Sports, University News

Alums coach American athletes at Rio Games

Former Olympian Pedro ’94 returns to Rio on sidelines, leads judo team to gold, silver medals

By
Senior Staff Writer
Monday, September 12, 2016

As Brown graduates, Jimmy Pedro ’94 and Luke McGee ’01 could have pursued any number of successful career paths. But both ended up coaching at the Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil this year. The U.S. judo team brought home one silver and one gold medal, and rowers in the men’s coxed eight fell just a couple minutes short of earning a bronze medal.

For U.S. Olympic Judo Coach Pedro, the road to Rio was longer than for most. In fact, his judo journey has lasted as long as he can remember. “I was literally thrown into the sport of judo from a very young age,” Pedro said. “Ever since I can remember, I’ve been on a judo mat.” Pedro competed in four iterations of the Games himself, starting in 1992.

Being involved in a sport for so long comes with certain expectations. “Judo was a way of life for me and my family. So I knew I was always going to be around the sport of judo as a coach. I didn’t know that I was ultimately going to become … the most successful Olympic judo coach (the United States) has ever had,” Pedro said. This year has been our nation’s most successful Olympic judo run in history.

For U.S. Olympic Men’s Rowing Coach McGee, a future in his sport was not so set in stone. Upon being offered his first coaching job 12 years ago — which happened to be at Brown — McGee questioned if he even knew how to teach rowing. “I was scared at first. I was nervous,” he said.

Pedro and McGee’s post-Brown paths bear salient similarities. Within a year of graduating, both men immediately continued their careers in athletics; Pedro went to Japan to train full time and McGee to Princeton to row professionally. Both men also had stints working with the under-23 U.S. national team for their respective sports and from there were offered the coveted coaching positions they hold today.

While explaining what it was like to coach at the Olympic level, Pedro and McGee threw around the words “amazing,” “exciting” and “incredible” with ease. It is “an excitement and a passion to see the guys achieve what you’ve all set out to achieve,” McGee said. To be a coach is “certainly different than being an athlete on a team, but it’s still being a part of a team and working towards a common goal.”

Beyond the excitement of competition, coaches must grapple with more cerebral considerations of management and strategy. “The ability to learn how to maximize people’s potential and to put people in areas where they’re going to excel has really helped me from a coaching standpoint,” Pedro said.

Asked if Brown lent shape to their career paths, both men responded without hesitation: “absolutely.”

“I think my ability to juggle being a D-1 athlete at an Ivy League institution and manage my time really helped lead to my success in life,” Pedro said.

While both attribute some of their successes to Brown, they also view their passion as critical to their achievements. “I’ve always thought that as long as someone is really passionate about what they’re trying to pursue, that they’re going to pursue it wholly and usually pretty successfully,” McGee said. And that’s just what Pedro claimed is the best part of his job: “It’s all tied to my passion. I wake up every day, and it doesn’t feel like work.”