Dr. James Thoma Shares Memories of Past Olympics

July 25, 2012

ALLIANCE, Ohio — As Dr. James Thoma prepares to watch the televised 2012 Summer Olympics in London, he will see the events from a different perspective than most.

“The atmosphere is electric,” said Thoma, who has been involved with several Olympic Games in various capacities. “It’s a lot of fun. There are so many cultural activities going on — it isn’t just sports.”

Thoma, associate academic dean of the University of Mount Union and professor of human performance and sport business, is sharing his memories of past Olympic Games as he gives presentations to various community groups this summer. During his talks, Thoma is sharing information on what’s going on in London from an insider’s point of view, presenting with Mamie Rallins, two-time Olympic hurdler and former Ohio State University head track and field coach.

“I watch to see how events are administered and how things are going behind the scenes,” said Thoma. “The Olympics are not all fun and games. There’s a lot going on and in general, people don’t know everything that’s going on.”

Thoma, who has taught at Mount Union since 1989, began working on his Master’s degree in sport administration at Ohio State University in the summer of 1978. During that time, he did an internship with the Amateur Athletic Union in Indianapolis. While there, he had his first experience with the Olympics when he helped organize a USA track team as it prepared to go to Moscow for a pre-Olympics sports festival. His tasks included getting Visas for team members from the Soviet Embassy and helping to arrange credentials, transportation and uniforms for the team. Because of the Olympic boycott in 1980, however, Thoma was asked to go to the Olympic Trials in Eugene, OR to help assemble the team and help them prepare to go to Europe for pre and post-Olympic meets.

Thoma traveled with the team as business manager to pre-Olympic meets, stopping in Philadelphia, London, Rome, Berlin, Cologne, Zurich and Stuttgart. When he came back to the United States, Thoma stayed with the USA Track and Field team, working as national teams coordinator. From 1979-1981, he worked for the national governing body for track and field.

Following his time working with the USA Track and Field team, Thoma went back into coaching as a women’s track coach at Ohio State University. He later became head women’s track coach at Otterbein University before working overseas as state coach in Sabah, Malaysia and national coach in Brunei.

Although he no longer worked with Olympics teams, Thoma returned to the 1996 Summer Olympics in Atlanta, GA as a torch bearer after being nominated by retired Mount Union employee Carol Wearstler. During the 1996 Olympic games, Thoma had an opportunity to view the Olympics as a spectator rather than a worker behind the scenes. He went to the Olympic marathon, visited Centennial Park and participated in many cultural events.

In 1999, while on sabbatical, Thoma spent a semester in Perth, Australia. While there, he drove to Sydney to visit the Olympic organizational committee. He also visited the Olympic organization’s headquarters and went to the Sydney Olympic Park.

Thoma’s most recent Olympic experience took place in May as he went to Beijing Sport University for the second time, visiting with the German coach of the Chinese Olympic javelin throwers. In 2011, Thoma had an opportunity to visit a former Olympics location when he traveled to Beijing in 2011 to teach at Beijing Sport University. While there, he visited Beijing’s Olympic Park and saw the swimming and track and facilities, which are still intact.

Thoma’s experiences with the Olympics give him plenty of material to discuss with his students.

“In this field, you don’t go to a sporting event just to enjoy it,” he said. “You look at everything going on, from ticket sales to signage. You’re seeing things that happen and using it as material for class.”

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