Frazier Reflects On Gold Medal, 1976 Games
The athletes who will be participating in the 2012 Olympic Games will be hoping to accomplish the same goal that former Olympian Herman Frazier did in the 1976 Games: win a gold medal.
As a student-athlete at Arizona State, Frazier was an eight-time All-American when he ran track and field in the mid-1970s.
But it was in Montreal where Frazier won the gold medal as the leadoff runner in the 4x400 meter relay. He was the youngest member of the relay team and said he was considered the baby.
When he was standing on the podium with a gold medal around his neck as the national anthem was being played, he was trying to take in what he had just achieved.
"It was kind of like a blur, but I felt really good about it," Frazier said. "Then later on when I was able to go back and watch video of it, it was a moment that made me reflect upon how fortunate I was to be in that position."
Winning a gold medal is a moment he'll never forget, along with graduating from college and becoming a director of athletics for a Division I school.
"The thrill of it all to be a part of something like that is pretty hard to describe," Frazier said. "It was one of the two or three greatest moments of my life to represent the United States, win a gold medal and to be so young when I was able to achieve that goal."
Frazier's gold medal means a lot to him, but doesn't let just anyone see it.
"For the most part, I keep it in a safe deposit box and the few times I bring it out is when I speak to young kids," Frazier said. "Whenever I go to an elementary school, or community youth group, or something of that nature is when I'll bring it out."
Frazier said one of the best parts of being in the Olympics was the individuals he was able to meet and get to know. Along with the gold medal, he also left with friends that he said he will have for the rest of his life.
Although Frazier was a one-time competitor in the Olympics, his involvement continued. Since 1980, he has served on various Olympic Committees and is a two-time Vice President of the U.S. Olympic Committee. He was chosen to be the Chef de Mission for the entire U.S. delegation at the 2004 Athens Games, where he provided the briefings for all the athletes who were members of the U.S. team.
"When they would come into the auditorium, I'd tell them, 'You're no longer a member of USA track, or USA basketball or USA gymnastics, you're now a member of the United States Olympic team. And with that comes some high expectations from you not only as an athlete competing, but also a person of a high moral standard as well,'" Frazier said.
After telling the athletes this, he would show them some brief videos or film clips of what is expected of them and talk about the culture of the host nation, which was Greece.
Frazier said as the Chef de Mission, he didn't get any sleep. He can remember going to meetings at 6 a.m. and then spending the entire day being driven around with the 24-hour security he had because of his high-risk position. Then he would go to functions on behalf of the U.S. delegation and then a volleyball or basketball game that often started at midnight if something else ran over. He would frequently go to bed at 2 a.m. or 3 a.m. and get up at 5 a.m. the next morning to be at a meeting again at 6 a.m. Although the days were long, Frazier was willing to accept all that came along with his duty and because of that, he gained new knowledge.
"It's a commitment you make because you do it on behalf of all the athletes who've trained so hard," Frazier said. "You learn a lot about yourself, you learn a lot about serving others, and you learn how much people really respect our country, which is the USA."
Being the Chef de Mission taught Frazier about the foreign relations aspect of the Olympic Games. When he was in that role, smaller countries looked to him for assistance.
"Whenever we would go to our Chef de Mission meetings, I would always wait and defer to listen to the other chefs as to what their issues were," Frazier said. "Whenever I needed to speak up on their behalf I would be very, very political and make statements in order to help those other smaller countries."
As someone who's been involved in the Olympics for many years, Frazier thinks the biggest change that has occurred is the increasing number of events for women athletes. He said that the Atlanta Games in 1996 is "when you saw the infusion of women's professional sports leagues come into play."
"I think the Olympics have made tremendous strides in supporting women's athletics, and that's a by-product of what's happened in our country with Title IX and what it's been able to provide for women as it relates to university sports," Frazier said.
In addition to his gold medal, Frazier has received many other awards and honors. Most recently he was selected by the National Association of Collegiate Directors of Athletics and the McLendon Foundation as a recipient of the 2012 Pioneer Award, recognizing him as the first African American to win a gold medal and return as the Chef de Mission. Prior to that, he was named one of the Top 101 Minorities in Sports by Sports Illustrated in 2003 and 2004 and one of the 100 Most Influential Persons in Sports in the U.S. by Sporting News in 2008. In 2006, he was honored with what he said is the best award he ever received, which was being named one of the Top 100 Athletes of All-Time by the NCAA.
"When you're to think about all the hundreds of thousands of student athletes who have come out of the NCAA, to be in the top 100 of those is, I think, pretty fascinating," Frazier said. "I mean, if you can name top athletes in every conference and every sport you'll probably come up with a good 500 to 1,000, but to be in the top 100, that was impressive for me and I know it really made my parents feel well."
In 1977 when he was captain of the NCAA National Champion track team, his 4x400 meter relay team set a new collegiate record and he won the 400-meter individual championship. He considers his time at ASU as the beginning of his professional career not only as an athlete, but also as an administrator. Before working his way up to becoming the senior associate athletic director at ASU, he was first appointed as the assistant director of events and facilities there.
"I just did so many things there as an athlete and volunteered to do so many things that I was fortunate to then get moved up to my first real full-time job," Frazier said. "When I was 23 years old, to be assistant athletic director in charge of events and facilities with a $2 million budget, I think that's pretty cool."
Since leaving ASU, Frazier has worked as an athletic director for the University of Alabama-Birmingham, the University of Hawai'i and Temple University. Currently he is the deputy athletics director/chief of staff at Syracuse University. The 57-year-old who first became involved in athletics administration when he was 23 years old brings 34 years of experience to the position. This experience and his experiences as an athlete influence his role.
"The competitive aspect of what you learn as an athlete, I believe I've taken that into the realm as an administrator," Frazier said. "I have pretty much been involved in every aspect of athletic administration, so I bring a well-rounded experience to this."
Even though he no longer works in the Pac-12, Frazier believes that the Pac-12 is "the premier conference for student-athletes in all sports."
He said that when he was at ASU, the goal of teams finishing in the top 10 in the country was defined as finishing in the top three in the Pac-12, which was the Pac-10 at that time, because it would probably equate to being in the top 10 in the country.
"When you strap it on in the Pac-12, you better be prepared," Frazier said. "You have to be good to win a Pac-12 championship."
Frazier may currently be living in New York, but he's not planning on staying there permanently. He still owns a house in Arizona and plans on returning there.
"There's no question in my mind that I will retire in the great state of Arizona, and probably go to Pac-12 contests and scream at everybody," Frazier laughed.