The London Summer Olympic Games are here, and no matter where they are played the games always seem to have a close Middle Tennessee connection.
Dean Hayes, track and field coach at Middle Tennessee State University, didn't just put the MTSU track program on the United States map. He also made it relevant to the world.
Olympic performers from MTSU and memories of coaching in those games are a major part of his 48-year career as a red, white and Blue Raider.
In six different decades, Hayes has been part of the track at MTSU. The stadium holds his name, and Americans he coached hold Olympic medals. This year two MTSU track athletes, Stanley Gbagbeke, who finished competing in 2010, and senior Noah Akwu qualified for their native Nigeria.
It's not bad for a one-time triple jumper.
"I was ok for that time and at the level of competition they were in, but we have women now on our team that can jump farther than I did in the triple jump," he said.
But the mark Hayes made in the sand pit was in coaching. In the 1988 Olympics in Seoul, his track team first strolled into the opening ceremonies before running over the world on the track and in the field.
"It was great to be able to go to Korea," he said.
Led by Carl Lewis, The Star-Spangled Banner became Korea's summer song.
"Back then they played the anthem for first, second and third place, so it was nice to stand up there and know we had first, second and third," he said. "Those had to be the best moments. Not often can you coach one, two and three."
Then, at the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta, Hayes oversaw track events as an Olympic official. In all, he has attended five Summer Games in person, but this year he'll be watching on Channel 4.
"I like to watch the hurdles and the jumps - the long jump and triple jump, especially - because that's what I've done the most in," Hayes said.
And on Friday, London will light the torch that still lights his Olympic spirit.
"You have to get excited. It only happens once every four years," he said.
Hayes has guided his MTSU track squad to 29 conference championships and 18 NCAA Top 25 finishes. That also includes four individuals who became national champions for the Blue Raiders.
Gbagbeke will be in the long jump while Akwu will run in the 200 meter dash. They are the first Olympians from MTSU track since 2004.
MTSU assistant track coach Andrew Owusu will serve on the coaching staff for Ghana at the London Olympics.
Copyright 2012 WSMV (Meredith Corporation). All rights reserved.
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