman said. “Before it was kind of a full time job to carry his water bottle."
Bowman has a few of his ASU swimmers making their first appearances at the Olympics this year. Most impressive is Kat Simonovic, who holds a Serbian national record in swimming and will compete for Serbia in Rio.
Also under Bowman’s wing the past year was Richard Bohus, who competed in the 2012 Olympic Games and finished 22nd overall in the 100m backstroke. Bohus has had to overcome injuries to both of his arms this past year, but once he made his way through rehabilitation, Bohus came out stronger than ever winning many of his collegiate matches post-injury. He qualified for his second Olympics.
While Bowman won’t be coaching either of these swimmers during the Olympics, it’s not surprising that he produced such quality swimmers out of ASU.
"When I chose to come to ASU, it's because Ray (Anderson) and Dr. (Michael) Crow had articulated a vision of excellence that I completely bought into and believe in,” Bowman said. “And to me, the pinnacle of that in my sport is the Olympics."
Arizona State will also have representation on the USA track and field team. They sent many ex-athletes to the trials in Eugene, Ore., although some failed to qualify, Coaches for ASU’s track and field team are proud and excited for what’s to come.
“[USA’s] track and field team is the hardest track and field team to make in the world and in a lot of respects it's even harder than the Olympic Games," ASU track and field coach Ronnie Williams said. “So it’s absolutely tremendous.”
While ASU is sending amazing talent to Rio, the talent itself will have to deal with some obstacles once they arrive to Brazil. Two of the most concerning issues facing athletes and travelers alike are Zika and security. Both ASU head coaches of aquatic sports, Bowman and water polo coach Todd Clapper, find Zika to be the least concerning of the two, citing their sports will be indoor and that Zika seems fairly easy to contain if you’re careful.
“We have tables of bug spray and nets if our athletes really want to sleep in them,” Bowman said, concerning Zika.
Clapper echoed Bowman when it came to the precautions they were taking and compared it to the Olympics back into 2008.
“I mean you think about Beijing and about how they shut down factories to clear the air because everyone was worried about that,” Clapper said. “Zika virus is probably something they can fumigate and probably get that under control.”
However when it came to the security in Rio and the safety of their athletes, both felt like that was the larger issue.
“I think that the security issues are probably looming a little bit more in the back of people's heads,” Clapper said.
Bowman noted that the real issues can come when the athletes are done with their events and no longer have to stay in the Olympic Village and abide by curfews. He hopes most of the younger athletes choose to stay in the village -- if not every athlete, but he understand that the older athletes will want the freedom that is provided by staying outside of the village after their event.
“We’ve talked about not wearing any USA Olympic team gear outside of the Olympic areas,” Bowman said. “But that’s common practice for any Olympic Games.”
Another concern that might arise is the lack of English spoken in Rio. The last two Games have been in some fairly English-friendly places in London and Beijing. In Brazil, less than five percent of the population speaks English, and although the number for the population in Rio is destined to be a little higher than that, the issue of not being able to speak Portuguese could come up. However, ASU triathlon coach Cliff English says amongst the people he trains, they are multilingual and have learned how to adapt.
“Leonardo Chacon (Costa Rica), he's been to the Games in 2012, and a lot of the athletes are traveling on the World Cup circuit, we get them from every country around the world so they do develop,” English said. “He, I think speaks four different languages."
While just two years ago Brazil hosted the FIFA World Cup with no big hitches, the confidence that that can be repeated again isn’t all that high among critics and researchers alike, but Clapper feels that ultimately, it won’t be as big of an issue.
“I think things politically are a little bit different now than they were then so I think that there's maybe people that are making that into something that they think is going to hurt the Games,” Clapper said. “But it's probably not.”
Either way, ASU will be highly represented in Brazil, and the hope is that it will lead to more victors instead victims.