From Spray Paint & Parking Lots to Rio: Lehigh Valley Native Heads to Olympics

It all started with spray paint and a parking lot.

Joe Kovacs didn’t practice in top-notch facilities. He didn’t have the best equipment, not even the best shoes. His high school, Bethlehem Catholic, didn’t even have a track.

“This is where it all started,” Kovac’s mom, Joanne, said, standing in the old parking lot, a can of spray paint in her hand.

Joe grew up in Nazareth, a small town that he says gave him a humble beginning. In a parking lot, Joanne would spray paint a circle on the edge of the pavement for Joe to stand in. From there, he'd throw the shot put into the adjacent field. 

"We didn't have a track, we didn't have a throwing ring," Joe said of his high school. [[388265382, C]]

Joe started out playing football but practiced sprinting a lot to work on his speed. After sprinting practice, Joanne would practice shot put with Joe and a couple of his friends, working on building strength and ultimately becoming their coach. After graduating high school in 2007, Kovacs went on to Penn State University. But the training didn’t stop. And now, Joe is on his way to Rio.

“The only thing I’m thinking about is gold,” Joe told NBC Sports.

Preparing to wear the USA jersey, Joe says there’s no better feeling. And Joanne couldn’t be more proud. [[377968171, C]]

“I’m just proud to see him wearing red, white and blue,” she said. “He’s in the right place, and I just feel good.”

Joe hasn't forgotten about Nazareth though, saying he's thankful for the supportive community and is excited to be back. Mostly, though, he's excited for the Nazareth Diner.

"Three french toasts, golden-brown, and they're perfect every time I go," Joe said, smiling. 

Joe isn't the only Penn Stater headed to Rio, though. 

Darby, Pennsylvania's Darrell Hill makes it a Philly-area two-fer competing in shot put in Rio. The duo will compete in the qualifying round on the morning of Aug. 18. The final round is later that night. 

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