By: Mark Maloney
SEC Digital Network
Hard to believe that it’s been 29 years since Benita Fitzgerald Mosley won the 100-meter hurdles at the Los Angeles Summer Olympic Games.
The first African-American woman to win Olympic gold in that event, the former Tennessee Lady Vol has maintained a steady relationship with the sporting life she loves.
In August, she became chief of organizational excellence for the U.S. Olympic Committee.
In that role, Fitzgerald Mosley oversees athlete career programs, the athlete ombudsman’s office, diversity and inclusion, human resources, facilities, NGB (national governing body) organizational development, security and strategic planning. In addition, she has served on the International Olympic Committee Women and Sport Commission since March 2012.
"I’m running around kind of drinking from a fire hose actually, just trying to wrap my arms around each of the different areas that I’m responsible for,” Fitzgerald Mosley told the SEC Digital Network. “Each of the departments (are run) somebody who has great expertise in that area, great experience and really strong professionals, so I’m really fortunate that it’s not like I have to roll up my sleeves and do all the work.”
Did we mention that she and husband Ron are parents of two, high school freshman Isaiah and fourth-grader Maya?
Fitzgerald Mosley worked in several roles for the U.S. Olympic Committee from 1995 through 2001, including director of the Chula Vista (Calif.) Olympic Training Center (1995-97), director of U.S. Olympic Training Centers (1997-2000) and director of public relations programs (2000-01). She left in 2001 to become president and CEO of Women in Cable Telecommunications.
In 2009, she became USA Track & Field’s chief of sport performance, where she managed national teams, championship events and high performance programs.
Fitzgerald Mosley says her SEC and Lady Vols background serves her well in her role today.
Scott Blackmun, CEO of the U.S. Olympic Committee, recently had her address a town hall meeting to discuss why she returned to the USOC, as well as her experience as an athlete.
"I kind of tied the two together by saying that as a track athlete you focus on running your personal best and you hope that ultimately those best times put you in the running for finals and medals at Worlds and Olympics and international competition. But we celebrate personal bests,” Fitzgerald Mosley said. “. … And I see organizational excellences helping an organization reaching its personal best, and each individual in it. We’re kind of striving for that – just getting a little bit better every day, learning a little bit more, doing things a little more efficiently, collaborating a little bit better, finding the synergy that this organization will ultimately bring us to a higher level.”
The highest level she reached in athletics came in the Los Angeles Olympics.
Yet, she came within a whisker of not making the American team.
In the closest four-person finish on record – and with only the top three qualifying for Team USA – Fitzgerald Mosley won the U.S. Trials by one-hundredth of a second over the fourth-place finisher.
"That was nerve-wracking. Twenty whole minutes we waited around the stadium to see who made the team and who didn’t,” she said. “I always say that the only consolation you have at the start of a hurdle race is that in 13 seconds or less, you know whether or not you made the team, you know whether or not you medaled, you know whether or not you made it to the finals or whatever. To have 20 minutes pass and they still haven’t figured it out was just gut-wrenching for all of us.”
From there, it was on to the Olympic Games, where she was simply the best.
Forever, she will be known as “Olympic gold medalist."
"I think of it really as the gift that keeps on giving, honestly," Fitzgerald Mosley said. “It was amazing to be in the L.A. Coliseum and stand on that victory stand and cross that finish line and understand that for that moment in time I was the best hurdler in the world.”
She was a semester away from graduating at the time, her collegiate eligibility expired. But Tennessee continued to help her every step of the way to the Olympics.
"I owe everything that I accomplished on that day to my preparation I got from my coaches and the leaders there at Tennessee. Couldn’t have done it without the school and those coaches and admininstrators. So very grateful for that,” she said. “That was my first year out of college (competition), the year that I won the gold medal, but they let me still train there with the team, with the coaches, in the weight room …. Everything I needed to help prepare me for the Games. I didn’t have to miss a beat.
"So I owe a lot to Tennessee, and the SEC has always been a great conference both academically as well as with athletics. Having that conference experience as well I think helped prepare me for more advanced competition as we moved forward, whether it was the NCAA Championships or Olympic Trials or the Olympic Games.”