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Wednesday, January 4, 2012
Gold medal opens doors

By Whitney Holtzman

Next up in our Power Play series highlighting women in the sports business is Benita Fitzgerald Mosley, who became the first Chief of Sport Performance for USA Track & Field in 2009. In her role, Mosely oversees everything from the team's performance to coaching to anti-doping.

When Benita Fitzgerald Mosley agreed to serve on a USA Track & Field task force after the Beijing Olympics, she had no idea she would be writing her own job description.

After facing challenges in 2008 in the administration and performance of USATF, a task force decided to hire someone to pull together coaching, performance, athlete support and anti-doping, in hopes of a solid showing heading into the 2012 London Games.

"I never thought that I was going to be the one to fill all of those lofty responsibilities," Mosley said.

Mosley assumed her new role in July 2009, becoming the first Chief of Sport Performance for USATF. One of her main duties is overseeing anti-doping regulations. In addition to regular drug tests, Mosley said the best deterrent for keeping athletes from using illegal performance enhancers is to threaten violators with the loss eligibility.

"It's their livelihood. If they're not running, they're not eating," she said.

In addition to policing anti-doping, Mosley is in charge of performance and development programs, Team USA management, elite athlete services, sport science and medicine, coaching education and certification and national championship meet management.

And Mosley knows a thing or two about what it takes to become an elite athlete.

She won gold in the 100-meter hurdles at the 1984 Los Angeles Games, becoming the first African-American woman and second American woman, after Babe Didrikson Zaharias in 1932, to accomplish the feat.

"I tell folks that it felt like God put wings on my feet as I was coming down the last two or three hurdles in that race," she said. "I was neck and neck with a woman by the name of Shirley Strong, who was an archrival of mine, but I just said, 'Not today, Shirley,' and I somehow got ahead of her by four-hundredths of a second. It was a bat of an eye, but it was enough to separate gold from silver."

Benita Fitzgerald Mosley
Benita Fitzgerald Mosley enjoys spending time with her husband, Ron, and kids, Isaiah and Maya.

Since the moment she won the gold medal -- which she now keeps in her sock drawer -- Mosley said her life has changed for the better. The majority of her jobs -- which have included regional director for Special Olympics International, program director for the marketing division of the Atlanta Committee for the Olympic Games, director of Olympic Training Centers and, most recently, president and CEO of Women in Cable Telecommunications -- have come as a result of her winning gold.

Those four-hundredths of a second changed her personal life, as well. She met her husband, Ron, in 1995 while she was at a meeting for the U.S. Olympic Committee.

"We have two kids," she said. "Without the gold medal, they wouldn't be here because I wouldn't have met Ron, so it goes on and on."

Mosley once again made an appearance at the Olympic Games in 1996. But this time, it was for an entirely different reason. She was one of eight athletes selected to carry the Olympic flag into the stadium during the opening ceremonies of the Centennial Games in Atlanta.

"I always think, 'What if I had never laced up my first pair of track shoes? My life would have been so different,'" Mosley said. "I think I would've had a wonderful life, but this one here is pretty stellar."

Mosley graduated in December 1984, right after she won her gold medal, with a degree in industrial engineering from the University of Tennessee, where she racked up four NCAA track and field titles. She then moved to Texas and worked as a part-time engineer while training for the 1988 Seoul Olympics.

Mosley missed making the U.S. team in '88 by a hundredth of a second and served as an alternate. After the Games, Mosley retired from track. She worked as an engineer for a few years before getting the call to join Special Olympics International, which began her career on the business side of sports.

Mosley received several honors following her Olympic success. She was named Hurdler of the Decade for the 1980s by Track and Field News and Top Female Sports Figure of the Century from Virginia by Sports Illustrated. In her honor, her hometown of Dale City, Va., named a street after her in 1987 -- Benita Fitzgerald Drive.

Eleven years later, a school opened on her street, Fannie W. Fitzgerald Elementary, named for Mosley's mother, who was a civil rights leader and a pioneer in education.

"She set such a major example," Mosley said. "She did a lot at the forefront on the education side in the late '60s, early '70s, when African-Americans were just starting to hit the scene as executives."

Her mother's rise above discrimination and poverty affected the young Fitzgerald for the better.

"I knew there wasn't anything I couldn't do. I never thought I couldn't be an engineer, a CEO or anything else I set my mind to," she said.

Mosley is fortunate to work from her home in Haymarket, Va., which gives her an opportunity to fulfill her other passion: spending time with her family, including husband Ron and children Isaiah, 13, and Maya, 8.

Being the child of a parent who works at USATF can have its perks.

"They'll be in London this summer hanging out with Olympic gold medalists, while their friends are at cheerleading camp," Mosley said.

Speaking of London, that's when Mosley will see the result of the work she's done with USATF.

Her efforts have already paid off with 12 world championship medals, including six gold, for the USA women's team in South Korea this past September. It was the most won at a world championship by the U.S.

"I hope it all carries through to 2012," she said. "That's the holy grail right there."