When the Sun Belt Conference tournament begins this week, most of the attention will be on Dennis Felton's Western Kentucky Hilltoppers and perhaps some upset-minded hopefuls like Porter Moser and Arkansas-Little Rock, Jessie Evans and Louisiana-Lafayette and Lou Henson and his New Mexico State Aggies.

All are very accomplished coaches in their own right, but that's on the court. Off the court, few -- if any -- could match the long list of non-basketball accomplishments of Middle Tennessee's Randy Wiel.

The former Dean Smith player and assistant, who guided the Dutch National team in pre-Olympic competition, back in 1992, is both a linguist and talented musician. And that's only the beginning.

Wiel, now in his sixth season at the helm at Middle Tennessee, speaks six languages fluently and has mastered several musical instruments. He has even strummed his guitar in the famous 'Storyville' nightclub in New Orleans.

For most people, such talents would be more than enough to occupy their leisure time, but Randy Wiel is not your typical individual.

In addition to being a key member of the Dutch National team, in the early 1980's, Wiel was part of the Dutch swim team, competing in the 1967 Pan-American Games at Winnipeg, Canada.

The following year he was a sprinter for the Netherlands Antilles, in the 1968 Olympic games in Mexico City. And he could have easily have added a Gold medal to his resume.

"I competed in the 100-yard and the 220-yard dash," says Wiel. "In Mexico City I set the Dutch National record by running the 100 in 10.1 seconds. I actually ran it in 10 flat a couple of times, but they were wind aided runs."

Four years earlier, America's Bob Hayes became the first sprinter to run the 100-yard dash. His 9.9-second time was good enough for Gold. Ironically, in both the 1972 and 1976 Olympics the winning time in 100-yard dash was 10.1.

"After the 1968 Olympics, I became more interested in basketball so I turned my attention away from sprinting. Who knows what would or could have happened if I stuck with it for at least another four years."

He speaks English, Dutch, Spanish, French, Portuguese, and Papiamentoe. He's an accomplished guitarist and trumpeter. He played and coached under Dean Smith. He played on and coached the Dutch National Team and he was among the world's fastest sprinters at one time.

So that's more than enough for any one person, right?

Well, there's more.

Wiel was part of Dean Smith's staff at North Carolina for seven years, which included a National Championship. But while coach Smith can boast a long list of thoroughbreds that helped him to win two National titles, Wiel can saddle up with his mentor.

That's right -- Wiel has won two National Championships with the help of his horses. But his are of a totally different breed. His horses are of the Paso Fino variety.

The mount of the Spanish Conquistadors, the Paso Fino is the oldest true native breed of horse in the Western Hemisphere. The competition is similar to the Equestrian's dressage and this show and presentation sport is a passion for Wiel.

"I have been riding all my life," says Wiel. "Horses are a way of life on my native island of Curacao (Dutch Island, 42 miles East of Aruba). People there ride horses, not cars so it's something that is a part of me."

Wiel, who has even been to the drive-in movie on horseback continued to feed his passion, long after leaving Curacao. He studied dressage at the world famous Vienna Riding Academy, in Austria.

And recently, his years of study, training and a lifetime of riding helped him to capture two national titles, riding Don Fernando (Black Stallion) and Prodigio (White Stallion), which means prodigy in English.

So what does the prodigy's mentor think of his saddle and show routine?

"Dean [Smith] prefers golf," laughs Wiel. "I kid him all the time that it's easier to train horses then basketball players because horses don't reason. You can teach a player to box out, but he may still make a mistake no matter how much you try to reinforce it. But a horse will always follow your command."

Some of Wiel chief rivals in the sport are a 'who's who' in the world of sports. Former stock car driver, Ernie Ervins now devotes the better part of his time to competing. Major League Baseball star, Ruben Rivera is also on the circuit and so is another fellow North Carolina Tar Heel.

"Davis Love III is really into it," says Wiel. "I see Davis at almost every competition. When he's not golfing, he's competing against me."

And don't think for a moment that competing against Wiel is any easier than competing against Tiger Woods.

Nearly 500 years ago, on his second voyage from Spain, Christopher Columbus brought a select group of mares and stallions and settled them at Santa Domingo.

These horses were a mixture of Barb, Andalusian and Spanish Jennet. The result of the blending of the blending of these horses was to become known as the Paso Fino breed - Los Caballos de Paso Fino, which translates to 'the horse with the fine step.'

And Wiel, who presently has nine Paso Fino horses in his stable, located at his home in Murfreesboro, Tennessee, is seemingly always one step ahead of the competition.


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