Minnesotans recall their days of Olympics glory

  • Article by: JOHN EWOLDT , Star Tribune
  • Updated: July 26, 2012 - 6:53 AM

Five Minnesota athletes who took part in the Games share what it's like to draw the attention of the world -- and then to come back home.

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The Olympic motto is "Citius, Altius, Fortius," Latin for "Faster, Higher, Stronger."

Minnesota's former summer Olympians lived by that code for the years they trained, toiled and sweated. Now, they're mere mortals, having families, creating new successes, many of which are based on their experience as world-class athletes.

As the 2012 London Games commence, we asked several former Olympians -- a runner, a wrestler, a swimmer, a volleyball team member and a soccer player -- to look back on their experience and what their lives have been like since their moment in the sun.

DENNIS KOSLOWSKI, wrestling

Age: 52.

1988 Olympics: Bronze.

1992 Olympics: Silver.

Now: Chiropractor.

Are you planning to attend the Games? No, I've been the Vikings' chiropractor for the last six years and training camp is starting.

What's your favorite Olympic memory? My training and mental preparation came together in my second Olympics. I lost to the Cuban [Hector Milian] for the gold, but to go into overtime with him when he was the best wrestler in the world at the time was quite an accomplishment.

What else stayed with you? I've always been a history buff and after my events at the 1988 Olympics in South Korea, my brother and I went to Pan Mun Yang, the DMZ. There was such a palpable tension to look across at the North Korean guards. We think of the Olympics as a time of putting down our arms in cooperation. It was 180 degrees from that.

Where are your medals? In a glass display frame in my man cave on the lower level, near the fireplace and pool table.

CARRIE TOLLEFSON, RUNNING

Age: 35.

2004 Olympics: Made it to the semifinals in the 1,500-meter race.

Now: Runs competitively and is a commentator and public speaker.

What's your favorite Olympic memory? Besides competing, it was walking into the opening ceremony. I walked in with a trainer from the wresting team and talked about what an honor it was to see great Olympians all around me. The trainer said, "Look in the mirror. You are, too. You know how hard you worked to get here."

Who are you rooting for this year? The women's marathon team from the U.S. may be our best ever. Kara Goucher is a good friend of mine. Shalane Flanagan is a talent we've never seen before.

Do you still run? My husband, Charlie, and I had a baby two years ago, so I wasn't on the track for three years. I started again this year and tried to make the trials and am still in it and want to hang with the girls.

Do you have Olympic hopes? I don't know if 2016 is a definite, but I still have a burning desire.

VIRGIL LUKEN, SWIMMING

Age: 69.

1964 Olympics: Swam the relay medley qualifier, but didn't swim in the finals when the U.S. team won the gold.

Now: Owner of Virg Luken & Associates, pool designer and builder.

What's your favorite memory? The fact we trained as a team and I got to know these guys from all over the country. In Japan, swimming was so popular, the natatorium seated 15,000. When our team worked out, there were 5,000 people in the stands. The basketball stadium seated 5,000.

Who are you rooting for this year? I'm rooting for the guy that's coming out of nowhere. I was a sophomore in college when I won the NCAA, in Lane 1.

Do you still swim? Not right now. I go in cycles. I've done a lot of master swimming over the years, I won national titles nine or 10 times. I want to get back in, I've got a couple records that are like 28 years old. The older I get the less competition I see. When I turn 70, the guys I might have had trouble with might not be around.

Where's your medal? Look under Virgil Luken. It says I won a gold medal. I didn't. I don't have it. Nowadays, they give all eight swimmers a medal. Back then, that wasn't true.

How would you change the Games? I'd make them amateurs again. The whole idea was the world community coming together. And world professionals aren't necessarily representative of the communities. Here I was, a guy who grew up by Lake Hiawatha, at the Olympics.

Did you return to fame and fortune? I came back in total poverty. I got a job in St. Paul at Waldorf Paper as a janitor in the men's locker room. Then the funny thing was while I was doing this, I was invited to speak at school functions and businessmen's luncheons.

MANNY LAGOS, SOCCER

Age: 41.

1992 Olympics: Scored the first U.S. goal, but the team didn't make it past the first round.

Now: Director of soccer operations for the Minnesota Stars.

Are you planning to attend? No, this is the prime of my season.

What's your favorite Olympic moment? I scored a goal against Kuwait, one of only a handful of players to score a goal for the U.S. in the Olympics. It was a nice moment individually. We didn't get out of our group.

Do you remember the goal? Anytime you score, it's cemented in your memory. It was one of those days. We went on to win 4-1. It was a nice moment.

ELISABETH "WIZ" BACHMAN, VOLLEYBALL

Age: 33.

2004 Olympics: Fifth place.

Now: Mom and club team coach.

Will you watch this year? Of course. I'll be following the live score on the Internet before it even airs.

What's your favorite Olympic memory? Besides playing, it was the opening ceremonies. You're in an arena with hundreds of thousands of people. I remember my parents telling me which row they would be sitting in and I thought, "Do you really think I'll be able to find you in the thousands of people?" But I did. I saw my parents, who had supported me for my entire career, and my husband, too. It was an emotional experience.

Are you still disappointed eight years later? We went in with high expectations. It's hard because you've been working your whole life for that moment. It's nice to be able to console with your teammates when you lose. You're all going through it together.

Was being in the Games the highlight of your life so far? It's one of the highlights. It's not the highlight. The Olympic dream came true and now I'm the mother of two and happily married with so many things to enjoy in life.

Maria Douglas Reeve contributed to this report. John Ewoldt • 612-673-7633 or jewoldt@startribune.com.

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