Pennsylvania Man Heads to Olympics as Decathlon Coach

WINDBER, Pa. (AP)  Nate Davis fondly recalls the sign along Route 56 welcoming drivers to the home of Johnny Weissmuller, who was famous for his movie role as Tarzan and as an Olympic gold medal winning swimmer.

Davis, 39, and Weissmuller soon will have something else in common besides their Windber roots.

The University of Wisconsin assistant track and field coach will head to the Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro as coach of Team USA decathlete Zach Ziemek, a recent Wisconsin graduate.

"My dad flew in last weekend and we were talking about Johnny Weissmuller," said Davis, a 1996 Windber graduate who participated in football, basketball and track. "You drive into Windber and see the sign with his name. When you're a kid growing up in Windber, you think the Olympics are a million miles away. Now I'll get a chance to go to the Olympics and coach a kid who might earn a medal. You think, `Man, this can't be happening to me.' It's unreal. It's surreal."

Davis is a combined-event coach at Wisconsin. He works with both men's and women's athletes in the decathlon and heptathlon.

"This is the crowning achievement of my professional career,'' Davis said of the Rio Olympics. ``It is so much work. To have somebody stay healthy all year long, you've got to be lucky. You got to have a kid with a lot of talent.''

The decathlon consists of competition in the 100-meter dash, long jump, shot put, high jump and 400-meter run on one day, and the 110-meter hurdles, discus, pole vault, javelin and 1,500-meter run on the second day.

Wisconsin's Ziemek earned a spot on Team USA by placing third in the decathlon with a personal-best score of 8,413 points during the Olympic Trials in Eugene, Oregon, on July 3.

His score was the fifth-best by a collegian and broke his own Big Ten Conference record of 8,300 points set when he was runner-up at the NCAA outdoor championships.

"He's an unbelievable athlete,'' Davis said. ``He's had probably the greatest season I could imagine somebody could have. He is just an awesome kid.''

Davis has been part of the Badgers staff for 10 seasons. He serves as a USA Track and Field Level II instructor for the combined events and is among a small group of coaches to have earned both USA Track and Field certified Level III accreditation and IAAF Elite Coach certification in the jumping events.

"It's kind of like home in the 1990s,'' Davis said of coaching in Madison, Wisconsin. ``There is tons of stuff to do, but you can be out of town in a few minutes to hunt and fish. Everything I grew up with in Johnstown is here. There is a hockey team. When Johnstown won Hockeyville last year it was so cool. My 9-year-old son plays hockey. I was telling everybody, `That's where I grew up.' "

Davis pointed to his time in Windber as pivotal in his development as a coach. Playing for former Ramblers football coach Phil DeMarco made a significant impact.

As a senior, Davis also was part of Windber's District 5 champion boys basketball team that won 23 straight games under former coach Mike Rodriquez, and he was a state qualifier in track for coach Tim Saylor.

"I did a lot of reflecting," Davis said. "Phil DeMarco was probably the most important person in my life outside of my father who taught me about coaching. Phil was the toughest guy that I ever played for in any sport. But you never, ever wondered if he cared about you.

"You played quarterback for Phil and the expectation was perfection,'' he added. ``You went into practice every day and you were yelled at up and down. But you never questioned if he cared for you. The lesson is you show up every day, you work, you care about the kids and you've got to let the kids know you care about them."

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