When athletes step onto the field to compete in Olympic events, everyone knows that they have been training for this moment for years. But behind every athlete is someone who has helped him or her get to this point -- the coach.
The task of preparing runners for such high-stakes competition isn't for the faint of heart. It takes a seasoned coach with experience training athletes for worldwide competitions. It takes someone like the University of Miami's head women's coach, Amy Deem.
"It's a great honor to be picked," Deem said.
How does one go from coaching college women in Miami to coaching pros from all over the nation in the world's biggest event? It was a long process: after leading the UM team to many All-American honors and National Championship titles, Deem was selected to be in the Pan-American staff in 2003, and then appointed to be the 2007 World Championship coach.
"You kind of have to work your way through the system," she said.
After those competitions, she and the other staff members were evaluated. Her name was then put into a pool of candidates for this year's Olympic games, and a committee selected her from among her colleagues. This involved several groups, but one sticks out in Deem's mind.
"The thing that was so humbling and exciting for me was that I got the endorsement of the athletes from our Athletes Advisory," she said. "That was important because that's actually the people that I'm working for, working with."
It's no wonder that athletes trust her guidance -- before she came to UM, none of the team's athletes had ever recorded an NCAA qualifying mark. With 16 seasons under her belt, Deem has led the team to the success it enjoys today. Several UM alumni will be competing in London, including two who will be on Deem's own team, Lauryn Williams and T'erea Brown. Though she has great experience coaching college runners, Deem knows that her experience with coaching professionals will be important.
"Managing the team, managing the University of Miami has helped me prepare for that, but also understanding, you know, the track and field and life after collegiate track for these young people," she said. "The way the circuit works, the challenges of making the Olympic team, being in the top three -- I think those are things that you can't just get from being a collegiate coach."
As much as she loves being at UM, Deem admits that coaching on the professional level is a different beast than coaching collegiate track.
"I think there's that team aspect that you have in the collegiate system...One of the things that can make or break an athlete after college is that support system that they have with their teammates that the college, the university system provides," she said.
"That's a big thing, is understanding you have to have a tremendous amount of self-discipline and a tremendous amount of motivation because once you leave the collegiate system your support system is much smaller, and it depends a lot on you."
When it comes to Team USA, Deem knows that her role will be different than what she has previously experienced. Before, she was a personal coach to certain athletes, but now as head Olympic coach, every single female track and field athlete is her responsibility. Though her role has changed, her approach to preparing them will be the same.
"You don't change things just because it's the Olympic games," she said. "It's just managing all the external things that come with being on the Olympic team that's the biggest key. That's the only change."
Dealing with situations that arise from an event so large -- families trying to get to the races, media everywhere, busy schedules -- is a major task, and Deem is ready to take on what she needs to. She knows that her role is to stay on top of everything so that her runners can focus on their events. For her, the trip to London will be all work and no play.
Though she has traveled around the world for competitions, Deem admitted that her long stay in London will be hard on her. Not only will she be away from family and friends, but there is someone special who she always misses when she travels.
"I just miss my Labrador retriever," she laughed. "I can't talk to her on the phone."
As far as the team goes, Deem has a lot of confidence in her runners. In addition to events that America tends to do well in -- like the sprints, relays and hurdles -- she thinks that we will see Team USA's women succeed in events that have previously received less attention. She specifically mentions the 1500-meter race, the discus and the long jump.
"I think the American public is going to be surprised," she said.
With a team of talented runners under her guidance, Deem will be sure that her athletes have plenty of pleasant surprises to show their fans watching from across the pond.