Buffs Olympic Dreams Begin
BOULDER – At 7 a.m. on Friday, July 23, in Colorado, those up and awake watched the long awaited Opening Ceremonies of the 2020 Olympic Games in Tokyo where six University of Colorado alums will be representing Team USA during the next two weeks.
Some 364 days after the originally planned date of the Ceremonies and 486 days since the International Olympic Committee announced the postponement of the 2020 Olympics, Joe Klecker, Emma Coburn, Val Constien, Morgan Pearson, Erin Huck and Jake Riley will all meet at the final destination of their Olympic journey. For everyone except Coburn, this will be their first time participating in the Olympics, adding to the rich history of Buffs in the Games. Coburn is an Olympic "veteran," as it is her third time participating in the games.
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Four of the Olympians are alumni of the CU track and field program. Klecker will run the men's 10,000-meters while Coburn and Constien will continue the constant CU representation at the Olympics in the 3,000-meter steeplechase as the Buffs have half of the USA women's steeplechase participants in the event's history. Pearson will compete in a 10k of his own after he finishes a swim and bike ride in the men's triathlon. He will also compete in the mixed triathlon for Team USA.
Running remains the theme for Riley, a Stanford grad and a CU Master's student, who will race in the marathon, while Huck will compete in the women's mountain biking competition.
Despite Coburn's experience, no one on Team USA has experience in the upcoming situation. In the midst of a pandemic, there will be no fans, very limited time around anyone, and near record heat and humidity. Only Pearson has been to Japan since the pandemic began, having finished third at a World Triathlon competition there to seal his spot on Team USA. With nearly 11,000 athletes, including 600 from the U.S., COVID concerns, preparations and testing will be just a factor of what the athletes deal with.
Action begins for the Buffs with Pearson in the men's triathlon at 3:30 p.m. MT on Sunday, July 25 (6:30 a.m. July 26 in Tokyo). The CU cross country/track graduate has had a major change in training since he last wore the black and gold, picking back up his swimming experience in college and learning to navigate giant packs of cyclists to become one of the best young triathletes in the world. In just four years since he was selected to train with USA Triathlon's newcomer program, Pearson has risen to become the only USA male to medal at not one, but two World Triathlon Championships Series events. Following making Team USA in Japan, Pearson rode his success into a second-place finish in Britain. Still getting used to the bike, Pearson has continued to get better with every event and should be considered a dark horse to medal at the Olympics.
Women's mountain biking is next on the schedule for midnight in Colorado on Tuesday, July 27. Huck, who was a late addition after an athlete dropped out, is a 40-year-old Colorado-native that graduated from Estes Park High School and then got a mechanical engineering degree from CU in 2004. Huck will join former World Champion Kate Courtney and Haley Batten on Team USA after former Olympian Chloe Woodruff withdrew. Coincidentally, Huck beat Woodruff at the first two World Cup stops this season by a combined 63 positions. Huck, the 2016 women's mountain biking national champion, will make her first appearance as the women battle for a team medal.
After those first two events, CU alums turn to the track where Klecker opens in the men's 10,000-meter run with his race scheduled for Friday, July 30, at 5:30 a.m. MT (8:30 p.m. Tokyo). Klecker, who is coached by former CU Olympian Dathan Ritzenhein, will be joined by Colorado-native Woody Kincaid and Stanford alum Grant Fisher. Both of the other runners qualified in the men's 5,000 as well, a race Klecker scratched from to focus his efforts on the 10,000.
Friday, July 30, is the busiest day for CU fans as Pearson competes in the mixed triathlon at 4:30 p.m. MT (Saturday at 7:30 a.m.). He is guaranteed a spot as one of two males for Team USA while the two women positions are yet to be determined.
Next on the track will be Coburn and Constien, both of which are coached by CU alums. Coburn is coached by her husband Joe Bosshard, while Constien is coached by CU coaches Mark Wetmore and Heather Burroughs. The two will compete in the steeplechase prelims at 6:40 p.m. Saturday (9:40 a.m. Tokyo Sunday) with eyes on the finals. Coburn is coming off a very fast Diamond League race in Monaco where she was on pace to break the American Record and possibly the 9-minute mark when she came up short on the water barrier with only a toe instead of the ball of her foot on the barrier causing her to fall. She is one of the favorites to not only repeat as a medalist, but possibly become the first US woman to take home gold in the event. The final is scheduled for Wednesday, August 4, at 5 a.m. MT (8 p.m. Tokyo time), the final track event for CU Olympians.
Riley will close out the events for CU Olympians with the men's marathon scheduled for Saturday, August 8, at 4 p.m. MT (Sunday at 7 a.m.).