Track presents opportunity for international athletes

by Grant Donald

Growing up in Germany, sophomore Luca Wieland always knew he wanted to run competitively in the United States for one university or another.
His decision, however, didn’t ride on which school could better prepare him to someday contend for a national title — something he accomplished earlier during this year’s indoor campaign.
Rather, Wieland decided to choose his school in America based on the experience he would gain from enrolling at that institution.
“It really didn’t matter much to me [what] the best track team in the country was,” Wieland said. “I loved the different opportunities that were available for me at
Minnesota both academically and athletically. It just seemed right.” 
Wieland is one of a handful of international athletes on Minnesota’s men’s and women’s track teams.
But these athletes do more than add an eye-catching hometown to the roster — they are also some of Minnesota’s best performers.
Along with Wieland’s indoor national championship in the heptathlon, his teammate, Italian thrower Gian Ferretti, has dominated as of late, winning three of his last four hammer throw events.
On the women’s team, Canadian thrower Agnes Esser and Jamaican hurdler Kimberly Golding both rank in the top 10 in program history in their respective events.
“When you come all the way from Italy, you can tell just how serious [Ferretti] takes throwing,” men’s head coach Steve Plasencia said. “He went right to work right after last season, so now that dedication is really paying off for him.”
Ferretti isn’t the only international thrower leading the Gophers, as Esser has already experienced a great amount of success during her freshman season.
Last year, Esser took home the discus title at the Canadian Junior Track & Field Championships, making her one of the best young Canadian throwers. A recruit with those credentials likely could have landed on most rosters around the nation, but she ended up at Minnesota.
“Since our sport puts a lot of importance on specific times and marks, you see a more diverse set of schools grabbing top recruits,” women’s head coach Matt Bingle said. “For Agnes, I know the University’s psychology department was a major draw, since that’s her major.”
On top of a quality education, Ferretti said international athletes are also drawn to larger cities like Minneapolis.
“Back in Italy, a few people thought I was crazy for wanting to go to a big American city,” Ferretti said. “But I love it. I’m grateful that this is my experience.”
In the end, though, these international athletes are driven by succeeding in their events — both for themselves and their home countries.
“No one really notices [being from another country] until you succeed,” Wieland said. “But when you do, that’s all people talk about. It just makes succeeding again that much better because you have a new sense of pride for your country on top of your school.”