Chasing the Olympic Dream

The 2004 Summer Olympic Games will be held Aug. 13-29 in Athens, Greece. Several University of Idaho alumni have set their sights on the gold medal.<br> <br> This article, highlighting 3 Olympic hopefuls including cyclist <b>Kristin Armstrong</b>, first appeared in the Spring 2004 edition of "Here we have Idaho", and is reprinted here in its entirety.<br> <br>

Idaho's Olympic hopefuls.
Kristin Armstrong
Somehow, Kristin Armstrong '95 knew even as a child that she was on a path to the Olympics. "I remember in elementary school one year my teacher had us all play a game which involved guessing what we would all be when we were grown up," Armstrong said. "Some were doctors, some were firefighters, some were teachers, and I was an Olympian."

This winding track has been anything but predictable. When she was diagnosed with osteoarthritis in 2001, Armstrong shifted from the triathlon to bicycle road racing. Now she is qualifying to represent America in the road race and time trials at the 2004 games.

"The closer I get to becoming an Olympian, the more excited I get," Armstrong said. "I have been waiting for the opportunity all of my life." As Armstrong points out, she will not fall short of the Olympics for lack of effort. She trains eight months a year and bounces between continents with her T-Mobile teammates in order to find tournaments.

"We all have had role models growing up," Armstrong said. "I have found that the role models I once had are now becoming very close to me - a few being my teammates."

Despite her relative newness to the sport, Armstrong has enjoyed international success alongside these heroes.

In 2003 she finished 13th in the individual time trials of the World Championships - a tournament which could be considered a precursor, if not an indication, to future Olympic achievement.

"Representing your country in the Olympic Games is a dream come true for any athlete," Armstrong said.

Photo by Peter Hreszczuk
Lina Yanchulova competed at the 2000 Sydney Olympics and has her sights set on Athens.
Lina Yanchulova
Since she left Idaho, Lina Yanchulova '96 has seen the very top of beach volleyball's competitive world. She has played against the world's greatest athletes in the pro circuit and at the Olympics.

So why does she still long for some 1,500-seat gym in a remote college town?

"What was interesting was that feeling of playing in Memorial Gym," Yanchulova said. "I haven't been able to duplicate that in all the places I have gone."

Yanchulova played with her sister, Petia, for Bulgaria in the 2000 Sydney Olympics in front of 10,000 fans.

No matter. Somehow, Memorial Gym brought more.

"Just the way the stands hang over the court, and the fans are right there," Lina Yanchulova said. "It was definitely a part of what Moscow, Idaho, was because everywhere else we went I didn't get that feeling."

The Yanchulovas have climbed into the top l5 of the Beach Volleyball World Tour and now are training for the 2004 Olympics. Their relative success in the 2003-04 season will determine whether they get in.

"Worldwide, I think (beach volleyball) has a lot more of a following," she said. "We get people e-mailing us from countries we haven't even been playing in."

There was a time, though, when she won on a much more focused stage.

Yanchulox, a four-time Big Sky Champion and a conference MVP, won all 46 of her games at Memorial Gym, delighting madhouse crowds with whirling jump serves and booming spikes.

"Talking to other players, everybody that has played at Memorial Gym remembers [the crowd noise]," Yanchulova said. "All the opposing teams would say 'We hated playing in that gym,' and I'd say 'Yeah - I loved that.'"

Angela Whyte is considered one of the best female hurdlers in the world. If she reaches the Olypmics, she'll represent Canada.
Angela Whyte
It's not as if world class can happen overnight. But somewhere between New Mexico and Idaho, Angela Whyte found a stride. Quick as that, her lofty dream became real.

"I never thought it would be coming so soon," Whyte said. "I was doing well, but it didn't seem like I was going to be at the world level yet. But then I got here and started working with the Vandals and - shoom - it took off like that."

Whyte is only a year removed from her phenomenal collegiate career at Idaho. She is one of the best female hurdlers on Earth and essentially a lock to compete in the Athens Olympics in the 100-meter hurdles.

She transferred to Idaho from New Mexico in 2000 and, as befits a hurdler, improved from good to Olympian in a rush, with only expected blips along the way.

"It's a dream, and now it's looking to become a reality, which is really cool," said Whyte, who graduated with a criminal justice degree in May 2003 and has since stayed on campus.

In addition to her training, she is serving as the athletic department's tutor coordinator while pursuing a graduate degree in physical education.

Last summer, Whyte came within .04 seconds of the 2003 World Championships final. She placed fifth in a semifinal heat that advanced the top four.

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