Western Carolina University alumni taking Olympics by storm
The Games of the XXX Olympiad being held in London has 204 countries from across the globe fighting to earn a place in history. The United States of America sent 529 athletes to London with a record number: 268 women and 261 men.
Of the 261 men who have been deemed the best athletes in the country, one of Team USA is a graduate of Western Carolina University (WCU). Manteo Mitchell, a 2009 graduate of WCU, broke numerous records as a member of the Catamount Track team. Mitchell was sent to London as a part of the pool of runners who qualified to compete in the men's 4 X 400 meter relay race.
Still fresh off of a trip to Turkey for the Indoor World Championship where he helped the USA team bring home a gold medal in the 4x400 relay, Mitchell said he was stunned to learn he had qualified for the 2012 Olympics.
“I was in disbelief. I had just returned from Istanbul, Turkey, for the Indoor World Championships. My body was still a little tired from all the travel and still getting adjusted to the time difference,” said Mitchell. “I expected to run fast, but not that fast so early and in my opener. It was a testament that hard work and dedication to something truly pays off. I am blessed. I have faith, I maintain focus both on and off the track, and I finish. That’s really all you need.”
The 4 x 400 relay finals, which are scheduled for Friday, Aug. 10, will mark the crowning moment that all of Mitchell's hard work and dedication have led up to. Although he has been in Europe preparing for Friday for weeks now, he said nothing compares to the moment he was on stage with the world’s best athletes for the opening ceremonies. “The most exciting part so far has been Opening Ceremony,” said Mitchell. “It was awesome. I have been on television on numerous occasions for track races or interviews with the news and TV shows ... But to know that the 3.2 billion people saw me and what I was reaping makes my dream a reality. I am humbled and was humbled from the opening ceremonies.”
Mitchell noted that after Friday, he is confident he will have a new “best experience” to name. “I am certain if and when I run that I will take over the number one spot,” he said.
With aspirations to always better himself and his faith, Mitchell has taken in every second of the Olympics and has viewed it as a way to improve. “I have learned quite a lot from being here so far,” he said. “The ins and outs of Olympic Village life, meeting people from other countries and learning their language. Making new friends in the process makes this experience even better.”
Mitchell, who still trains in Cullowhee and uses the same workout methods he did as a collegiate athlete, attributes his success and determination to the coaching he received as a Catamount under the direction of Danny Williamson. Williamson, who still serves as Mitchell's coach, was unable to make the journey to London in person, has been with Mitchell every step of the way.
“Coach Williamson is like my father. He is one of the few people that I talk to at least once a day,” said Mitchell. “We usually communicate through text and email, but every once in a while I may get a call or he will call me. It is an honor to have my ‘pops’ as my coach. He has done so much for me. I am very thankful for him.”
Although he is no stranger to travel, Mitchell said the one thing he can not get used to is being away from his family.
“The hardest part is being away from those you love,” he said. “That happens even when I am in Europe for normal races, or even in the United States away for extended periods of time. That comes with the job I signed up for. Luckily my beautiful family understands and communicates with me regularly via Skype. I am blessed to have them, no matter the distance.”
Just in time for Friday's race, Mitchell's mother and aunt will be making the trip to London to show support for their Olympian. “It means the world to me to have my mother and my auntie in attendance for the Olympic Games,” said Mitchell. “This is a piece of history that I wanted to share with them so I made sure to accommodate them and get them over here. I just pray that they have a safe flight and pack lightly, because little do they know, they're taking some of my bags back.”
Living a life that most people only get to dream of, Mitchell said that so far, his experience has been everything he expected.
“This is my first Olympiad so I only had stories from past Olympians and friends to go off of so, it has exceeded my expectations thus far,” he said.
Mitchell isn't the only Catamount in London representing their country. Jarrett Frazier, a 2012 communications major and Sylva native, is in London working for NBC.
Frazier has been busy working in an area of the NBC network broadcast that handles live feeds from every Olympics venue. He is responsible for making sure all the events are being recorded on schedule.
Working 12-hour days, seven days a week, Frazier said his greatest challenge so far has been time management. “The hardest part about being at the Olympics is finding the time to sleep,” he said. “There is so much going on, that you don't want to miss out on a second of it. There are several late nights, but just like many of the athletes competing in races, I have had to pace myself since this is a two-week event.”
Frazier has made time to take in the sites and enjoy the culture of London. While in Europe, he said his favorite experience so far was being able to attend a USA basketball game. “There have been several exciting memories so far in my time at London,” said Frazier. “I have met many amazing people, seen so many historic and beautiful places. Nevertheless, my favorite part so far was being able to go to and watch a USA basketball game against Tunisia. It was great to see such great athletes having fun together and enjoying the game they love.”
Being right out of college, Frazier has used his job with NBC as a crash course in broadcasting and has tried his hardest to learn as much as possible while he has the opportunity to do so. “I have learned so much from my time here; it is impossible to describe it all,” he said. “One of the best parts about working with NBC is that you are working with many of the best broadcast professionals the industry has to offer. Everyone has been great at teaching me equipment, software, and overall lessons as I start out my broadcast career.”
Still in a whirlwind from the entire experience, Frazier said he never expected to learn so much. “In many ways my experience has been far more than I could have ever expected,” he said. “Coming in, I had no clue what I would be doing, or who I would be working with. I have been blown away by my position as Ingest Assistant. The other NBC staff members have been great to work with. They have allowed me to take on many responsibilities that are exceptionally rare for a recent college graduate."
According to WCU's Chancellor Dr. David Belcher, the entire community has been overwhelmed with pride to be so well represented at the 2012 Olympic games. “It is extremely exciting to see two members of the Western Carolina University family sharing their talents with the world on this magnificent international stage, one on the fields of competition as a member of the U.S. track team and one behind the scenes helping broadcast the Olympic Games to the United States," said Belcher. "We truly are proud of Manteo and Jarrett. Their hard work, dedication and can-do spirit are a testament to the endless possibilities that exist for graduates of Western Carolina.”
Although Mitchell is representing the US on the field, and Frazier is representing the country behind the scene, another WCU graduate has contributed to the XXX Olympiad in an artistic form.
2002 WCU graduate Anthea Neri, who was a member of the Delta Zeta sorority, recorded the song “Grace” for the 2012 Olympics.
“It has been great to have so many people from Western involved at the games,” said Frazier. “I have had a great amount of support from Western and my home town of Sylva. I could not be more proud to be a representative for them and the USA.
Neri recorded “Grace” with 17-time nominee, six-time Emmy award winner Peter Fish. The song was recorded to be used for the NBC Olympics broadcast,
"Grace" was written and produced by Fish at Sound Stories Studios in New York City. After hearing Neri's works on YouTube and AntheaNeri.com, he asked her to bring her own mix of Broadway and soul to the vocals.