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Olympics

How Did We Get Four Olympians?

Team USA was projected to qualify just one athlete for the Olympics, but instead maxed out, quadrupling expectations. The team manager had a lot to do with it.

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This article was published in the summer edition of Gym Climber.  For the latest Olympic coverage before and during the Games, join us with an Outside+ membership. Sign up and you’ll also receive a year of Climbing in print, plus our annual coffee-table edition of Ascent.

Meg Coyne’s official title is National Teams Manager for USA Climbing, but she also described her job as “mother hen,” which is another way of saying a little bit of everything. Because USA Climbing has a lot of different teams across its programs—Lead, Speed, Boulder, Adult, Youth, Para, Collegiate—Coyne travels a lot.

“So my job is to be mother hen for everybody,” Coyne said. “Part travel agent, part therapist. Keeping everyone in line and getting them where they are going.” We can add “part coach” to her resume.

Coyne, 30, has a quiet but calculated presence. She’s a listener, and chooses her words carefully. Like many of those in the inner orbit of Team USA’s competitive program, Coyne herself is a former competitor, routesetter and has been in the game for a while. She competed in Youth World Championships, for example, and is a former team coach for the Stone Summit Team, out of Atlanta. Meg got into coaching by accident, she told me, but quickly fell in love with it. In 2018, she joined USAC and in time was tasked with developing a high-performance program.

What is high performance? High performance is taking athletes and helping them reach “as best as you can to their max ability,” she said. The high performance program is intended to make U.S. athletes more competitive abroad. In case you haven’t noticed, it’s working. We have four qualified OlympiansNathaniel Coleman, Kyra Condie, Colin Duffy and Brooke Rabatouthe max amount per country. Duffy and Raboutou live and train in Boulder, at ABC Kids Climbing where they grew up, while Coleman and Condie live and train under the full-time guidance of Larson, Coyne, and the USAC support staff.

“By every statistical projection that anyone could give us, going into 2019, we maybe at very low odds could qualify one athlete for the Games. Our odds of winning a medal were something like .001 percent,” Coyne said. I was so shocked about that number I had to ask her again. “.001?” Yep, pretty much, she told me. “It was not going to happen … a snowball’s chance in hell.” The name for these statistical forecasts at the USOPC is “medal expectancy,” and the .001 figure was based off one athlete qualifying, not four. So, yeah, go team USA.

Coyne, Josh Larson and Kyra Condie at the TC. Photo: Jess Talley / Louder Than 11


Back to that mother hen. What’s the best way to lose an athlete’s trust?

“The reasons that people trust other people vary, but the reasons that people distrust other people vary a lot more,” she said. “For some athletes, if they have a bad round and they know it’s bad, and you lie to them and tell them it wasn’t that bad, that lie might absolutely lose their trust … yet there are some athletes that need to be told it wasn’t that bad, and they might know you are lying to them, but that might make them trust you, because they know that you know that’s what they need.”

With answers like that, the future is looking good.