Gophers assistant coach punches Olympic ticket

Marks was a three-time All-American at Minnesota from 2000-2003.

Brian Deutsch

Four years ago, Shani Marks was two-tenths of a meter from making the United States Olympic team after posting a triple jump score of 13.53 meters – good enough for fourth place at the 2004 U.S. Olympic trials but not enough to punch her ticket to Athens.

Last weekend at the 2008 U.S. trials, Marks didn’t settle for anything less than first.

The former Gophers standout and current assistant coach landed a personal-best jump of 47 feet, 2.25 inches to take top honors in the triple jump event and become Minnesota’s first women’s track and field athlete to make the U.S. Olympic roster.

“Well, it all hasn’t quite sunk in yet,” Marks said in a statement. “You know this has been the goal for five years so to actually finally get there I am overwhelmed and just really thankful and really, really excited.”

Marks was the two-time defending U.S. champion in both the indoor and outdoor triple jump coming into this past weekend.

After a collegiate career that saw Marks claim five Big Ten titles and three All-American honors, the Apple Valley native joined the Minnesota coaching staff as a volunteer assistant in 2004.

Minnesota will actually have its three representatives participating in the Beijing games in August.

Former Gophers track and cross country runner Rasa Troup will represent her home country of Lithuania and former All-American Barbora Spotakova will compete for the Czech Republic in the javelin – an event she is favored in, said Gophers assistant coach Gary Wilson.

Gophers in Eugene

Liz Roehrig improved her All-American score in the heptathlon to 5,819 at this weekend’s qualifier but was unable to secure a spot on the U.S. squad.

The junior finished fifth in Eugene, Ore., just outside the boundaries for qualifying.

“Overall I would classify my experience here as a successful learning experience,” Roehrig said on her Gophersports.com blog. “I came in hoping for a top 8 finish and to score over 5800 again, which I accomplished both.”

Roehrig lost out to some talented competitors however.

Hyleas Fountain scored 6,667 points to claim her third-straight U.S. title while Arizona State’s Jacquelyn Johnson, who has won the NCAA heptathlon crown four years in a row, was one of the two other Olympic qualifiers.

Recent Gophers graduate Ruby Radocaj also made the finals in her event, the javelin.

After her first attempt in the preliminaries ran foul, Radocaj’s second throw was good enough for third in her flight and a spot in the finals.

Radocaj posted a distance of 167 feet, five inches in the finals for a ninth place finish – not high enough to earn an Olympic berth.

Purdue’s Kara Patterson, who won the Big Ten Championship this year, won the javelin event with a throw of 191 feet, nine inches.

Junior Heather Dorniden advanced to the semifinals in the 800-meter run but finished seventh and failed to qualify for the finals.

“The biggest impression I have had over the past two days is the huge number of people who have come up to our athletes and to Matt [Bingle] and me and said how impressed they are with the number of Minnesota athletes that are in the trials and how well they are doing,” Wilson blogged Monday. “Even those who run for Team Minnesota and have been transplanted here are getting praise for training in Minnesota.”