In October 2018, Peyton Brown and Jerome Smith traveled to Buenos Aires, Argentina to represent the United States at the Youth Olympic Games. Both athletes delivered outstanding performances, with both placing higher than any U.S. athletes have ever placed at the Youth Olympic Games.
Jimmy Duke, personal coach of Jerome Smith, shares the highlights and challenges of the Youth Olympic Games:
The Youth Olympic Games was a really cool experience. It was incredible to see an Opening Ceremony that was for my athlete. It was cool to see all of these buildings that had been constructed just for this event and know that my athlete would be a part of it.
The 2018 Youth Olympic Games had a lot of cool firsts. For starters, the opening ceremony was held in an open town square, not in a stadium. The Games were free to the public; you just had to wait in line. It was great to see the Argentine government compensating their people for the inconvenience of the Games by offering free admission.
The Games, however, presented some challenges for Coach Duke. Specifically, the United States was given a single coach credential, which was not transferrable. Coach Brown, Peyton’s personal coach was given the credential, putting Coach Duke in an interesting position:
The experience that Jerome and I had was different because I was not a credentialed coach. After Jerome got off the airplane, they took him off, and I had to find a taxi and go to my own hotel. Things were made even worse by the fact that Jerome’s phone froze while we were on the trip, making it impossible to text or message him.
The Games were very spread out through the city of Buenos Aires, with some of the events even taking place outside the city. Fortunately for the weightlifters, the competition venue was only about a quarter-mile from the athlete village, and a shuttle bus transported athletes from the village to the venue.
It was a little more difficult for me. Since I was not credentialed, I could not go to Jerome’s training sessions or coach him at the event.
From this experience, Coach Duke learned some valuable lessons:
Prepare Your Athlete to Compete Without You.
As much as every coach wants to be at every competition with his athletes, this is not realistic. Says Coach Duke:
I love Jerome to death, and I’ll be at every single event that I can, but there will come a day when I can’t be at an event, and he will have to compete on his own. He needs to be okay with it. At the end of the day, your athlete must be able to make the lifts, with or without you.
To help Jerome prepare, Coach Duke began with a frank discussion:
Jerome and I went to a weightlifting camp in August. This was when I found out that there was only one weightlifting credential, and that I would not be getting it. I talked to Pyrros [Dimas], who had worked with Jerome several times in the past. Pyrros assured me that he would be there to coach Jerome. Before we left the camp, Pyrros and I sat down with Jerome and let him know what would be happening. I think this helped Jerome mentally prepare long before the competition.
Prepare Everything Before the Competition.
I wanted to mitigate as many issues as possible before the competition. I spent a lot of time before the competition going over things in my head to ensure that Jerome had all of the things he needed. Also, Jerome had already done all of his heavy training before we arrived. I gave David Brown [the team leader] and Pyrros the workouts, and they followed my plan in the training hall with Jerome. Jerome competed on the fourth day of the games.
For Coach Duke, credentialing was a major issue. Without it, he could not coach his athlete either in training or the competition. It was difficult for Duke to even get into the venue to watch Jerome compete because of long lines. Says Duke:
Getting the lowest level credential was almost impossible by the time the Games started. If someone had told me in advance, I would have volunteered just to get a credential. Interestingly, one man with a credential said that he would trade me his credential for my USA Weightlifting jacket. While it was an enticing offer, I declined.
Coach Duke advises coaches of potential 2020 Olympic athletes:
If you think you have someone eligible for Tokyo, fill out a volunteer application with the IOC [International Olympic Committee]. If you want to be in the back with your athlete, fill out the paperwork and take it seriously.
My biggest piece of advice: Don’t bother the IOC and don’t complain. If you are not willing to get credentialed by the IOC, expect to be disappointed.
Ultimately, Jerome pulled off a stellar performance, making five of his six lifts, and Coach Duke could not be prouder:
Even though I sat on the sidelines, it was a brilliant experience. Jerome competed great. He had some adversity in the warm up. He pushed hard, though, and did fantastic. I was so proud of him. At the end of it, Jerome was asked by an interviewer how he felt about placing higher than any American had ever placed in a Youth Olympic Games. Jerome responded, “I made 5 out of 6 lifts. I don’t really care how anyone else has done before me.” I gave the interviewer the same answer. It wasn’t about anyone else, it was about Jerome.
If you have done your best, you should be proud of your performance. Jerome understood that. As a coach, this made me very proud.