Team USA's Athlete Role Models (L-R) Khatuna Lorig, Miles Chamley-Watson, Dwight Phillips, Erin Cafaro and Kendrick Farris
U.S. fencer Miles Chamley-Watson has had a terrific career, winning a world individual championship in 2013 in foil and competing as a member of the U.S. team at the London 2012 Olympic Games. He’s also won gold medals at the Pan American Games and the Junior World Championships.
But he thinks back to his early years in the sport in New York and Philadelphia and wonders what it would have been like to be able to talk to someone like himself when he was an up-and-coming teenager bound for the Penn State and U.S. junior fencing programs. To be able to just hang out with an Olympic athlete who’s been to the top of his sport would have been enlightening, he says.
That’s one of the reasons he’s excited about being one of five U.S. Olympians selected to serve as Athlete Role Models at this summer’s Youth Olympic Games in Nanjing, China.
“I never had that opportunity,” he said. “I think if I’d had that opportunity, it would have been fun to ask questions about how they were doing and how they prepared for all their competitions. I think it’s great for them.”
Chamley-Watson, 24, is one of 37 current or former athletes from around the world who will serve at the Youth Olympic Games in Nanjing as part of the International Olympic Committee’s Athlete Role Model program. The veteran athletes will come from 28 international federations to serve as mentors for the approximately 3,800 young athletes at the Games in China that will feature competitors ages 15 to 18 in 28 sports. The Youth Olympic Games — this year to be held from Aug. 16-28 — began in 2010 in Singapore.
Five of those Athlete Role Models in Nanjing will be from the United States: Chamley-Watson, rower Erin Cafaro, weightlifter Kendrick Farris, archer Khatuna Lorig and long jumper Dwight Phillips.
The Athlete Role Models (ARMs) will be accessible to the younger athletes at the Youth Olympic Village and during educational programs, workshops and informal “Chat With Champions” sessions. There also will be an Athlete Role Model lounge that will be open throughout the Games, where the younger athletes will be able to spend time with them.
In announcing the program for this summer’s Games, the IOC said: “The main goal behind making the ARMs as accessible as possible is so they can share their experiences and inspire the young athletes to be the best they can be both on and off the field of play.”
Cafaro, who won gold medals at the 2008 and 2012 Olympics as part of the women’s eights crew, is excited about the opportunity and already has reached out to German rower Lenka Wech, who served as an ARM at the 2010 Youth Games, just to get a feel for what’s in store.
“I think my main goal there is just to empower these athletes,” said Cafaro. “(To let them know) it’s not the end of the world if they lose and also it’s not the end-all, be-all if they win. It’s just the jumping point for both sides.”
Cafaro hasn’t yet received a schedule or outline of her duties in Nanjing, but it’s an assignment she applied for and was nominated for. She’s looking forward to talking to the young rowers from around the world about anything they want to know. But she’s certainly not going to be doing any coaching during the competition, or handing out advice about techniques and training.
“I guess my philosophy is, especially when you’re at a competition, don’t change anything,” she said. “I guess that’s going to be my biggest advice. Just be confident in what you’ve done so far. … Just give them confidence. I’m sure afterwards, that would probably be the best time to actually give them advice. People will be upset because they underperformed, or they won and they want to do more, so that part I think will be the most interesting time.”
Cafaro, 30, has some background in working with younger athletes. After the 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing, the former University of California standout worked with kids at the Jack London Aquatic Center in Oakland, Calif. These days, she’s working with two of her 2012 U.S. teammates as they prepare for the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro — while still trying to decide if she’d like to compete at a third Summer Games.
Chamley-Watson, meanwhile, just returned from Europe, where he helped the United States win a team bronze in foil at a world cup event in Italy. He said he’s worked with younger fencers on his club team for several years now, and is looking forward to meeting and helping young fencers in Nanjing.
“I love working with kids,” he said. “I think I’m someone a lot of kids would look up to, so I thought it was a good idea (to get involved). And when they told me I was nominated and that I was picked, I said, ‘Wow, that’s an amazing thing to be picked.’ It’s a big deal.”
Doug Williams covered three Olympic Games for two Southern California newspapers and was the Olympic editor for the San Diego Union-Tribune. He has written for TeamUSA.org since 2011 as a freelance contributor on behalf of Red Line Editorial, Inc.