By Charles Lippolis, Staff Writer
After 20 years of coaching track and field athletes locally and internationally, Manhattan’s assistant coach Joe Ryan had already been groomed for excellence.
But Ryan added to his experience this summer at the Rio Olympics, serving as the head track and field coach for Guyana, the home of Ryan’s most successful athlete at Manhattan College, Aliann Pompey.
“It’s not even close, it’s completely different,” said Ryan, describing the difference between the Olympics and other competition. “When I went to Beijing it was very significant because it was all new. When I arrived in Rio I knew what to expect.”
As the NCAA champion and record breaker in the 500 meter dash in 2000, Pompey qualified for the Olympics, and in light of her success on both an international level and collegiate level with Ryan, he began working with Guyanese athletes and has not looked back.
Ryan has been a part of eight World Championships and three Olympic games, with his experience lending itself to a calm, yet coordinated work ethic, which allows him to relish in the games while still remain on task.
“It’s not a vacation,” said Ryan, making clear how mistakes are not tolerated at the Olympics, as one Olympic Games holds the weight of roughly 80 World Championships in his eyes.
After years of surrounding himself with the greatest athletes in the world, Ryan has surrounded himself with an understanding of their drive and routine, which is how he felt the athletes separated themselves from the ones on a college level.
“You’re dealing with the top 50 to 60 athletes in the world … these people are already highly motivated,” said Ryan.
One of the athletes that Ryan has had the pleasure of watching through the course of his own Olympic career is Usain Bolt. The most decorated sprinter of all time, Bolt has been able to dominate the competition for three consecutive games, and Ryan has had a front row ticket to his performance.
“He’s the greatest showman track and field has ever had … I’ve never seen an athlete win the crowd the way he has,” said Ryan, who had the privilege of watching Bolts career from start to finish.
The other distinct privilege that Ryan has had is being able to travel the world doing what he loves. These games take place all around the world and each time the Olympics or World Championships are held it is a new opportunity for Ryan to explore the world.
His most recent trip for the 2016 Summer Olympic Games brought him to Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, a city which Ryan believed exhibited beauty in the form of its contrast.
“You have the mountains pushing right up against the beach, and then you have the rainforest just behind the mountains … it is truly a beautiful place with beautiful people,” said Ryan
Ryan was able to make a few trips to some of the iconic sights of Rio, such as the Christ the Redeemer statue, but spent most of his time in the Olympic Village. This “bubble” of space, as Ryan described it, was where the athletes and coaches existed as the world focused all of its attention on them.
“Anytime you wanted to eat or get your laundry done you could,” said Ryan, “they even had separate lanes of traffic where you could only drive if you had a license with the Olympics.”
Ryan’s experience in both Brazil and other corners of the world that his coaching career has brought him to have helped shape the man and coach he is today. This helps him continue to have success at Manhattan, coaching the athletes of his alma mater.
One of these athletes is Madison Arndt, a junior pole-vaulter at Manhattan and member of the NCAA Student Athletic Advisory Committee. She feels that her growth as both an athlete and a person has been driven in the right direction by Ryan.
“There is something about the combination of Coach Ryan’s aura and personality that makes you want to work 110% to achieve your goals,” said Arndt, who feels inspired by Ryan on a day-to-day basis.
Ryan’s experience in both life and his career has helped him become a respected member of the track and field community worldwide and the Manhattan College community here at home, and his experience in the Rio games as well as his homecoming have helped solidify that legacy.