Distance makes life difficult for Olympians' families

Olympic athletes train their whole lives for this moment that comes along once every four years if not once in a lifetime. The pressure is enormous.


Now imagine being the parent or grandparent sitting at home half a world away hoping to catch a glimpse of your son or granddaughter’s dream shot. Even worse, imagine hoping to catch it on tape delay.

“It’s hard,” said Steve Hoffa, a veteran of three Olympic vigils in his Grovetown living room as his son, Reese, tries to win a medal in shot put. “In China he threw at 3 a.m. here, so we just stayed up all night and waited for him to do his thing. I’ll do it any time I have to to watch my son throw.”

Washington Ross will get his first taste of long-distance Olympics tension. He’s typically followed his granddaughter, Kyla, all over to see her compete in gymnastics, but his wife’s illness has them confined to watching from Martinez.

“It is difficult,” Ross said. “Having gone to all the other (competitions) and seen what’s going on, you really miss it. We can catch it live on the computer and then NBC will have a tape delay at 7 o’clock. I’ve got up to watch it live because I can’t wait. I’d be on pins and needles having to wait for 11 o’clock.”

For Ross, whose sons Jason and Joe were star athletes at Westside High, he’ll have the luxury of seeing Kyla perform in the most heavily covered event of the Olympics – women’s gymnastics. There isn’t a routine his 15-year-old granddaughter will perform that isn’t likely to be televised – eventually.

The Hoffas aren’t likely to be so fortunate. Even though Reese, the former Lakeside High and Georgia great, is the gold-medal favorite in the first track and field medal event, the coverage for shot put hardly qualifies as blanket.

“One thing about the Olympics is when they show the shot put you better be ready to watch,” said Steve. “Because they only show it for about 5 or 10 minutes and that’s it. It’s that quick. It’s all Michael Phelps and Usain Bolt and this and that. That’s the main focus of the Olympics. But as my wife says, these other kids work just as hard as they do. I know shot put’s not a glamour sport, but all the training these guys go through, they deserve more than that.”

When Reese competed in Athens, Greece, and Beijing, China, Steve and Vicki Hoffa had parties for family and friends that lasted deep into the night hoping for that 5-10 minutes of screen time. You could always tell the Hoffas’ house by all the red, white and blue banners out front honoring their son.

It was Vicki, Reese’s stepmother, who did all the planning and organizing and banner-making. But his chief cheerleader is weakened by fighting liver and bone cancer for more than three years.

“I miss doing all the things for Reese,” she said. “But we are so proud of him.”

“With my wife being sick like she is, we’re not going to be doing anything,” Steve said. “We’ll just be watching on TV. She thinks a lot of Reese and did a lot for him in the past years’ Olympics with the parties and the signs. Reese is appreciative of that.”

Washington Ross is in a similar place. Before his wife, Shigeko, got sick and confined to nursing care, they would travel to watch Kyla compete. But they had to skip the Olympic Trials and London proved too expensive for Washington to even make the trip alone.

“Multiply everything by 10 because everything is going up like when the Masters comes here,” he said. “So I’ll have a couple friends coming over and watch it on the big screen. I know from experience when I go to the nursing home where my wife is and she ends up going to sleep. I’ve got a big 51-inch widescreen at the house so I want to go home and watch it on that.”

Both Hoffa and Ross have enormous expectations riding on their shoulders in London. Hoffa has the three longest throws in the world this year, setting him up as the favorite.

“He knows what he wants to achieve this go-round and hopefully he can do that,” said his father. “He’s been throwing the best that he has in the last two or three years. So I think that ... no, I’m not going to say it. He knows all of us are with him and we’re watching him. If he wins the gold, that big loud scream you hear will be me.”

Ross is part of the most highly touted women’s team since 1996, hyped in commercials as “America’s Fab Five” and expected to bring home the team gold medal for the first time since the Atlanta Games.

“It does put quite a bit of pressure on you trying to live up to everybody’s expectations,” said the grandfather. “They’re saying this is the best team since ’96, so yes, I think it is some pressure on her. You always worry if she’s going to fall. All kinds of crazy things going through my mind. Sometimes I don’t want to watch. But we’re all hoping the team does well, and not just Kyla.”

Whatever they see from their Augusta-area living rooms won’t diminish the pride and affection they have for their accomplished kids competing under intense pressure in the rarefied Olympic arena.

“I think irregardless of what happens there, in my personal opinion he’s had a stellar career,” Steve said of Reese. “He’s done a lot for shot put, trying different tricks and doing different things. He’s always been a gentleman. Hopefully he can bring it home and add that to his collection, be proud of that and move on down the road to something else.”


• Men’s shot put qualification rounds begin at 5 a.m. EDT on Friday, Aug. 3, with the final scheduled for 3:30 p.m. NBC’s tape-delayed coverage runs on WAGT-26 from 8-12 p.m.

• Women’s gymnastics qualifications are today from 4:30 a.m.-3 p.m. EDT. NBC’s tape-delayed coverage runs on WAGT-26 from 7-12 p.m. The women’s team final is schedule to begin at 11:30 a.m. Tuesday, July 31, with tape-delayed coverage from 8-12 p.m. The individual all-around is 11:30 a.m. on Thursday, Aug. 2 (WAGT-26 8-12 p.m.) while the individual event competitions are Aug. 5-7 in the mornings with tape-delayed coverage each night.



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