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Olympic medalist Hollis Conway takes new perspective; read Daniel Cormier’s blog, see photos

Former UL star gives inside view of going for gold

Bruce Brown • bbrown@theadvertiser.com • August 8, 2008

Nobody expected much of Hollis Conway in 1988, least of all Conway himself.

The UL Ragin’ Cajun All-American was a surprise winner of the high jump at the U.S. Olympic Trials, punching his ticket for the Olympic Games in Seoul, South Korea. Then, jumping without pressure, he earned a silver medal with a clearance of 7 feet, 8 3/4 inches.

Four years later in Barcelona, almost everyone expected victory, including Conway.

He set an Olympic Trials record of 7-7 that still stands, then jumped as high as anyone in the Barcelona finals. Yet Conway finished in a three-way tie at 7-8 and received a bronze medal for third place, which was decided on misses.

Few in Louisiana have ever had more perspective on the Olympic experience.

"I look at Seoul with different eyes now," Conway said. "I had no expectations but to enjoy it. I was excited. I remember the pageantry, the opening ceremonies, going to gymnastics and (Olympic) tennis matches, just being a part of it.

"In those days, we were able to check in a week ahead and stay for the whole Olympic experience. It was such a different time. I was still in la-la land. It was so great to see and be a part of. We were able to get out in the shopping district. I bought a bunch of stuff."

Despite tensions between North Korea and South Korea, Conway said athletes were mainly warned about their choice of food, especially after three U.S. swimmers became ill after sampling the local cuisine. Reality did present itself during the games, though.

"They held a barbecue for us in the demilitarized zone," Conway said. "Outside the city, I remember seeing people in the rice fields. It was a completely different world."

By the time Barcelona hosted the games in 1992, Conway had set an American indoor record of 7-10 1/2 and had been No. 1 in the world in 1990 and 1991. He was No. 1 in the U.S. for seven straight years and on top of his event.

But Conway’s wife Charlotte gave birth to their firstborn – daughter Tarvia – the day before the Olympics began. Conway flew to Spain immediately afterward, further challenged by a root canal. He missed the Opening Ceremonies, jumped in preliminaries the next day, jumped in the finals two days after that, and came home.

"I guess it was ignorance," Conway said. "I thought I was superman, and that I could do it. That’s not an excuse. I was in the best shape of my life, and I believed I could win. No matter what the obstacles are, you can get it done.

"Now, I’m thinking I was crazy. Then, it was not even an issue."

Conway had jumped 7-9 1/4 – the height that halted all in the field – five times that year, and "was in shape to do it. I still had the opportunity to win.

"Mentally, my focus was different. I was ranked No. 1. I was there to win. It was a more businesslike, strategic approach. I was a lot more disappointed, because I had more expectations."

Conway saw a third attempt at Olympic glory halted partially by injuries in 1996, missing a chance to compete in Atlanta, and now runs Overcoming Obstacles Inc. in Monroe.

"I still work with Fellowship of Christian Athletes," Conway said. "I’m passionate about that. I’m in charge of five parishes in the northeast region, but I really cover nine. I also speak to athletes about life skills, do corporate speaking and have my evangelistic work."

Conway especially wants athletes to be able to qualify to sign scholarships that can help them further their education.

"Their athletic talent will not get them through life," he said. "All of us have a responsibility to help."

Only a fraction of athletes get a chance to compete on the Olympic stage. Conway did, and twice had the mettle to earn medals while there.

Athletic Network Footnote: Hollis’ profile on the Athletic Network includes his website at www.hollisconway.com. Hollis will be appearing as the featured speaker at the annual Westminster Christian Academy Night of the Champions Banquet to be held at River Oaks on Kaliste Saloom Road, Saturday August 23rd. Doors open at 6:00, auction begins at 6:30, and the banquet begins at 7:00 p.m. The public is invited. Contact 948-8607 ext 111 and ask for Rita if interested in purchasing tickets.