Most collegiate track and field programs would be happy with one Olympic athlete on their coaching staffs. But with UK head coach Edrick Floreal’s two most recent coaching hires, the Cats’ total has increased to three.
Floreal, a former Olympian himself, hired Olympic silver medalist Toby Stevenson and Olympic gold medalist Allen Johnson in the offseason to push the program to the level of success he has envisioned.
Stevenson was hired as the coach of vertical jumpers and multi-event competitors. Before he won a silver medal in the 2004 Athens Olympics, Stevenson helped Stanford win the 2000 NCAA title as a pole vaulter, the university’s first outdoor track and field title in 66 years.
After retiring from professional competition in 2009, Stevenson worked under Floreal at Stanford, coaching an NCAA champion in the process.
While Stevenson’s Olympic pedigree and success is impressive, Floreal said it was his coaching ability that he desired the most.
“We look for what a person’s understanding of high level performance is when looking for coaches,” Floreal said. “Someone may have a lot of success at the Olympic level, but it could mean nothing if they can’t convey that level of work to our athletes of today. Coach Stevenson has proven that he has that ability when he worked with me at Stanford, and that’s why I wanted to bring him here.”
Stevenson said when Floreal approached him to coach at UK, he jumped at the opportunity because of the potential he saw in the program.
“We have the opportunity to compete in the best conference in the nation in the Southeastern Conference, and be on top of it,” Stevenson said. “That’s the goal we have now, and this program presents us with every opportunity to do so.”
To pass on his Olympic success and knowledge to the athletes and keep up with the expectations of the program, Stevenson said he has one message for this year’s Cats.
“We need the utmost focus out of every one of our athletes to succeed to our fullest potential,” Stevenson said. “How much they’re willing to sacrifice in their life outside of track will determine how successful they’ll be. That’s how we’ll set up our work at UK.”
A month after bringing Stevenson in, Floreal hired Johnson to coach the sprinters and hurdlers. The winner of the 110-meter hurdles in the 1996 Atlanta Olympics, Johnson ran professionally until retiring in 2010. He coached at the U.S. Air Force Academy before coming to UK.
Johnson and Stevenson were on the U.S. national track and field team together during their professional careers. Floreal said the bond that his new assistant coaches share will symbolize what the UK athletes need to be champions.
“We have to gel as a team, from coaches to athletes,” Floreal said. “If we all work together as a unit and separate ourselves from the usual self-competing mindset that track entails, then our potential this year is limitless. I believe that both Coach Johnson and Coach Stevenson can pass on that mentality to our student athletes, and that’s why I brought them here.”
With the coaching staff containing three Olympic athletes, Johnson said the level of competition they experienced will keep the expectations high inside and outside the program.
“We’re going to expect nothing but the best from our athletes,” Johnson said. “Having the three of us on staff is good because we can pass on our insight on the competition field and on the mental aspect.”
As for his advice to any track and field athlete who wants to succeed at the highest level, Johnson made one note.
“They need stick-to-itiveness,” Johnson said. “If the athletes here can have that, they can become NCAA champions and have long careers.”
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