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OnCampus Weekly.. APRIL 2/04

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OnCampus Weekly

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U of C stars bound for Olympics

by Kris Kotarski

GIVEN the calibre of coaches and facilities on the University of Calgary campus, it is no surprise that every two years future Olympians at the U of C appear as plentiful as stars in the sky.

Turn your head once, and there’s swimmer Erin Gammel floating along with a lunchtime crowd.

Turn again, and that may be pentathlete Jessica Zelinka hurdling over tables to get to class.

Some of these Olympic hopefuls will make it to this summer’s games in Athens, Greece. Indeed, some have already qualified. Whether it will be alumni, students, staff or club members, the U of C will be well represented by a host of world-class talent when the Olympics roll around in mid-August.

nordhagenThe bulk of the U of C’s 2004 Olympians will come from the pool, led by Dinos swimming head coach Mike Blondal, and the impressive wrestling program built by Dinos wrestling head coach Mitch Ostberg. Blondal hopes to qualify as many as eight athletes from an impressive list of “definites” and “maybes.” Meanwhile, Ostberg has already seen six-time world champion Christine Nordhagen and Nico Jacobs from Namibia qualify in free-style wrestling.

“ It’s really a culmination of a lot of factors that have made our success possible,” says Ostberg, who may yet get a ticket to Athens courtesy of the Namibian Wrestling Federation (which may send him as Nico Jacobs’ coach).

nico jacobs“ We’ve been able to create a great community here in Calgary and as a group we’re thrilled. It takes a lot of people to create this kind of environment – we’ve had a great deal of moral support from the faculty and the students. The university is integral in our success, and I believe we are integral in the success of the university.”

Ostberg, women’s head coach Leigh Vierling and the Calgary wrestling community are especially excited since Nordhagen, who will turn 33 in June, will get a chance to compete at her first Olympics when women’s wrestling debuts in 2004.

nordhagen again“ I feel really fortunate that I have an opportunity to go,” Nordhagen says. “Many great wrestlers I have seen over the years have not even had an opportunity to qualify. I am not putting any pressure on myself – I never really do. I am very confident.”

Nordhagen is particularly excited to be sharing this experience with her coach and husband Vierling, who was named Canada’s women’s wrestling head coach for the Olympics.

“ I knew that, especially with the experience of the Olympic village, I had to qualify,” she laughs. “I wouldn’t want him there on his own.”

PERHAPS the toughest experience in any athlete’s life is time management, especially during those crucial pre-Olympic months that come around only once every four years.

malar“ We usually do an hour of weights, and about four hours in the pool every day,” says swimmer Erin Gammel, who is still attempting to finish her semester at the U of C. “You really have to regulate your time well — especially in an Olympic year. For example, I was just away for a week in New York, three weeks in Australia and another week in Toronto…”

So what is next up for Gammel?

“ I’m leaving again…” she laughs.

Gammel and her fellow student athletes have it tough – especially when they have to balance the dreams of making it to the Olympic Games with the reality of books, tests, or in the case of some, family life.

But it doesn’t get any easier for U of C club members like swimmer Morgan Knabe, who trains under Blondal and Jan Bidrman at the U of C National Swimming Centre. Knabe was married last year and hopes to make his return to Olympic competition after an impressive sixth-place finish at the 2000 games in Sydney.

“ I’m a little older, a little balder, but a lot more fit,” Knabe says with a mischievous grin. “I’ve learned a lot over the last four years. I went last time with the intention of winning and I can’t go into it this year with anything else on my mind.”

Knabe is one of Canada’s best hopes for a medal finish, so, as coach Blondal jokes, “he better qualify.”

With the wrestling contingent and alumnus Cora Campbell (water polo) already qualified, there is no doubt that the U of C will make its presence felt in Athens. Once the swimmers finish qualifying July 6-10, the U of C could be sending more than 10 athletes to the most elite competition in the world.

With the games in Greece mere months away, our Olympic bright lights are everywhere, giving us ample opportunities for stargazing.


Christine Nordhagen – Wrestling
Cora Campbell – Water Polo (alumna)
Nico Jacobs – Wrestling (for Namibia)

Hoping to Qualify

Morgan Knabe – Swimming (club)
Joanne Malar – Swimming (club)
Lauren van Oosten – Swimming (club)
Rick Say – Swimming (club)
Erin Gammel – Swimming (student)
Cameron Hyder –Swimming  (student)
Emma Spooner – Swimming (student)
Carrie Burgoyne – Swimming (student)
Kristy Cameron – Swimming (student)
Richard Cormack – Swimming (student)
Jessica Zelinka – Track and Field (student)
Grant Golding – Gymnastics (club)

Les Gramantik – Track and Field
Leigh Vierling – Wrestling
Tony Smith – Gymnastics
Mitch Ostberg – Wrestling (for Namibia)