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July 8, 2012

Catching Up With Chris Clarey ’86 Is No Easy Task

As chief sports writer for the Paris-based International Herald Tribune (the global edition of The New York Times), Chris Clarey '86 has had a front-row seat to major athletic events for over 20 years. But even with a full plate this summer that includes Wimbledon, the U.S. Open and, next up, the Summer Olympics, the former Williams athlete and Sports Information worker took the time to share his story.

Where did you come from to attend Williams -- hometown and HS? 

My father was a career Naval officer so we moved many times during my childhood. I spent 7th, 8th and 9th grade at Punahou School in Hawaii where I got to watch a future president play on the state champion basketball team. I then spent 10th, 11th and 12th grade at Coronado High School in the San Diego area.

What sport(s) did you play here -- tennis? 

Tennis and volleyball were my main sports at Williams. I also played soccer as a goalkeeper before coach Mike Russo gently suggested that I was going to get more playing time at the tennis courts.

Any memorable athletic accomplishments -- even if just memorable to you?

We had fine tennis teams when I was a sophomore and junior with players like Brook Larmer '84, Craig Hammond '85, Tim Rives '85 and my doubles partner Tim Petersen '86. There were no team nationals for Williams in those days but those teams were certainly of that standard. I'm still mad at Kevin Callanan '87 for going to Oxford his junior year otherwise we would have been a whole lot better my senior year, too.

[Eph men's tennis was 9-1 in 1983 and won the Little Three and NESCAC titles and in 1985 won both titles again, finishing 10-0.]

Chris Clarey '86 played 2
varsity sports, 1 club sport
& wrote for Sports Info
while at Williams

Volleyball was a club in my time, but we took it as seriously as a varsity sport and had an inspirational leader in Vicente Hill '84. He could have played Division I volleyball anywhere. He was a volleyball stud, seriously good, and I've seen enough to know.

Vicente was a good friend of songwriter Marcus Hummon* who was also in that class and on that team. Hummon was a fascinating fellow, became a successful songwriter in Nashville and was one of the more interesting and multi-talented people I met at Williams.

We had some great road trips and victories in New England tournaments, even if my football-playing friends used to give us endless heat for all our high-fiving.

Who was Seth that you worked for in Sports Info?

Seth Johnson '79 was a dashing character who sported an eye patch in those days and ran a tight ship. We stumbled across each other out of the blue at Phillips Exeter orientation a few years back when our children met before the start of school. He still looked fit enough to play midfield.

What did you do in Sports Info?

I wrote news releases on different Williams teams: much more fun as a financial aid student than washing dishes.

Was that your inspiration for going into sports journalism?

I certainly enjoyed it, but my inspiration came earlier. I was a sports nut, memorizing Washington Redskin trivia and lineups. I grew up with Sports Illustrated. It was a golden age for the magazine, and I devoured it. I also fell in love with the Olympics, which were a window to the wider world. What better way to learn geography?

What do you prize most about your Williams experience?

To be candid, I have some regrets about my years at Williams. I wish I would have taken a few more chances intellectually and socially and spent a bit more time picking professors' brains and a bit less time practicing my serve or partying into the night. But those were my own decisions and certainly no fault of the college. The people and quality of the education were exceptional, and I have maintained some close connections, particularly with Doug Robie '86, who was a squash player at Williams and was my roommate, later my travel partner for a year after college and is now my neighbor.

RELATED FEATURES:

MARCUS HUMMON:

Eph Legend
"All in Good Time"

Alumni Review
"A Nashville Cat"

* * * * * * *

BETH (SCHMIDT) CHOAT:

Presented 1996
Frank Deford Award,
while working at ABC Sports

Alumni Rewiew
"Arresting Sports Fiction"

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Williams College Club
Volleyball Facebook Page


* * * * * * *
Twitter: @EphSports
FB: Williams College Athletics
WEB: http://athletics.williams.edu/landing/index

Anything from your competitive career here that you've taken into your professional life?

The volleyball club was very helpful because of the level of initiative required to make it work. But clearly the biggest carryover has been with tennis. Playing it for all those years has been a big advantage in writing about it for all these years. It also has helped me understand on an elemental level what makes players like Roger Federer, Pete Sampras and Justine Henin so special. I know how hard some of the shots were for me that they make look so easy. I should add that Sean Sloane, tennis coach at Williams in my day, was ahead of his time in terms of the mental approach. He had us visualizing before matches long before that became de rigueur at professional levels.

What did you major in here?

I majored in English and history with a concentration in art history. Some of the professors who made the biggest impact on me were Carol Ockman and Zirka Filipczak, who opened my eyes to the delights of European painting, R.G.L. Waite, an inspirational and intimidating history teacher who had the gravitas of a world leader, and Jim Shepard and the Bells (Robert and Michael) in English.

How did you get hired by the International Herald Tribune or was it the Times first?

I started my journalism career at the San Diego Union where I covered high school sports, then college sports and then the Chargers. In 1991, I moved to France to get married and to begin free-lancing. At the time, the Olympics were about to go to a two-year cycle with the Winter Games being staged in a different year than the Summer Games.

The New York Times sports editor in those days was Neil Amdur, a former Olympics and tennis reporter and passionate internationalist. My former editor in San Diego, Barry Lorge, was an old friend and colleague of Neil's. Unbeknownst to me, he reached out to Neil, and one night in 1991, the phone rang in my apartment in Paris. It was Neil calling out of the blue to see if I could get to Germany on short notice to do a story on Paul and Isabelle Duchesnay, a brother-sister pair of ice dancers from France. I could not buy that train ticket fast enough! The relationship built from there, and I later joined the International Herald Tribune as sports correspondent in 1998. I was very fortunate.

How often do you run into other Ephs in your work?

I frequently see Tim Layden '78, who writes and writes very well for Sports Illustrated. We have covered a number of Olympics and world track and field championships together, including last year's in Daegu, South Korea. We will both be in London this summer. The most remarkable coincidence is that one of my 1986 classmates at Williams, Victor Mather, works as an editor at the New York Times sports department. We will be working together in London.

Is Sam Flood '83 of NBC Sports someone you see at events around the world?

I knew Sam as an undergraduate, and we both worked for NBC at the 1992 Olympics in Barcelona. We had some contact after that but not in recent years. He has had a remarkable run in a very competitive end of the business.

What will you cover at the London Olympics? That will be like a home game for you, no?

Not quite a home game: a Channel away from France, where the International Herald Tribune is based. I am going to be writing features and columns on as wide a variety of topics and sports as I can manage with a strong second-week focus on track and field, the Olympic sport I know best aside from tennis.

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In March of 2012, Sports Information Director Dick Quinn received an email from Chris Clarey apologizing for not responding to his initial request for an interview--which was sent in June 2011. (That summer, Clarey was working alongside Sports Illustrated's Tim Layden covering the world track and field championships in Daegu, South Korea.) Clarey had come across Quinn's message as he was cleaning out his inbox, and, spurred by an Alumni Review article he read about Beth (Schmidt) Choat '86, with whom he crossed paths while she covered the Olympics for NBC, Clarey reached out to Quinn to offer his time for a Q&A. Proving that even though Clarey hasn't been back to campus since his graduation, he's still a devoted Eph.

You can follow Chris Clarey on Twitter - @christophclarey and you can also hear Clarey's recent appearance on National Public Radio's "Only A Game" on July 7th when he was interviewed by host Bill Littlefield. Clarey and Littlefield discussed Andy Murray's advancement to the 2012 Wimbledon final.

 

* In a recent email to Dick Quinn Marcus Hummon confirmed the prowess of Vicente Hill as a top-flight volleyball player. Hummon stated, "I believe he played on a Junior National team for the U.S., out of Choate. He taught a number of us to play the game, and we had a very successful club team...beating Ivy League squads and winning the mid-season Springfield Invitational Tournament as I remember. He was a truly great volleyball player! We all stayed out in LA after college for a year or so... I was chasing music, Vicente playing club volleyball with UCLA, Stanford and Pepperdine grads...in other words the best players in the country. I remember watching these post grad teams play, and Vicente was every bit as good as any of those guys!"

 
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