Iowa represents at the Olympics

Posted August 15, 2012 at 11:33 am

BABBLING BROOKS column–Express Editor Kim Brooks

By now, you are probably saying to yourself, “Enough with the Olympic coverage!”

It’s online. It’s on newsstands. It’s on TV. It’s in your daily and weekly newspapers. The London Olympics are everywhere; there’s no escaping it!

With that said… this is my last Olympic column for the time being (until the Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia, in 2014).

Instead of offering my opinion on the four badminton teams who threw their matches, which I found humorous actually; or commenting on the sport of synchronized swimming in the Olympics, I thought I would offer some tidbits on our very own Iowa athletes who appeared in this year’s Games and those whose name will live on in infamy…

You should be quite familiar with Gabrielle “Gabby” Douglas. She trains in West Des Moines and was coached to Olympic gymnastic stardom by the very same man who led Shawn Johnson to victory in the 2008 Olympics. Douglas helped her gymnastics team win gold in London and won gold herself in the individual all-round competition. We will no doubt see her again in 2016, as Douglas’ first Olympics proved to be quite successful for the young gal.

Dubbed the “Flying Squirrel,” Douglas soars to great heights when she performs on the uneven bars. She is a sight to see, that’s for sure!

In a way, Douglas was this year’s Shawn Johnson. Both gained huge success and wide attention for their Olympic success.

Swimmer Amanda Weir, born in Davenport, competed in the 2004 Olympics in Athens and in this year’s Games. She won a bronze medal in the 4×100-meter freestyle relay, along with teammates Lia Neal, Natalie Coughlin and Allison Schmitt.

Some interesting facts about Weir: both of her parents (Jim and Julia Weir) played and excelled at basketball and track respectively while attending Central College in Pella, Iowa.

Conor Dwyer, also a swimmer, attended the University of Iowa. This is his first Olympic Games, and what a way to come out of these Games than by winning the gold medal in the men’s 4×200-meter freestyle relay with Olympic great Michael Phelps? This is Phelps’ final Olympic swimming event of his career, and Dwyer can say he was a part of history. The other men on that team were Ryan Lochte and Ricky Berens, both returning in 2016.

Jacob Varner attended Iowa State University and competed in this year’s Olympics as a wrestler in the 96kg freestyle class and won a gold medal in the finals.

While at ISU, Varner studied criminology and law.

Another ISU attendee and 2012 Olympic wrestler, Justin Lester, competed in the 66kg Greco-Roman class. He studied geography and history at ISU and is also enlisted the U.S. Army.

Before becoming an Olympic athlete, Lester earned second team All-State honors in football.

While we’re sticking with the ISU fans, let’s mention hammer thrower A.G. Kruger. He is from Sioux City and took part in track and field events.

Speaking of track and field, Iowa is also home to three track and field athletes in this year’s Games: Jennifer Simpson, Lolo Jones and Lisa Uhl.

Simpson hails from Webster City and competed in the 2008 Olympics in Beijing and now this year in London. She ran the 1,5000-meter race this year.

Simpson became a competitive runner in her teens. Last year in South Korea, she became the first American since Mary Decker in 1983 to win the World Championships in the 1,500-meter race.

Jones competed in 2008 and this year as well. Her story as a teen growing up in Des Moines with nothing and being raised by a single mother has been told many times leading up to the Games.

This year, Jones tried to medal in the 100-meter hurdles but came in fourth. She spent the past year recovering from a spinal cord injury and getting back to her running.

She has been named an NCAA All-American Athlete 11 times.

After the 2008 Olympics, Jones decided to donate a generous amount of money to the Roosevelt HS girls track team for spiked shoes and to help repair their track and buy new hurdles.

Uhl is from Ft. Dodge and attended ISU. This was her first Games, competing in the 10,000-meter race. While at ISU she studied veterinary science.

Her husband Kiel Uhl is also a runner in the men’s 10,000-meter race. Quite the active couple.

Miranda Leek, Des Moines, competed in archery at the Games this year. She competed in the individual and team trials.

Leek has been quoted as saying she enjoys helping on her family’s farm and attending antique tractor shows. Typical farm girl from Iowa (and an Olympic athlete)!

Aside from these amazing 2012 Olympic guys and gals, some of the best Olympic athletes from the history of the Olympics hail from Iowa as well.

How can we forget Shawn Johnson? Her stint in 2008 in women’s gymnastics had us glued to our TV sets. Johnson retired earlier this year due to a tear in her ACL. I think we were all looking forward to seeing her compete yet again. Her medals in 2008 include silver in the all-around, silver in the team competition, silver for the floor exercise and gold on the balance beam.

If you’re from Iowa, you should know the name Dan Gable. Heck, I’m not even into sports and I know who Dan Gable is!

He competed in just one Olympic Games in 1972 in Munich, but that was enough to make a name for himself before becoming the wrestling coach at the University of Iowa and making a name for himself there as well.

He is considered one of the best wrestlers of all time. He won gold in Munich in the lightweight division. He only suffered one loss in his collegiate career. How many wrestlers can say that?

He won nine consecutive national championships while coaching at U of I.

Morgan Taylor from Sioux City was a track and field athlete at the 1924 Olympics in Paris, 1928 in Amsterdam and 1932 in Los Angeles. Taylor attended Grinnell College here in Iowa as well.

In his Olympic career, he broke the world record in the 400-meter hurdles three times. In 1928 and ’32, Taylor took home bronze in that same race (400m).

Frank Wykoff, Des Moines, was a track and field star in three consecutive Games: 1928, ’32 and ’36 in Berlin. He won a gold medal each year in the 4×100-meter team relay event. Each win was also a world record for Wykoff. He was the first man to ever win three gold medals as part of a relay team.

Who knows… perhaps the next time you see a list of Iowa Olympic athletes, it will include some of our very own, talented youth…

Bla