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Former CU Buffs standouts, local stars set for Tokyo Olympics

Delayed Games feature plenty of reason for cheer from local fans

EUGENE, OREGON - JUNE 20: Emma Coburn reacts after winning her heat of the Women's 3000 Meter Steeplechase first round on day three of the 2020 U.S. Olympic Track & Field Team Trials at Hayward Field on June 20, 2021 in Eugene, Oregon. (Photo by Steph Chambers/Getty Images)
EUGENE, OREGON – JUNE 20: Emma Coburn reacts after winning her heat of the Women’s 3000 Meter Steeplechase first round on day three of the 2020 U.S. Olympic Track & Field Team Trials at Hayward Field on June 20, 2021 in Eugene, Oregon. (Photo by Steph Chambers/Getty Images)

Buffs fans can think what they will of Rick George. But his passion for the Colorado athletic department shouldn’t be questioned.

All one has to do is watch George at any given CU competition, where the athletic director’s cheers are as loud as any Buffs backer in the venue. This was particularly true during the pandemic season of college basketball, when George’s vocal riding of the referees often almost made up for the lack of fans in the stands.

That passion continues even after the diplomas finally land in the hands of CU’s athletes. Last year, George helped former CU track star Valerie Constien land an internship with the CU Buff Club. And last month, Constien’s surge into third-place in the 3,000-meter steeplechase at the US Olympic Trials, landing her a spot on Team USA alongside fellow Buffs alum Emma Coburn, was reason for celebration in the George household.

“We were screaming more for Val than we were Emma because we were so excited,” George said. “You have to remember that I’ve kind of grown up with a lot these student-athletes because I’ve only been here eight years. When they come in as a freshman, to see them develop and see them compete and do the things that they do is rewarding. All of them. Seeing Morgan Pearson do what he did is phenomenal. And seeing Joe Klecker, who’s worked so hard. And then you’ve got Sage Hurta, who fell during her run (at the Olympic Trials) and the disappointment there.

“But Val, it was really heartwarming to see that because I know how hard she works. It’s my understanding the only thing that was sponsored on her that day was her t-shirt. Which is pretty phenomenal. She really worked hard to get to that point. It’s like one of your children having success. It was great to see that and see the joy. And the way Emma embraced her after the race just speaks of teamwork and culture and community and those things that are important to us.”

Constien and Coburn, the reigning Olympic bronze medalist in the women’s steeplechase, will be just two of the handful of former Buffs, and other local athletes, set to compete in Tokyo. While the Games already are officially underway, the opening ceremonies are set for early Tuesday local time (5 a.m. MT), and there will be plenty of athletes for Colorado fans to get behind in the coming weeks.

Former CU distance runner Morgan Pearson will get things rolling for the local contingent on Sunday afternoon when he takes off in the men’s triathlon. In addition to Constien and Coburn, CU alum Erin Huck was named as a replacement to the cross country mountain bike team, while Jake Riley, who went to graduate school at CU and trains with the Boulder Track Club, competes in the men’s marathon on Aug. 8.

Additionally, Elise Cranny and Valarie Allman will be a long way from Everly-Montgomery Field when they represent the city of Longmont in Tokyo. It will be a unique treat to watch both women compete on the same day, with Cranny, a Niwot alum, running in the opening round of the 5,000 meters on July 30 and Silver Creek’s Allman following in the qualifying round of the discus.

“When I look at the Olympics, when people talk to me about it, there’s all the things that are going to be different,” said Klecker, a former CU All-American competing in the men’s 10,000. “I always say I’ve never been there. I don’t know what it’s like. For me, this is going to be normal, I guess, in a way. But what I’m most looking forward to the most is just competing. I think for about 24 hours after I qualified I was really happy with making it. But really quickly it turned to ‘What are my goals now at the Games?’

“My focus just really changed to my goals at the Games. I haven’t really thought too much about the restrictions and what we won’t be able to do. I’ve really just looked at the competition. That’s why I’m there.”

2020(21) Tokyo Olympics

Local schedule (All times MT)

CU Buffs alums: Men’s triathlon (Morgan Pearson) — Sunday, 3:30 p.m.; Women’s cross country mountain bike (Erin Huck) — Tuesday, 12:01 a.m. Men’s 10,000 meters (Joe Klecker) — July 30, 5:30 a.m.; Women’s 3,000 steeplechase (Emma Coburn, Valerie Constien) — First round July 31, 6:40 p.m.; Final Aug. 4, 5 a.m. Men’s marathon (Jake Riley) — Aug. 8, 4 p.m.

Other local athletes: Women’s discus (Valarie Allman) — First round July 30, 6:30 p.m.; Final Aug. 2, 5 a.m.; Women’s 5,000 meters (Elise Cranny) — First round July 30, 4 a.m.; Final Aug. 2, 6:40 a.m.; Women’s track cycling (Maddie Godby) — Keirin, Aug. 4-5; Match sprints, Aug. 6-8.; Sports climbing (Brooke Raboutou)  — Qualifying, Aug. 4; Finals, Aug. 6.