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Coach teaches students what it takes to be an Olympian

TAMPA

On a sunny schoolyard, a four-time Olympian competitor answers to "coach."

"How many of you like kicking a ball hard?" asks Emil Milev, 43.

Fourth-graders sitting cross-legged on the basketball court at B.T. Washington Elementary School raise their hands.

Milev shows them how to kick with their instep, instead of their toe, to control the ball. He encourages them to kick with oomph.

"Hit it over his head," Milev tells Aileen Jones, 10.

Aileen had been impressed with the gold medal Milev brought back last month from the 2011 Pan American Games in Guadalajara, Mexico. Milev showed them the medal during the school's morning television show.

But Aileen wasn't sure what sport he won.

"Probably soccer," she guesses. "Hey coach, what did you win?"

"Shooting," he replies.

"Shooting basketballs," she tells a visitor.

Actually, Milev shoots targets — his sport is Men's Rapid Fire Pistol.

But here he leaves the title vague. He avoids talking about guns at the school, wrapped by a pink public housing complex just off Nebraska Avenue. Many of the kids relate guns to gangsters, he said. It could be misconstrued if they told their parents.

But he does share what it takes to be an Olympian: hard work.

In June, he earned a bronze medal at the World Cup in Munich, Germany. It was his first time competing with the USA Shooting Team. That win earned the team a spot in the 2012 London Olympic Games. Whether Milev represents the United States will be determined in June at the national championship in Georgia. The team also has a second secured spot in the Olympics.

It's been more than a decade since the U.S. team sent two athletes to compete in the sport, said Katie Yergensen, spokeswoman for USA Shooting, a nonprofit organization that prepares athletes for the Olympics.

"It's huge for us," she said. "Shooting is much more popular in Europe."

The sport is rooted in history. The first modern Olympic games of 1896 in Athens, Greece, included a shooting competition, she said.

Today, competitors get four seconds to shoot at five bull's-eyes 25 meters away. Each round eliminates the lowest scorer until one shooter remains.

Milev was born in Sofia, Bulgaria, and first tried his aim with an air pistol in 1983. He competed the next year, and was invited to join Bulgaria's national team.

Over the next decade, he practiced continually and became one of the top rapid fire shooters in the world. He competed in the Olympics in 1992, 1996, 2000 and 2004 representing Bulgaria each time. He took the silver medal in 1996 in Atlanta and, while training here, saw opportunities for a better future for his family.

Food was limited at the time in Bulgaria and he often waited in lines to buy milk and bread, he said. In 2005, his family was allowed to immigrate here. He moved to Temple Terrace with his wife, Anina, who is a substitute teacher, and their two children, 17-year-old Alexa and Philip, 13. They chose the area to be close to Milev's former coach, Vladimir Chichkov, who had already moved here from Bulgaria.

Milev tries to clear his head when shooting, he said. Last month at the Pan American Games, his biggest competitor was himself. He wanted to score at the level of an Olympian. He did, taking home the gold.

He likes the challenge of competing, he said.

He also likes the challenge at B.T. Washington. He started as a substitute teacher here when he came to the area and then landed the physical education job.

It was very hard the first three years, he said. The school earned an F grade from the state in 2010. It climbed to a C in 2011.

"He's a great coach and role model," said principal Toynita Martinez. "He's pursuing his dream. We're very proud of him."

Milev is the school's safety patrol sponsor. He also participated Thursday in the Great American Teach-In, sharing his Olympic achievement and work ethic with other area students.

Milev said he's attached to the students and their success. He doesn't mind the extended school day at B.T. Washington, requiring teachers to stay till 5 p.m. to provide extra study and enrichment time.

He uses the time to coach a fifth-grade basketball team he started, which will compete with other schools.

Out on the field recently, the fourth-graders practicing their soccer kick try to balance force with accuracy.

"He's really cool," said Joseph Simmons, 10, as he retrieved a stray ball. "He teaches us how to kick the ball where we want it. It's hard work."

After school, Milev practices at Shooting Sports on Dale Mabry Highway with Chichkov. Milev said he typically practices seven days a week.

Practice, he said — be it in school or at the shooting range — is what it takes.

Elisabeth Parker can be reached at eparker@sptimes.com (813) 226-3431.

Coach teaches students what it takes to be an Olympian 11/19/11 [Last modified: Saturday, November 19, 2011 3:31am]
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