“I am for recognizing coaches,” Stefanidi said Friday. “I think it’s necessary, a good first step, and I think we can do better in the future.”
The Olympic Games do not award medals to coaches, but numerous professional events do, including soccer’s premier club competitions like the Champions League. Zinedine Zidane has winner’s medals as a coach and a player for Real Madrid. But not every coach cherishes the spoils of victory, or defeat.
On Tuesday, after Manchester United’s manager, José Mourinho, received his runner-up medal when his club lost the UEFA Super Cup final to Real Madrid, Mourinho handed the medal to a young boy wearing a United shirt in the front row before leaving the stadium.
“Sometimes when I win, I don’t keep the medals, so imagine when I lose,” Mourinho said at the postmatch news conference.
In North America, Super Bowl and World Series rings go not only to players but also to the coaching staff and often other support personnel.
But the Olympic world has remained resistant to formalizing the concept until now, and there are hints of a trend. Philippe Starck, the French designer, has created prototype medals for the 2024 Summer Olympics, which is now all but certain to be staged in Paris.
The medals come in the usual gold, silver and bronze, but can be divided into four parts, allowing the athlete, if he or she wishes, to give sections to others. Coaches would presumably be high on the priority list.
“Now more than ever, we don’t win alone,” Starck said in a video posted by the Paris 2024 bid organization. “This is a really good reward for team spirit.”
Renaud Lavillenie, the French men’s pole-vaulter and world-record holder, provided confirmation that the demand is there by draping his own bronze medal from these championships around his sleeping 4-week-old daughter, Iris, and posting the photo on Twitter with the caption “the reason for my happiness.”
The United States Olympic Committee already has a medal ceremony to honor its Olympic and Paralympic coaches. The medal was established before the 2008 Games in Beijing, and the U.S.O.C. calls it the Order of Ikkos, named for the first recorded Olympic coach in ancient Greece (he coached the pentathlon long before it went modern).
Medal-winning athletes from the United States may acknowledge one coach, and the U.S.O.C. ceremonies traditionally take place at USA House. The medals awarded are not official Olympic medals.
The coaches’ medals awarded at the world track championships in London are official, coming directly from the organizers. They are a smaller version of the medals presented to the athletes, and are made of brass.
“It looks the exact same, just mini; it probably should be bigger,” said Christian Coleman, the American silver medalist in the men’s 100 meters.
Coleman, competing in his first world championships, said he was unaware of the decision to award coaches medals but happily handed it to his coach, Tim Hall, after he was presented with it after his medal ceremony last Sunday.
“He said, ‘Coach, this one is for you,’ and I was like, ‘Wait, what?’” Hall said. “It was an interesting twist, and it was very appreciated. I will cherish it for a long time. It’s his first international medal, and it’s mine as well.”
It will likely not be Coleman’s or Hall’s last in London; Coleman and the United States 4×100-meter relay team are heavily favored to finish among the top three on Saturday night, when Coleman will get the chance to beat Usain Bolt of Jamaica for the third time in three races in Bolt’s farewell meet.
“I mean, that would be pretty special, pretty crazy actually,” Coleman said.
Other coaches are already guaranteed multiple medals here. Edrick Floréal’s hurdlers are having quite a meet, with Omar McLeod of Jamaica winning gold in the men’s 110 hurdles and Kori Carter of the United States winning gold in the women’s 400 hurdles. Floréal also coaches Keni Harrison, the world-record holder in the women’s 100 hurdles, who hit the first hurdle in her semifinal Friday night but recovered to squeak into the final as the last qualifier.
“If you think about it, how many athletes would reach a medal stand without a coach?” Floréal said. “The good ones are really life coaches. It’s not just running around teaching how to hurdle or do stride patterns.”
But while Floréal said he appreciated the gesture by the London organizing committee and track and field’s governing body, the International Association of Athletics Federations, he still felt some of its priorities were not in order.
“I think there’s an underlying slap in the face for coaches in that something as simple as getting access to the warm-up track to talk to an athlete means you have to jump through 9,000 hoops and get a pass and then pass it on to someone else when you’re done,” he said. “Meanwhile, it seems like all the agents are getting a pass from the I.A.A.F. Its like the agents are more valued than the people actually getting athletes to perform. There has to be a shift. I think it’s senseless.”
There is also the argument, not unreasonable in light of track and field’s long history of doping violations, that giving medals to coaches only means there will be two to return instead of one after an infraction. Should coaches be so honored considering the role some have played in some of the sport’s biggest scandals? (See Trevor Graham, former coach to Marion Jones and Justin Gatlin.)
“You don’t want to treat everybody as an inmate because a bunch of people are thieves,” Floréal said. “You put the law in place to punish criminals, but I think coaches should be given the benefit of the doubt.”
While Stefanidi said she supported recognizing coaches, she said that if the I.A.A.F. continued the practice there should be an attempt to make the presentation more formal. Now, she said, it feels like an afterthought to be handed the coach’s medal away from the spotlight.
“To get a medal from some random person in some room where you’re trying to get your pass and go, it’s not emotional enough,” she said.
Her suggestion: Allow coaches on the podium after the national anthem to spend a moment with their athletes, when they can receive their coaches’ medals and be recognized publicly. “It would only add a minute or so to the ceremony, and I think it would mean a lot more,” she said.
But other athletes in London seemed delighted with the new state of affairs. Jenny Simpson, the American 1,500-meter runner who won a silver medal here against a deep and daunting field, gave her coach, Heather Burroughs, a huge hug shortly after the race, shouting, “I did everything you said!”
She then raced off to do more interviews, only to return at full speed a few minutes later.
“Heather! Heather!” Simpson shouted. “You get a medal! Did you know that?”
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