The Big Ten has a Big Presence in the Vancouver Olympics

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Park Ridge, IL —The Big Ten Conference will boast at least 34 current or former student-athletes, alumni or coaches competing for gold medals at the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver from Feb. 12-28. The group of conference competitors, which includes eight former Olympians and six past medalists, will represent three different countries and six of the 11 Big Ten institutions in four different sports.

Big Ten universities will be sending at least 10 current student-athletes, alumni or coaches who will represent their countries in the 2010 Olympic Games. The Big Ten Olympians include 26 members of the United States team, along with athletes representing Canada and Finland. Overall, Wisconsin leads the way with 12 Olympic participants, followed by Michigan (6), Minnesota (6), Ohio State (5), Michigan State (3) and Illinois (1).

This collection of outstanding performers is highlighted by eight former Olympians and six past medalists. Women’s ice hockey players Natalie Darwitz of Minnesota and Molly Engstrom and Carla MacLeod of Wisconsin will look to repeat their medal performances from the most recent Winter Olympics. Darwitz claimed a silver medal for Team USA in 2002 and a bronze medal in 2006. Engstrom joined Darwitz in winning the bronze in 2006, while MacLeod earned a gold medal for Canada in 2006. Other past medalists include the Badgers’ Brian Rafalski (silver medal - 2002 USA men’s ice hockey), Ohio State’s Emma Laaksonen (bronze medal - 1998 Finland women’s ice hockey), and Wisconsin’s Mark Johnson (gold medal – 1980 USA men’s ice hockey). Laaksonen will be taking part in her fourth straight Olympic Games for Finland, while Darwitz will be making her third Olympic appearance. Engstrom, MacLeod, Wisconsin’s Dany Heatley and Minnesota’s Noora Räty all return to the Olympics after taking part in 2006, while Rafalski makes his first Olympics appearance since 2002.

The Big Ten will also be represented on Team USA coaching staffs by Wisconsin’s Johnson, who has led the Badgers’ women’s ice hockey program to three of the last four national titles and is in the midst of a one-year sabbatical to serve as the head coach of the American women’s team in Vancouver. Johnson was the leading scorer of the 1980 gold-medal USA men’s ice hockey team.

Big Ten student-athletes and coaches have been a part of the Olympic experience on more than 1,200 occasions, including many making multiple trips to the international event. That list of conference standouts has accumulated at least 453 medals, including at least 212 of the gold variety. Some of the medalists include former Ohio State track standout Jesse Owens, who won four gold medals at the 1936 Olympic Games in Berlin. Former Indiana swimmer Mark Spitz won four medals, including two golds, in the 1968 Games before claiming an unprecedented seven gold medals during the 1972 Olympic Games in Munich. Former Michigan volunteer coach Michael Phelps surpassed Spitz’ performance with eight gold medals in the 2008 Games in Beijing and has won 14 career gold medals, the most by any Olympian. The winter games have also been rewarding, as 12 members of the 1980 "Miracle on Ice" United States men’s ice hockey team were from Minnesota and Wisconsin.