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Benita Fitzgerald Mosley: Setting Sights On Gold

By Amy Rosewater | Aug. 10, 2014, 12:16 p.m. (ET)

Benita Fitzgerald competes in the 100-meter hurdles final at the Los Angeles 1984 Olympic Games on Aug. 10, 1984 in Los Angeles.

A little more than a month before the Los Angeles 1984 Olympic Games, Benita Fitzgerald found herself competing in the Olympic venue, the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum. She was there, as were the rest of her track & field teammates, for the 1984 U.S. Olympic Team Trials.

Being in the host city for the Games proved to be huge advantage.

“I was very familiar with the venue,” Fitzgerald said. “I could accurately visualize the stadium, the tunnel, warm-up area, etc.

“As I prepared for the race in the weeks, days and hours leading up to the competition, I would spend time each morning and night, as well as at practice every day visualizing my race, “ she added. “I feel that gave me a psychological advantage over my competitors and helped keep me calm and focused. I was confident going into the final, and I knew that if I executed my race as I’d done hundreds of times before, that I could bring home the gold.”

She was imagining what that gold-medal moment would be like throughout the day of her Olympic race. After she won her semifinal race in the 100-meter hurdles, she had about two hours until the final.

“What I remember about the semis was how boisterous the crowd was after I crossed the finish line, chanting, ‘USA! USA! USA!’“ she said. “I thought how great it would be to hear those cheers again after winning the final.”

What she visualized became a reality.

It happened 30 years ago, but Fitzgerald can still replay the race in her mind. Even though Fitzgerald clipped the second hurdle, she managed to pass nearly all of her competitors. By the time she reached the eighth hurdle, the only competitor left to pass was Shirley Strong of Great Britain.

“I think at that point, God put wings on my feet because I found another gear, passed her and won by just four-hundredths of a second,” she said.

Fitzgerald clocked in at 12.84 seconds, while Strong came in second at 12.88.

Because the Games were held on U.S. soil, many of the athletes were able to help fill the stands with family and friends, and Fitzgerald was no exception. In the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum 30 years ago were her parents and sister, as well as an aunt and an uncle. In addition, her high school and college coaches were there as well as her college athletic director. (Fitzgerald is a 1984 graduate from the University of Tennessee.)

“All in all, it made for an awesome celebratory dinner after my race that night!” said Fitzgerald, who also made history as the first African-American to win an Olympic gold medal in the 100-meter hurdles.

It was a long wait for Fitzgerald to celebrate. Her race came on the 14th day of the Games, and by the time she was readying to compete, many of the other athletes had long finished their events. To maintain her focus, she stayed outside of the athletes’ village in a private home that was rented out during the Games. Brooks Johnson, who was the track & field coach for the U.S. Olympic Team in 1984, did not want Fitzgerald to use up too much of her energy going to different venues to watch other competitions in the days leading up to her event.

“(He) said that I only had 100 percent to give and suggested that I not spend a lot of my emotional and physical energy going to venues to watch my U.S. teammates compete,” Fitzgerald said. “It was difficult because I was emotionally invested in my friends’ success. However, I also knew that the crowds, walking and heat would drain my energy, and I needed to put my own dreams ahead of my desire to support others. I watched some of the competition on television but I tried to do other things to keep my mind off of my race.”

Following her victory, when Fitzgerald did get into the village, she got to meet athletes from a variety of sports. Basketball players, gymnasts and swimmers were among those athletes in her dorm at the University of Southern California, and after the Games, she wound up living in Austin, Texas, and would run into Olympic gymnastics champion Mary Lou Retton there.

Benita Fitzgerald Mosley attends the 31st Annual Salute to Women in Sports gala at The Waldorf-Astoria on Oct. 12, 2010 in New York City.

Fitzgerald has more than made up for any time she missed cheering for her fellow athletes in Los Angeles. Nowadays, as Benita Fitzgerald Mosley and a mother of two, she has become the United States Olympic Committee’s chief of organizational excellence. She wears many hats in that role to support the Olympic Movement and Team USA athletes.

She works with a variety of projects, among them: the Athlete Career and Education Program, Olympic Training Centers and Sites, Organizational Excellence, National Governing Body relations and SafeSport. She also works as a liaison to several community organizations, such as the U.S. Olympic Museum. She lives in Colorado Springs, Colorado, with her husband, Ron, and two children.

The U.S. Olympic Committee has been working with four cities — Boston, Los Angeles, San Francisco and Washington, D.C. — as potential bid cities for the 2024 Olympic and Paralympic Games. Having won an Olympic gold medal on U.S. soil back in 1984, Fitzgerald Mosley knows firsthand how important it would be for the United States to host them again.

“We’ve seen how having a home-team advantage can boost the performance of an Olympic Team,” she said. “Russia’s success at the 2014 Olympic Winter Games in Sochi, Britain’s success in London and Canada’s performance in Vancouver are prime examples.

“I believe that our athletes and NGBs will be very motivated to perform at their very best here in the U.S. More of their friends and family will be able to witness the Games and they’ll want to make them proud on home soil. We would leverage the prospect of hosting the Games to spur greater investment in programs focused on our elite athletes’ performance and to also gain wider participation of our youth in Olympic sports and physical activity overall.”

As someone who has demonstrated the power of visualization, Fitzgerald Mosley can envision another home Games very easily.

Amy Rosewater is a freelance writer and editor for TeamUSA.org. A former sports reporter for The (Cleveland) Plain Dealer, she covered her fifth Olympic Games in Sochi. Her work has appeared in The New York Times, The Washington Post and USA Today.