When the U.S. Olympic men’s track and field team begin its quest for gold in Rio Friday, it will be led by a man who spent a large part of his childhood and college years running through Long Island’s back roads and side streets.
Vin Lananna, who grew up in Garden City Park and has a rich background in the sport, was named the men’s track and field coach last July and will finally get to show if his coaching mettle will translate into gold medals over the next week.
Although Lananna, 63, is only officially in charge of the men, he said he works closely with U.S. woman’s coach and four-time Olympian Connie Price-Smith to make sure all American athletes are put in the best possible position to bring Rio glory back home.
“The teams are confident, well prepared, and excited for what they can achieve at these Olympic Games,” Lananna told Newsday in an email from Brazil Wednesday. “We have a balance of outstanding veterans and talented newcomers. That mixture has created an amazing atmosphere within this team, and I think that positive attitude will serve them well in competition. Team USA has traditionally been the No. 1 team in the world, and I’m confident that these amazing athletes will deliver on that tradition in Rio.”
As coach, Lananna casts a wide net, overseeing all athletes — including marathoner Meb Keflezighi, miler Matthew Centrowitz, sprinter Justin Gatlin, decathlete Ashton Eaton, thrower Joe Kovacs, and jumper Christian Taylor.
Lananna is living among the athletes in the Olympic Village and couldn’t be happier with the experience so far.
“As expected, the reception from the staff and volunteers in Rio has been phenomenal,” he said. “They are warm and friendly, and they are prepared for these Games. I am most excited by the Olympic spirit that the Brazilians have infused into the Village and the city. The atmosphere is fantastic, and we feel very welcomed by everyone.”
Lananna has considerable experience coaching Olympians, guiding individual U.S. athletes at the 1992, 1996, 2000, 2004 and 2008 Games. He was an official Team USA assistant as men’s distance coach at the 2004 Olympic Games in Athens, and was the head coach at the 2011 IAAF World Championships in South Korea.
Lananna graduated from New Hyde Park High School in 1971 and C.W Post (now LIU-Post) in 1975. He was a four-year standout on the C.W Post cross county team, serving as captain on the 1974 team that placed fourth at the NCAA Division II Championships.
Lananna was named coach of the C.W Post cross country team in 1975, later moving on as the head coach at Dartmouth College, Stanford University, and the University of Oregon. In his 35-year college coaching career, he has won 11 NCAA titles and guided athletes to close to 60 individual NCAA crowns, according to a USA track and field news release.
He also served as athletic director at Oberlin College in Ohio from 2003-2005.
Lananna, who is currently the Associate Athletic Director for Olympic Development and Director of Track and Field at the University of Oregon, was inducted into the U.S. Track and Field and Cross Country Coaches Association Hall of Fame in 2012 and the LIU-Post Athletic Hall of Fame in 2007.
He is also the president of TrackTown USA, Inc., a non-profit organization that organizes a number of premier track and field events, including this year’s U.S. Olympic Team Trials in Eugene, Oregon.