March 6, 2014
By Jon Cooper
The Good Word
– Athletes from 141 countries have converged on Sopot, Poland to compete in this weekend’s IAAF World Indoor Championships 2014.
They’re looking to make history and fulfill a dream against some of the best competition in the world.
But athletes won’t be the only ones getting the opportunity to make dreams come true. Coaches will as well. Georgia Tech’s Nat Page is one of those coaches.
He is best known around Atlanta as an assistant coach for the Yellow Jackets’ men’s and women’s track and field teams, a role he’s been in for the last 18 years. But Page, one of the highest-esteemed jumps coaches in the nation, will shed the assistant label and make his debut as head coach of the U.S. national team.
“I’m really excited about it,” said Page, who was one of the world’s premier high jumpers and 400 intermediate hurdlers in a career that spanned the late-`70s to the early-`90s. “I was excited when I made my first [national] team, and I’m excited at this point to be in front of a world championship team.”
Page has represented the U.S. on the international stage before, as a member of United States’ 1992 World Cup Team Championships — he also qualified for the 1980 U.S. Olympic team, which did not get to compete, as the United States boycotted the Moscow Games — and served as an assistant coach on U.S. entries at the 2007 and 2011 Pan Am Games.
Being the head coach was the next logical move, but Page knew the decision wasn’t his to make. That decision was made by USA Track and Field.
“It was something I wanted to do so I was hoping for it,” he said. “As far as I was concerned, I would still take whatever comes up so I can get more experience to make it to this point.”
USATF decided it was Page’s time to take the reins.
The timing couldn’t have been better. Even Page’s responsibilities fell into line, as the USA National Championships, the ACC Indoor Championships and now the Worlds were held on consecutive weeks, allowing him to attend all three events. He’ll also be back in time to travel with Georgia Tech to the NCAA Indoors, which will be held next weekend in Albuquerque, N.M., coincidentally, at the same track where the U.S. Nationals were held.
“This year was absolutely perfect. Everything fell every other week, which was perfect timing,” he said. ” The only thing I really have to do, I’ll be gone for five days, but I’ll leave workouts here for the athletes and I’ll have one of the coaches on staff go ahead and administer the workouts.”
Completing his responsibilities for the national team in its time leading up to departing for Poland, which it did on Sunday, and through the weekend were a little more time intensive.
Page, who is still coaching the jumpers, not only has had to make sure his athletes are properly prepared, but, as head coach, also had to keep his eye on each event’s athletes and is the man to whom his staff (which is chosen by the USATF) reports.
“I coordinate my staff and make sure that they take care of their responsibilities, because we all have different areas and specialties,” he said. “I get with those coaches and made sure they take care of their areas. For them, make sure that each athlete is taken care of in regards to practice times and meetings, so they know bus times, report times for the competition and making sure the equipment’s there. It’s just making sure that athletes’ needs are taken care of so the only thing they have to do is report. We’ll stay in touch constantly.”
He prepared himself by having discussions with his peers and getting as much advice as he could about being head man.
“I’ve talked to a lot of the coaches that I know, and they gave me a lot of good tips,” he said. “Just make sure I stay on top of things, make sure I know where everybody is, make sure that my assistants are reporting to me about how their athletes are and how they’re doing, their times and those types of things. Just stay very involved and very in tuned.”
The thrill of being around so much talent trumps any pressures of having to oversee everything.
“At this stage, everybody is a world-class athlete,” he said. “So it’s quite exciting to be around world-class athletes and to be able to help when needed.”
Page also is going to make sure he gets to taste the local flavor of Sopot.
“It’s right on the Baltic Sea and our hotel is right there,” he said. “A lot of English-speaking people are there. It’s a nice city. I will learn more about it when I get there but I’ve been looking at it and seeing what’s around. Through my travels I’ve learned to make sure I get out in the city and speak to people, learn what their country and culture is about.
“This is going to be just a very nice situation and I’m extremely proud at this point to head up the USA Team.”
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