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Shani Marks in a USA jersey

Shani Marks became the first Olympian in women's track from the University of Minnesota. She'll compete in the triple jump.

Gold (and maroon) in Beijing

By Rick Moore

August 5, 2008

When you're watching the Red, White, and Blue compete in Bejing over the next fortnight or so, don't forget to look for occasional flashes of maroon and gold. The University of Minnesota will be well represented, with seven athletes past and present (as well as one future recruit) competing in the 2008 Summer Olympics.

Among the contingent will be Shani Marks, a former three-time All-American from Apple Valley, Minnesota, who became the first Olympian in women's track from the University of Minnesota. She qualified in the triple jump by winning the event at the U.S. Olympic Track & Field Trials with a mark of 47 feet, 2 1/2 inches--a personal best. Marks trains at the University of Minnesota and is a volunteer assistant coach for the women's track team.

A pair of former Gopher volleyball players made the U.S. Olympic Team, one in each variation of the sport. Setter Lindsey Berg will be making her second straight appearance; she was on the 2004 team that finished fifth in Athens.

Joining Berg in Beijing will be Nicole Branagh, who qualified with partner Elaine Youngs as one of the two U.S. Olympic beach volleyball teams. Branagh and Berg played together at the U for three years from 1998-2000. As Minnesota's setter, Berg tallied 5,913 assists in her career, the third-highest total for the Gophers. And Branagh holds the career record for kills at the U with 2,379.

A future Gopher qualified for the U.S. Olympic team in Greco-Roman wrestling at 145.5 pounds. Jake Deitchler (Anoka High School) became just the third high school athlete to make the Olympic team, upsetting heavily favored Harry Lester along the way. The 18-year-old Deitchler is headed to the University of Minnesota after the Olympics.

Oh, Canada... and Lithuania, and the Czech Republic, too

There'll be reason to cheer for other countries, as well, since not all the Gopher Olympians will be competing for Team USA.

Q&A with Jillian Tyler

Gophersports.com caught up with Jillian Tyler before she left for Beijing to get her thoughts on competing in the Olympics. Although she'll be competing for Canada, she has an obvious affinity for the U; at the Olympic trials, she wore a Minnesota tattoo on her cheek. Read the complete Q&A.

A pair of swimmers will be representing Canada. Sophomore sensation Jillian Tyler will be competing in the 100 breaststroke. In her first season for the Gophers, Calgary-native Tyler won the 100 and 200 breaststroke and 400 medley at the Big Ten championships. She owns school records in both the 100 and 200 breaststroke and as part of the 200 and 400 medley relay teams.

Former Gopher Mike Brown earned a spot on Team Canada for the second straight Olympics. Brown, another breaststroker, was an All-American for the Gophers in 2003 as a freshman before turning pro the next season.

Rasa Troup will be competing in the steeplechase for Lithuania's track team. An All-American in cross country at Minnesota, Troup finished 18th at the world championships in 2005.

Another former All-American, Barbora Spotakova (2002), figures to have a great shot at a medal in the javelin. Spotakova won gold at the 2007 world championships and has thrown over 69 meters (which is about 75 yards, for the metrically challenged).

And one current Gopher athlete, men's sprinter Ibrahim Kabia, was set to compete in the Olympics for his native Sierra Leone (which he left seven years ago), but found out last week that the country's athletic association decided to bring only their home-based athletes. Kabia, the defending Big Ten champ in the 100 meters, will be a senior at the U next year.

Blogging from Beijing

Marks visited her home track at Bierman Field in early July and spoke with media about the thrill of making it to the Olympics. While she's trying not to concern herself with thoughts of a medal, she has nevertheless set goals.

"My main goal is to make the final at the Olympics; no U.S. woman has ever done that," she said. "And I think that I have a really good chance to do that. That's kind of my focus. My goals really aren't different than they ever are. I just want to go out there and jump far and do my best, and I know the outcome will be a good one."

Marks has begun a blog in Beijing. You can follow her daily entries as she chronicles her Olympic experience, from training in the heat and smog to a "breakaway" day of shopping.

And if you're looking for the perspective of a tourist who happens to be a Gopher athlete, check out Molly Kalmoe's blog. Kalmoe is on the U's rowing team and her sister, Megan Kalmoe, is a member of the United States Rowing team competing in Beijing.