Symmonds headlines admirable overall DIII Olympic effort
Former student-athletes from Division III institutions fared well at the Beijing Olympics, as multiple Willamette titlist and American 800-meter champion Nick Symmonds advanced to the semifinals in his event and former Carleton cross country and track standout Phillip Dunn finished 39th out of 61 competitors in the 50-kilometer race walk.
Another former student-athlete -- whose sport at Bates does not participate in an NCAA championship -- medaled at the Olympics.
Andrew Byrnes helped Canada capture a gold medal in rowing as a member of that nation’s victorious squad in men’s eights. The Toronto native, who graduated in 2005, is the first former Bates student-athlete to claim an Olympic medal.
Symmonds, the top U.S. qualifier for the 800-meter run at the Olympics, won his first-round heat in the event, but believed he failed to take advantage of an opportunity to advance into the final when the pack in his semifinal race settled into a slow pace.
“When the pace started to slow, I felt incredible and should have gone in front,” he told the Idaho Statesman. “That’s something I need to work on. When you’re in a race with six or seven of the fastest guys in the world, you don’t wait.”
Symmonds, who won seven Division III individual championships (including four 800-meter titles) for Willamette, finished fifth in the Olympic semifinal.
Dunn, the only American entered in the race walk, made his third Olympics appearance. He placed 28th eight years ago in Sydney and 35th four years ago in Athens.
“The race went as well as I could have hoped given the (rainy) conditions and the fact that this was my third 50-kilometer race of the year,” he wrote on his blog. “I came in hoping to walk under (four hours, 10 minutes) and I walked 4:08.32….
“I finished 39th today against the best walkers in the world. I wasn’t the best, but I was among the best.”
Dunn was one of two former student-athletes at Minnesota Intercollegiate Athletic Conference member schools who competed at the Olympics. The other was St. Thomas alum Roman Cress, who represented the Marshall Islands as a sprinter in that country’s first Olympic appearance.
Cress, competing in the 100-meter dash, finished last in a first-round heat won by Jamaica’s Asafa Powell, a recent world-record holder in the event. The former Tommie student-athlete, who now is a school administrator in suburban Minneapolis, posted the 72nd fastest time among the 80 runners who competed in the event, finishing in 11.18 seconds.
Entering the event with a lingering hamstring injury, Cress drew the lane next to Powell and told the St. Paul Pioneer-Press afterward that he couldn’t “put the power into the ground” needed to be competitive.
But he says he’ll never forget the opportunity.
“It’s something I can tell my children for the rest of my life, and my friends,” Cress said. “I ran against the world’s fastest man. It’s been a blessing and an honor.”
© 2010 The National Collegiate Athletic Association