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
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?’ “
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.
26, of Atascadero, Calif., is the 2009 world championships silver
medalist who is vying for her first national title after placing second
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.
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.”
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.”
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.”
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
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 15-6Â¼. “Once I started
putting time and energy into it, I did enjoy doing it.”
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.”
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.’ “
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 54-10Â¾ in 2003 to go along
with his still-standing national prep record of 81-3Â½, set in 1979.
Neither father dangles his Olympic medal in front of his daughter as incentive.
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.”
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.”
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
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