A very thoughtful piece about Michelle Carter, Chelsea Johnson and their
fathers, who are Olympic medalists, their coaches and their fathers. How does one
juggle all of that? Karen Rosen of USA Today provides us with a thoughtful
By Karen Rosen, Special for USA TODAY
Success is relative for pole vaulter Chelsea Johnson and shot putter Michelle Carter. "It's kind of funny because among older track fans, they really don't care about us as much as they care about our dads," Chelsea said. "They say, 'Hey, is your dad here?' "
Both Jan Johnson, the 1972 Olympic bronze medalist in the pole vault, and Michael Carter, the 1984 silver medalist in the shot put, will be in Des Moines next week to coach their daughters in the U.S. championships.
Chelsea, 26, of Atascadero, Calif., is the 2009 world championships silver medalist who is vying for her first national title after placing second last year.
Michelle, 24, of Dallas, is a two-time defending national champion and 2008 Olympian whose sixth-place finish at the 2009 worlds was the highest by a U.S. woman in 12 years.
Their dads have handed down more than good genes.
"As far as fathers coaching daughters, it's a give and take," said Michael, 49, who also coaches daughter D'Andra, an NCAA discus champion. Son Michael Jr. is a thrower, too.
"We have to walk that thin line between a coach and a parent."
If there's a disagreement at practice, Michael added, "You have to keep it from carrying over to the house. I tell them when I'm out in the field, I'm coach. Once practice is over and we're on the way home, now it's Daddy. They explained to me: That's hard. They still see me as Dad."
Michelle says her father was tough because he wanted her to learn to throw correctly. But he knows he can't be too harsh. "Because I'm going to cry," she said with a laugh. "Sometimes you just get sensitive and take things the wrong way."
The Johnsons can't help bringing the pole vault home with them. Jan, 59, holds camps and clinics in his backyard, where there's room for two pits.
Chelsea initially resisted the family trade, opting for soccer and then volleyball. She finally picked up a pole her senior year in high school. "I goofed around, ended up jumping 13-6 and then signing with UCLA," said Chelsea, whose personal best is 15-6¼. "Once I started putting time and energy into it, I did enjoy doing it."
Jan, who also coached son Clay, said it was better for Chelsea to take up the sport when she was ready. "In the back of my mind, we still had the problem of living up to what Dad did," he said. "She's gone beyond my legacy and she's making her own now, so that's awesome."
Michelle had to talk Michael into letting her throw the shot when she was in the seventh grade. "He asked me three times, 'Are you sure?' " she said. "He said, 'You don't know what you're getting yourself into, but if you want to, then we can do it.' "
Michael, who played in three Pro Bowls for the San Francisco 49ers, didn't want to overburden his daughter with expectations. She shrugged off the pressure, setting the high school record of 54-10¾ in 2003 to go along with his still-standing national prep record of 81-3½, set in 1979.
Neither father dangles his Olympic medal in front of his daughter as incentive.
After winning the world silver medal with her father cheering her on, Chelsea said, "I have a whole new respect for what that meant for him and how hard it is to achieve that level."
Jan maintains that with talent, know-how and the right poles, "You're going to pole vault high. It doesn't matter what your last name is."
But sometimes a father really does know best. In 2008, Chelsea broke her wrist and eventually placed seventh at the Olympic trials. "The most important thing as a parent or even a coach is to try to help them through those bad times," Jan said. "The good times, anybody can do that."