As another Summer Olympic Games approaches, Tim Mack can’t help but reflect on Aug. 27, 2004. That’s the day he joined the Olympic gold medal club.
“Sometimes it’s hard to believe I actually did that,” Mack said Wednesday at the University of Tennessee’s sports management “Partners in Sports” awards reception.
Mack, 43, is nearly 12 years removed from winning the pole vault in Athens, Greece — setting an Olympic record of 19 feet, 6 1/4 inches on his winning jump.
These days he coaches other Olympic hopefuls at the Tim Mack Pole Vault Academy in Knoxville. His students range from Mark Hollis, a three-time U.S. champion who aspires to make the Brazil games this summer, to Tristan Slater, a West Virginia prep champion who will attend Tennessee in the fall.
Eight post-collegians relocated to Knoxville to train under Mack, who grew up in Cleveland, Ohio, and came to UT as a transfer and began the road to gold as a Vol.
Mack’s headquarters is at the Johnny Long Training Facility.
“I had over the years developed a good support staff here,” Mack said. “I love the city and obviously the weather’s good. It’s a good central spot where I can take people from different areas.”
For Mack, a 1995 UT graduate, the “Partners in Sports” program was a godsend. He was the first graduate assistant under then-director Buck Jones.
“I don’t know if I would have kept training without it,” he said.
His old vault coach, who guided him through three tries to make the Olympic team, Jim Bemiller, currently is on UT’s sports management faculty.
“He saw me at my weakest,” Mack said, “and he saw me at the top of the mountain.”
Mack failed to make the U.S. Olympic team in 1996 and again in 2000. He kept plugging through until 2004.
“I wasn’t the fastest out there,” he said. “I wasn’t the strongest out there. I wasn’t the most athletic out there. Over time I overcame that with my mind and became the mentally toughest out there.”
The gold medal was a life-changing event. Only one male athlete in the world every fourth year can claim the title of pole vault gold medalist.
Without it, Mack said he probably would not be training a fleet of vaulters.
“It would be really hard for people to trust me,” he said. “Even the high-school and middle-school kids, if I didn’t have that, some of the things I would say would probably bounce off them.”
This summer, Mack hopes to have advice to offer at least one of his athletes — in Brazil.