Chandra Cheeseborough, Tennessee State’s legendary women’s track and field coach and three-time Olympic medalist, recently dished on her experience as an Olympic athlete and making the transition from competitor to coach.
Cheeseborough made her Olympic debut at age 17 at the 1976 games in Montreal. At the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics, Cheeseborough placed second in the 400m and made Olympic history by running a leg of two gold-medal relay teams (4×100 and 4×400).
The Montreal Games, however, was not her first international appearance. When asked if being a teenage Olympian was nerve-wracking, she replied, “It actually wasn’t terrifying since I had already competed internationally at the Pan American Games at age 16. Making the Olympic team a year later felt like a piece of cake! I was the new kid on the block, and I had nothing to lose. I just did my thing.”
“One wake-up call was all it took to remind me that this was the real deal,” she explained, referring to the phone call she got from Coach Temple reprimanding her for losing focus after finding out she went out to disco during the Montreal games. She placed sixth in the 200m in Montreal.
Cheese, as she’s called by many, admitted that, on the day she broke the American record for the 400m dash at UCLA’s 1984 Pepsi meet, she wasn’t even set to run that race. She just volunteered for the extra workout. She competed in the Los Angeles Olympic trials several weeks later. Check out the video of her winning 4×400 relay below.
In 2008, Cheese returned to the Olympics, this time invited to coach the sprinters of Team USA in Beijing.
When asked to list her favorite memories from her Olympic experiences, she said the opening ceremonies in ’76 and ’84 were incredible, but that the Beijing ceremony was one of the most memorable events of her entire career.
“The athletes were amazed – speechless, actually – when they saw basketball legends like Kobe Bryant and Carmelo Anthony walk right past them,” she said of the opening ceremony.
The youngest of four siblings, Cheeseborough grew up in an athletically inclined family but admitted she was never the best on the middle school track team after joining in sixth grade. In fact, she had more scholarships to play basketball in college than she did track.
When we asked the Jacksonville, Fla., native how she ended up at TSU, she thanked her older sister for introducing her to Ed Temple, head coach of TSU women’s track and field from 1953 to 1994 (and who now is a U.S. Olympic Hall-of-Famer). Cheese’s sister, Selesia, attended TSU’s summer training camp as high jumper in 1973 after hearing about the camp from a relative of Temple’s who attended the Cheeseboroughs’ church in Jacksonville. One year later, Coach Cheese herself made it to the junior Olympics in Nebraska, where Temple approached her with an invitation to TSU’s summer training program in 1975 – the same program her sister attended.
Since her first year with the Tigers in 1994, Coach Cheese has led the women’s track and field program to seven Ohio Valley Conference Track and Field Championships, and is also a seven-time OVC Coach of the Year. She told us she loves how competitive the conference is and is inspired by how far it has come based on the awards it has received over the past 20 years.