Luke DeCock

Olympic coaches in spotlight grew from Triangle roots – DeCock

Lauren Hernandez, left, hugs her coach Maggie Haney, who was a gymnast at N.C. State, in July at the Women’s Gymnastics Team Trials in San Jose, Calif.
Lauren Hernandez, left, hugs her coach Maggie Haney, who was a gymnast at N.C. State, in July at the Women’s Gymnastics Team Trials in San Jose, Calif. Getty Images

Three American open-water swimmers qualified for the Rio Olympics more than a year ago, which wasn’t quite the advantage Catherine Vogt thought it would be.

The U.S. open-water coach had all that time to prepare. She also had all that time to answer questions about her swimmers spending two hours in the questionable water off Copacabana Beach, among the litany of other Rio concerns.

“There are some benefits,” Vogt said Monday after Haley Anderson finished fifth in the women’s 10,000-meter swim. “There are also some pitfalls as far as dealing with Zika, water quality, security issues ...”

Maggie Haney, meanwhile, found herself in the spotlight when her star pupil, Laurie Hernandez, was left out of the gymnastics all-around competition despite having the second-best score at trials, only for Hernandez to win team gold and, Monday, individual silver on the balance beam

“Some days, it’s been really hard and really stressful,” Haney said. “Other days it’s been the most rewarding. I feel so honored and so proud to be doing what we’re doing.”

What Vogt and Haney have in common beyond how they unexpectedly found themselves in the Rio spotlight is their Triangle roots, two university graduates of the same era, distinguished athletes who became Olympic coaches.

Vogt, who grew up in Pinehurst where her parents still live, swam at UNC and graduated in 2000 before working there as an assistant coach from 2005-08. She’s now an assistant coach at Southern California.

Haney graduated from N.C. State the same year as one of its most decorated gymnasts, and the only one to post perfect 10s in two events. After graduation, she ended up moving to New Jersey with her boyfriend, football player David Stringer, where she opened a gymnastics gym that Hernandez would one day wander into.

Vogt’s Olympics boils down to two days, the women on Monday and the men on Tuesday. In rough seas off Copacabana Beach, Anderson recovered from a bad third lap to pass 10 other swimmers on the fourth and final lap.

As an open-water coach, Vogt has one of the oddest jobs in the Olympics: Positioned on a barge, she feeds Anderson on each lap with a water bottle at the end of an extending pole with an American flag attached. As the swimmers pass the barge, it looks like an international pit row with all the extended poles and flags. Tuesday, with two Americans in the men’s race, she has recruited another coach to assist.

Even Monday, it wasn’t easy. The swim platform from which the swimmers were supposed to depart mysteriously washed up on the beach earlier this week, which meant the swimmers started by wading out from the beach instead.

“It has been really frustrating,” Vogt said. “At the end of the day it’s an open-water race, and the best people are out there doing what they do.”

Haney’s issues in gymnastics have been more subtle. She was openly frustrated when Hernandez wasn’t one of the two Americans selected for the all-around competition, and after Hernandez turned in a near-perfect routine in the individual balance beam Monday, Haney filed an unsuccessful inquiry to challenge the assessed difficulty level.

Hernandez’s original score of 15.333, with a difficulty of 6.400, was enough to beat Simone Biles, who struggled and missed out on her first gold of the games but still .133 short of leader Sanne Wevers of the Netherlands.

“There were days I didn’t want to do beam and she made me do it, and those days made me 10 times stronger today,” Hernandez said. “I think I can give this one to my coach. She has very high expectations for me. Maybe she saw it, but I didn’t see it in myself yet.”

Neither Vogt nor Haney ever expected to be swept up in controversy at the Olympics. It’s a long way from where they got their start, not far apart.

Luke DeCock: 919-829-8947, ldecock@newsobserver.com, @LukeDeCock

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