The 30th Olympiad made London the world’s stage this past summer, as TV ratings skyrocketed in comparison to Beijing’s games in 2008 and compelling stories piqued viewer interest.
But the two biggest stories from the games for central Iowans — Des Moines native Lolo Jones missed medaling by tenths of a second in the 100-meter hurdles and Iowa-trained Gabby Douglas won two golds, including all-around — did not present any ISU ties.
However, four ISU athletes had punched their tickets to London to compete for their respective countries and their athletic honor.
Former athletes Lisa Uhl (women’s long distance) and Jake Varner (freestyle wrestling) represented the United States in their respective fields; Guor Marial (men’s long distance) competed as an independent athlete, and current athlete Ian Warner (men’s sprints) represented Canada.
The 2016 Summer Olympics will be hosted by Rio de Janeiro, the first South American city to host the games.
The only nontrack athlete with ISU ties at the games, Varner struck gold by defeating Ukraine’s Valerii Andriitsev 1-0, 1-0 in the 211.5-pound title in freestyle wrestling on the final day of the games.
Varner, who was a four-time NCAA finalist and two-time national champion at Iowa State, avenged his bronze medal performance at the 2011 World Trials by winning an Olympic gold medal — the 49th wrestling gold in U.S. history.
“Every time I step on the mat, I expect to win,” Varner told USA wrestling’s TheMat.com after the match. “This is exciting. I came in here with a goal of winning a gold medal, and I did my job for our team.”
With his Olympic gold medal, Varner received $250,000 from the Living the Dream Fund — a grassroots organization supported by the wrestling community that awards wrestlers for success on the international stage.
Varner joins former ISU coach Cael Sanderson and current ISU coach Kevin Jackson, among others, as the sixth Iowa Stater to win an Olympic gold medal in wrestling.
“I’m just enjoying the moment right now,” Varner said after winning the Aug. 12 gold medal match. “I will probably have some chocolate milk or a Mountain Dew to celebrate.”
Lisa (Koll) Uhl
Uhl was the first of the four Cyclone Olympians to compete, finishing 13th in the 10,000-meter run and clocking her personal fastest time.
Uhl — known by “Koll” in her time at Iowa State before she was married — is a true Iowa native, growing up in Fort Dodge. During her time as a runner for Iowa State, she garnered recognition with the winning of four national titles — three outdoor and one indoor.
With the help of Uhl and her teammates, the United States was able to stride across the finish line in the 11th, 12th and 13th positions to complete the 10,000-meter race in the London Olympics.
Marial was one of four independent athletes to compete at the Olympic Games this past summer since the newly founded South Sudan — his home region — does not have an Olympic committee.
Given the chance to compete for Sudan — the government responsible for his exodus to the United States before the liberation of South Sudan — Marial declined.
At the Olympics, Marial told the Washington Post that running the race and being able to run for fun and not away from something is what he was looking forward to most.
Marial placed 47th in the men’s marathon. He clocked in just 11 minutes, 31 seconds behind the winning time.
Ian Warner’s experience at the Olympics was an interesting one at that. Originally, Warner was selected by the Canadian track and field team to be a part of the 4x100-meter relay team.
A race-day decision was made, however, Ian would be the alternate, shadowing his brother, Justyn Warner, and three other older runners.
The 4x100-meter event was an exciting one, featuring Usain Bolt and the Jamaican team and the United States squad. Originally, the Canadian team clocked the bronze medal.
The results later showed Canada had been disqualified because team captain Jared Connaughton stepped on his line a few times throughout his section of the one-lap race.