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US Hires Foreign Coaches for Olympic Sports - 2004-08-27

Many Olympic sports are not played at a professional level in the United States, so they don't always draw the best athletes. And there is a shortage of good coaches in the less popular sports, so there is a growing trend to seek out the best coaches from other countries.

If you look down the list of coaches involved in the various U.S. sports federations you will see a number of different countries represented from all over the globe - from Indonesia to New Zealand, from Russia, Ukraine and Slovenia, to Poland and Britain, to Trinidad and Tobago and Brazil.

U.S. Olympic Committee spokesman Bob Condron says there is a reason for this trend.

"In some sports where it needs a jump start, so to speak, they've tried to go out and get the best coaches in the world," he says. "It's paid off. It's paid off by setting the standard. [Like] weightlifting, some of the other sports, it's actually raised the bar. It's helped the athletes. And anything we can do for the athletes we do, and that may include coaches."

For the last three years, the head coach of the U.S. Men's water polo team has been Serbian Ratko Rudic. He was born in Belgrade and was a gold medal player and coach for the former Yugoslavia. He guided Yugoslavia to Olympic final victories over the United States in 1984 and 1988.

He told VOA Sports that it came as a shock to many that he left his country for the United States. "Everybody thought it was a very strange decision," he recalls. "They were surprised. Why would I leave Europe where water polo is big, all the money, everything is in Europe and I go to the United States. And I told them, I need a new challenge. I want everything that one coach can want. I wanted to have new motivation so I came to the United States."

Though the men's U.S. water polo team failed to make it to the Olympic quarterfinals, Rudic says the future looks good. "This was a young team for us," he explains. "It was a good experience. It was a good lesson. We will learn about this and will try to apply and be better the next [Olympic] Games."

Badminton, dominated by Asian and European countries, is another sport coached by a man who grew up outside the United States. Ignatius Rusli is from Indonesia and he says the foreign-born U.S. coaches share the same view.

"It's a challenge for them," he notes. "For the coaches I know the number one thing is not about the money. The coaches, they're talking about the satisfaction. That's number one. I think my philosophy is the satisfaction that if you can make the athlete reach the top of their performance and win the gold. I think that's the number one."

U.S. Olympic Committee spokesman Bob Condron says the foreign-born coaches are not only mentoring the American athletes, but they also are helping American coaches in their specific sport.

"It's takes a jump start by a coach, the best coaches in the world, and then that sets the stage for American coaches to learn it better," he adds. "You know, our goal would probably be to have every team coached by an American. Right now we're not there in some sports but we're there in 95 percent of them."

There's a saying that goes, "if you can't beat them, join them." In the case of some of the smaller and less successful U.S. sports federations, it's a case of, "if you can't beat them, hire them."