Derek Miles didn’t expect much fanfare when he received his long overdue Olympic bronze medal Monday morning in Vermillion, South Dakota. He figured four or five relatives might show up, he would get his medal, say thanks and go on his way to celebrate.
But nearly 100 people found their way to the University of South Dakota’s DakotaDome Club to watch his medal ceremony. Members of the United States Olympic Committee joined U.S. Senator John Thune to speak, and then Miles spoke before accepting the medal from Thune.
“As the only person to get a C in freshman year speech class, this is the scariest thing I’ve ever done to follow these polished speakers,” Miles said at the ceremony also carried on Facebook live.
Miles finished fourth in pole vault at the Beijing 2008 Olympic Games, just behind Ukrainian Denys Yurchenko, who took home the bronze. However, the International Olympic Committee disqualified the results of a handful of athletes from the 2008 Games, including Yurchenko, after finding positive results in retested doping samples.
Miles and other Americans like Chaunte Lowe and Shalane Flanagan will be honored at the 2017 U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Assembly scheduled for Oct. 12-13 in Colorado Springs, Colorado, where they’ll also receive reallocated medals.
Sen. Thune said in the fall of 2016 he first read the report of Olympic athletes getting their medals stripped, and he wanted to “right this wrong.”
“I was talking to my staff about this, and I said we have a real life example of this in South Dakota,” Thune said at the ceremony. “We have a pole vaulter who is a bronze medalist, and he isn’t going to get that medal, or we don’t know if he’s ever going to get that medal.”
Miles also competed in the Athens 2004 Games and the London 2012 Games. He was ranked in the top 10 in the United States for 13 consecutive years starting in 2000, and he was one of the best in the world for part of that time. He was the 2008 and 2011 U.S. outdoor champion, and he won the 2008 world title.
“When I heard them read off your record,” Thune said while acknowledging Miles, “you were a stud for a long time.”
Thune said his staff began working with U.S. Olympic Committee CEO Scott Blackmun and other USOC members to secure the medal and bring it to Vermillion.
Blackmun kicked off the ceremony by thanking Thune, who works closely year round with the USOC and helps enforce the Ted Stevens Olympic and Amateur Sports Act.
“Senator, it’s an honor to be here with you and pay tribute to one of South Dakota’s world-class athletes,” Blackmun said. “Derek embodies everything that the Olympic movement stands for. As a student-athlete here at the University of South Dakota, the five-time all-American in the pole vault, he went on to become one of the best pole vaulters in the world for more than a decade.
“He was and continues to be an ambassador for the values and ideals of the Olympic movement.”
Miles, who vaulted 5.70 meters at the 2008 Games, didn’t take long to break down while thanking his family and coaches who helped him along the way.
“I would like to think I’m lucky,” said Miles, a former USD athlete now in his 14th year as an assistant coach at his alma mater. “It had nothing to do with luck, but surrounding myself with amazing people. Anybody who’s had success in life, they’re surrounded by amazing people.”
He still believes he should have won a medal on the track in Beijing.
“I was jumping well enough to win it that day,” Miles said.
After speaking, Thune presented the medal to Miles, and the Olympic-themed music blasted through speakers, giving the fans a microcosm of the Olympic experience.
Scott McDonald has 18 years experience in sports reporting. He was named the State Sports Writer of the Year in 2014 by the Texas High School Coaches Association. McDonald is a freelance contributor to TeamUSA.org on behalf of Red Line Editorial, Inc.