Q&A: Rock Hill’s Mitch Greeley combating nerves while wife Nicole competes in Olympic pole vaulting

Nicole Buchler vaulting during a Diamond League meet last year. Her husband and coach, Mitch Greeley, is a former track and field standout at Northwestern High School and Clemson.
Nicole Buchler vaulting during a Diamond League meet last year. Her husband and coach, Mitch Greeley, is a former track and field standout at Northwestern High School and Clemson. AFP/Getty Images

Rock Hill’s Mitch Greeley has been watching the Olympics like the rest of us, but with a much better vantage point and many more nerves.

His wife, Nicole Büchler, is a Swiss pole vaulter who has qualified for the Olympic finals Friday night in Rio. Greeley is coaching his wife, offering her the knowledge he developed during a stellar pole vaulting career at Clemson. The former college All-American, Northwestern Trojan and three-time South Carolina state champ took some time from his busy week in Brazil to answer a few questions about his and his wife’s Olympic experience.

Q. How excited are you for your wife Nicole reaching the finals of pole vault?

A. I’m really excited for her, she’s worked unbelievably hard to get where she is and we’ve both had to make lots of sacrifices.

Q. Is she outperforming forecasts or seeding or is this expected?

A. This would be expected if it wasn’t for a hamstring injury that occurred four weeks ago. The qualification was the first meet and first 100 percent jumps she had taken in roughly five weeks. She had to sit out two planned Diamond League meetings in Monte Carlo and London, as well as the European Championships in Amsterdam, which was tough to do.

Q. She jumped a 4.78 in Doha in May; how much does weather influence vaulting?

A. Weather plays a huge role. Rain and winds can have a substantial effect on the athlete’s performance. This can bring the overall field down by a foot or more.

Q. How have the conditions been in Brazil so far? Pretty rainy earlier in the week, right?

A. Coming from Switzerland it’s really hot for us right now, even though it’s technically winter here. The rain has been pretty sporadic but doesn’t stick around long. The winds can be pretty hectic but so far in the stadium it hasn’t been much of an issue.

Q. What has yours and Nicole’s Rio experience been like? Did you get there early, or has it been all business?

A. We arrived much later than the rest of the Swiss athletes just because we wanted to stay in a routine until just before the qualification. There’s a lot of things surrounding the games with media appointments and arranged meeting times. We wanted to keep all of these things to a minimal because they can be a distraction and drain energy. After the final on Friday night we plan on becoming full blown tourists and experiencing Rio like anyone else.

Q. Are you closely connected with the Swiss team or operating kind of on your own?

A. Three months ago I became a Swiss citizen (dual citizenship) and though I am not an officially paid national coach, I still stay in the village and receive all the treatment as one. All expenses are covered and they organize everything to make my job coaching her as easy as possible.

Q. Will you make a career out of coaching, or are you just working with your wife?

A. I do not plan to make a career out of this. I originally picked it up because it was the only option available at the time. There was no other person in Switzerland with the combined experience of us working together. I actually work full-time as a conditions monitoring engineer at a company called Feintool near our home. I am also still actively pole vaulting but was sidelined from having a good shot at qualifying this year due to a shoulder injury.

Q. How much pressure is there at the Olympic meet? As a spectator when the event is happening, is it palpable among the athletes?

A. There’s a lot of pressure. More for some than others. As a coach I am way more nervous than if I’m competing. Some athletes fold under the pressure of a big meet. Until this year Nicole had never placed as well as she could have at international championships. However, this year she worked extensively with a sports psychologists and has become mentally much stronger than before.

Q. What moment so far - Nicole’s accomplishments aside - will stick with you from these Olympics?

A. Experiencing the life within the Olympic village. Being here among so many athletes from every country imaginable and seeing the peaceful interaction with one another through sport. There are around 10,000 athletes in the village during the games.

Q. How surprising is it that pole vaulting has taken you around the world? Did you ever imagine it possible?

A. The day Bob Jenkins recommended this sport to me I had never heard of it. To think where I am now, I could have never imagined it would turn out like this. This sport has opened my world to things I never knew existed. I am truly grateful to all the people that helped me along the way and supported my crazy ideas and dreams.

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