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One athlete's story of competing in his country's first Olympics

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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.

Even if you took the fastest 100-meter he's ever run – which was way back in 1999 – Cress's mark of 10.39 seconds wouldn't be among the top 70 in the world this year.

"I felt like I deserved it back in 1999," Cress says. "I don't feel I deserve it now."

His friend and coach, Tyrone Minor, puts his entrance in a little more context. "He's like the old car you pull out of the garage, shine it up, and give it a tuneup," he says. "You can't expect him to run a personal best. He's going to be rusty."

Roman Cress's Olympics will last about 11 seconds. His journey to Beijing took eight years.

• • •

Native Minnesotan Bob Cress was a Peace Corps volunteer from 1970-72 on the island of Kaven in the Maleolap atoll. He remained there after his stint and taught English. He met native Margina Aikne. One of 11 children, she was the daughter of a fisherman. Bob and Margina married in 1974.

On Aug. 2, 1977, Roman was born, the second of four children. Three decades later, Roman Cress is the Marshalls' most decorated international athlete, winning medals in regional events and competing in world championships.

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