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“I tell them, ‘When you get to the trials, no matter how many athletes are there, three-fourths of the field will all have the same talent level,” Valmon said. “What separates those going to the next level are the ones who believe and are mentally strong.’

“It sounds corny, but we talk about how important it is to dream. I tell them if they believe they belong there [at the Olympics], they’ll be there.”

Valmon describes his approach as “athlete-friendly.” As he sees it, his job is part coach, part counselor and part facilitator. He knows he has a lot of hats to wear.

“The sport is so sophisticated now, it’s not just about the athlete,” Valmon said. “It’s the athlete, the trainer, the coach, the masseuse. My biggest challenge is to make sure they peak at the right time and take things off their plate.”

Avoiding distractions and maintaining focus is key, especially if the U.S. team hopes to avoid some of the mistakes that have caused the program to come under fire in recent years and reclaim in some measure the dominance the Americans once had in the sport.

Four-time Olympian Jackie Joyner-Kersee believes the team found the right man for the job in Valmon.

“It’s not going to be easy, but he has the experience of someone who has been in the Olympic Games as an athlete,” Joyner-Kersee said. “He can relate to the athletes and what they might be going through.”

The two have known each other so long, Joyner-Kersee jokes that she “can’t even put years on it.

“I think our team has done extremely well, but there are highlights of us dropping the baton, and it outshines some of the good performances,” she said. “But Andrew understands how we must pull together for the Games. He’s an excellent choice as Olympic coach.”

Olympic hopeful Michael Walton, a 200- and 400-meter runner, has been working with Valmon for the past year after meeting him through his personal coach, Al Joyner — Joyner-Kersee’s brother.

“It’s been one of the most rewarding experiences of my career,” Walton said of working with Valmon. “He has a great feel for athletes, for your strengths and your weaknesses, without you having to voice them. He’s very good at reading athletes and being able to assign things to help you improve. He read me like a book.”

The struggles at Maryland

As Valmon focuses on his Olympic preparation, he must also deal with the financial struggles at Maryland, where the indoor and outdoor track programs, men’s cross-country and several other sports are in jeopardy of elimination.

The men’s track program must raise $940,000 by June 30 to remain in existence for the 2012-13 school year, and as of last week more than $647,000 had been pledged toward that total. But even if donors come through for the program before next weekend’s deadline, they’ll have to keep giving nearly $1 million each year to keep track alive in College Park.

“We have some donors that we’re still talking to,” Valmon said. “One of the goals I had at the onset of this was to make sure that our junior class graduates, because it’s tough for them to go anywhere else now, and we’re petty close. I’m optimistic that we will get that little bit to close the gap.”

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