Roman Cress, a junior-high assistant in Minnesota, will compete for his native Marshall Islands in Beijing – part of a five-member team the nation is fielding for its first Games.
Courtesy of Roman Cress
St. Paul, Minn.
It was 4:30 p.m. on a still chilly Minnesota May afternoon as Roman Cress raced into the college gymnasium. The squeak of sneakers from pickup basketball games filled the air.Mr. Cress had toiled all day as an administrative assistant to a junior-high-school assistant principal, dealing, mostly, with disciplinary issues. Now, after navigating the beginnings of Twin Cities rush-hour traffic from the suburban school to the tiny Concordia University campus in St. Paul, Cress stripped down to a tank top and shorts. He pulled his running shoes from his well-worn blue equipment bag, placed his iPod buds in his ears, and began working out for ... the Olympics.
Yep, those Olympics, the Beijing Games, the real ones, set to start on August 8.
Were Cress pondering trying out for the US Olympic team, his chances would be as remote as, well, the Marshall Islands, 6,300 miles away from Minnesota. But because he was born on the island of Kaven in the Marshalls to a Marshallese mother and spent a full 10 months of his life there, Cress is guaranteed a start in the 100-meter preliminary heats in Beijing.
Cress, who hasn't competed in a track meet since late 2006, will be the Marshalls' only male track athlete in that nation's first appearance ever in an Olympics. His presence in Beijing is one serendipitous example of so many Olympic tales past and future: The humble kid next door becomes a surprising global participant and, in so doing, represents a notion that the five-ringed finish line isn't always about winning, but simply getting there.
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