Andrew Valmon sat in the dugout of the Gottlieb-Daimler-Stadion in Germany, celebrating with his teammates after their record-breaking 4×400 meter relay win in the 1993 World Championships.
Suddenly, everybody froze. Their eyes widened. Valmon’s teammate Butch Reynolds glanced behind him and saw Primo Nebiolo, president of the International Amateur Athletic Federation.
Nebiolo interrupted the team to tell the four they would be presented with their gold medals later that day.
Valmon, now the Maryland track and field team’s head coach, had just broken the world record for the 4×400 relay with his teammates in Germany. It was a record Valmon and the U.S. had just set the year before during the 1992 Olympics in Barcelona.
The then-28-year-old runner felt the euphoria of another record-setting performance on the world stage.
“It’s what you dream about as a kid,” Valmon said.
The Olympian has since used his experience to bring Maryland’s track program to prominence. He’s coached 54 All-Americans and his runners have broken more than 50 school records over his tenure.
“He’s a great role model,” Terps runner Kamari Trotz said. “He knows what it takes to get [to the World Championships].”
Valmon and his teammate Reynolds got close during training in 1991 and 1992. Reynolds said Valmon’s consistency stuck out in those sessions.
Valmon first competed internationally running in the heats at the 1988 Olympic Games in Seoul. Before that, he set the Big East record time for the men’s 400-meter in 1987 as a college athlete at Seton Hall.
His relay team lost the 1991 World Championships to the United Kingdom, the first time since 1952 that the U.S. had been beaten in the final of a world or Olympic men’s 4×400-meter. The next year, Valmon sought revenge.
“You go into it with a vengeance that this will never happen again and you’re going to make the most of every opportunity moving forward,” Valmon said. “We all were on a mission obviously to reclaim the U.S. as the dominant in the relays.”
Valmon finished fourth in the 1992 Olympic trials — trailing his U.S. teammate Quincy Watts by only 0.3 seconds — and qualified for the 4×400 meter event. Valmon quickly stepped into a leadership role for the team, Watts said. He looked up to Valmon and respected his input.
The 1992 Olympics was the most nervous Valmon had felt before an event, he said. The chance to finally make up for the previous year’s defeat was directly in front of him.
The nervousness faded once Valmon got off to a blistering start as the team’s lead-off runner. He raised his fists in the air after he handed the baton off to Watts. The U.S. had a sizable lead and never lost it as Michael Johnson and Steve Lewis finished the win. A new world record was born with their 2:55.74 time.
“We just jumped around like we were crazy. We were like little kids,” Watts said. “You saw a bunch of young men who were acting like they were 9 and 10 years old and we were just jumping around and hugging each other.”
The record lasted just one more year until Valmon and the U.S. got another chance to break it at the 1993 World Championships in Germany. This time, Valmon and his team entered with the mentality of shattering the record as best they could, he said.
They achieved that feat. Valmon, Watts, Reynolds and Johnson beat the previous year’s record by more than a second at 2:54.29.
The record has remained ever since.
Valmon ran for only a few more years before becoming a coach in 1995. After struggling in the 1996 semi-finals, he realized a transition was necessary.
He was already an assistant track coach at Georgetown. Four years later, he took over the Hoyas as head coach full-time. Valmon left Georgetown to become Maryland’s head coach in 2003, the role he’s held for the past 20 years.
Since joining the Terps, Valmon has made it a priority to help his athletes reach world events like he did. This past summer, Maryland athletes Rhys Allen and Tolu Akinduro represented their respective countries, Great Britain and Canada, in the U20 continental championships.
Three Terps track and field alums participated in last year’s World Athletics World Championships, including Micha Powell, who also claimed gold for Canada in the 4×400 relay last summer during the Commonwealth Games.
Trotz, a senior sprinter at Maryland, wants to one day run in the Olympics like Valmon did.
Trotz and Valmon have conversations about his Olympic hopes and what he needs to do to reach them. Valmon’s belief in Trotz has given him confidence that he can reach that stage.
Valmon returned to the Olympic stage in 2012 as head coach of the U.S. Olympic track team, but he served as more of a facilitator, he said. He didn’t want to interfere with coaching they’d received elsewhere.
Maryland’s coach has leaned on his championship experiences over his two decades with the Terps. His runners view him as a mentor on and off the track because of those accomplishments.
Trotz talks to his coach about anything from what he wants to accomplish professionally to issues going on in his personal life, he said.
“He’s been a big help throughout all my facets of life since I’ve been here,” Trotz said. “I’m forever grateful for the opportunity that he has given me to run here, as well.”
Valmon hopes his runners experience the elation of representing their country — a feeling he knows well.
“I want [my players] to have the same opportunity,” Valmon said. “Seeing these athletes on a national stage is really what this is about. And for us it’s about maintaining a legacy.”