The ultimate honor for an athlete is to represent their country at the Olympics.
For Long Beach State track coach LaTanya Sheffield, she’s had the opportunity to go to the Olympics both as a competitor and a coach.
At the Olympics this summer in Rio, Sheffield had the opportunity to coach some of the best athletes in the world in the women’s sprints and hurdles team.
She got first-hand experience of a high-pressure situation when the women’s relay team faced adversity as it was disqualified after illegal hand-off during the qualification round. The USA successfully appealed the disqualification, giving the team another opportunity to run again with a chance to advance to the finals.
The women’s team qualified with the second fastest time in history – a record the USA currently holds – and then won gold in the finals.
“The team was ready,” Sheffield said. “They were up for the task, they ran for four years straight looking to come to the Olympics games and compete in [an] event that only happens every four years. So, the team was not going to let anything get in our way and that’s the attitude we had.”
Sheffield wasn’t surprised when the team took the gold.
“They were unified,” Sheffield said. “They were confident they could get the job done; they looked at it as a means to take advantage of an opportunity.”
Sheffield won bronze in the women’s 400-meter hurdles at the 1988 Olympics in Seoul, South Korea.
“[After] I went in 1988 to Seoul, Korea, [I knew] the [Rio] experience [was] going to be different,” Sheffield said. “I had to make sure all of the trainers [were] managing the athletes and assist the athletes if they [were] nervous of the excitement of competition.”
Sheffield was able to be a part of the coaching staff for the women’s sprints and hurdles team in Rio after her being nominated by her peers.
“I had to meet certain requirements in order to be qualified,” Sheffield said. “Some of those requirements are my people-management skills and my track and field skills. I also built good relationships with the previous USA team.”
Sheffield was also part of the coaching staff for the U.S. women’s team in the 2013 World Championship, the World Indoor Championship in 2006 and 2008, as well as the Pan America Games in 2007 and 2011.
After her time at the Olympics, Sheffield had a great learning experience learning new things, while enforcing the bond athletes from when competing for their country.
“I learned that there are different levels of sport science, and different components of sports medicine,” Sheffield said. “With the team, I learned the success of an athlete, and the will of an athlete, and what [stayed with] me [the most was the] human spirit [and] the will to win — to show how America is.”
Along with her tedious preparation as an athlete, Sheffield said the time it took to get ready to coach was a new process entirely.
“The work was different,” Sheffield said. “It was more of working on relationships I had with the athletes and how I would lead them – and to be recognized by my peers to be a coach was a great honor for me.”
While her Olympic coaching career is just getting started, Sheffield is the current Sprints, Hurdles and Relay coach at Long Beach State and has the opportunity to help student-athletes succeed.
Sheffield is willing to help athletes fight for victory if they are ready to do the work.
“They can use me and the experiences I have had and the things that I’ve seen through my eyes to help them get there,” Sheffield said. “It’s going to take hard work, it’s going to take focus, dedication, their commitment. It’s going to take courage, stamina, perseverance. It’s going to take tenacity. If an athlete truly aspires to represent their country in such a momentous manner like the Olympic games, then let’s go to work.”