Alaskan earns an Athens trip

Homer's Stacey Borgman qualifies in double sculls for U.S. Olympic team

Posted: Thursday, July 01, 2004

Homer's Stacey Borgman is going to the Olympics.

With a win Wednesday in the women's lightweight double sculls event at the U.S. Olympic Team Trials for rowing on Lake Mercer in West Windsor, N.J., Borgman and scull-mate Lisa Schlenker of Lake Oswego, Ore., earned a spot on the U.S. team and a ticket to Athens, Greece, for the 2004 Olympic Games in August.

Borgman and Schlenker defeated Julia Nichols and Renee Hykel by 6.75 seconds to take the second race of the best two-out-of-three team trial. On Tuesday, Borgman and Schlenker won by 7.5 seconds, a virtual eternity in most rowing races. In the other final races held Tuesday and Wednesday, no winning margin was greater than 1.5 seconds.

After the race, Borgman called her mom, Diane. It was 4 a.m. Alaska time.

"She was awake for some reason," Borgman laughed.

"We were both laughing and crying at the same time," Diane said. "It's just hard to believe."

Borgman, a competitive swimmer since age 8, graduated from Homer High School in 1993. She picked up rowing at the prodding of her mother while at Columbia University's Barnard College during her sophomore year. Borgman also attended Lewis & Clark College's Northwestern School of Law in Portland, Ore.

"I felt like athletics was a positive part of both my daughters' school experience," Diane said. "It's a great opportunity to meet people and do something physical. But I never expected it to go this far."

Stacey, who was born in Kotzebue and moved to Homer when she was 4, wasn't so sure she wanted to take up rowing in her 20s.

"My mom wanted me to do it. But I was resistant to it," Borgman told the Homer News in April. "I was 21 or 22 and I thought, 'I'm not going to pick up a new sport.'"

But Borgman quickly found success in rowing.

During college, she won nine national titles at the U.S. Rowing National Championships, including first-place finishes in the lightweight quadruple sculls and the quadruple sculls in 2003.

With her sights squarely on the Olympic games this summer, Borgman trained in San Diego, and traveled to the World Cup in Munich, Germany, last month.

Her plan was to win a medal in Munich. A top-three finish would have earned her a virtual lock for selection to the Olympics.

But Borgman and Sarah Hirst of Oak Ridge, Tenn., finished seventh overall. This meant Borgman would have to earn her Olympic berth at the Olympic trials this week.

Borgman and Schlenker beat Nichols and Hykel by 7.5 seconds Tuesday and then sealed the deal Wednesday morning.

Borgman said her team felt confident going into the second race.

"I went through the races trying not to think that it was an Olympic trials," she said. "It's a sport where a lot of things can happen. There might be a goose in the middle of the pond, you might get something caught on your oar."

Borgman said she knew it would be a challenge to beat Nichols and Hykel. She said that duo came on strong after the end of the race.

Six hours after her victory, Borgman said being an Olympian hasn't quite sunk in yet. She has a new racing uniform, she has signed some papers and is beginning to make travel plans.

Diane said she has made travel plans of her own.

"Yes, I did buy my plane ticket," she said.

After nearly nine years of work, Borgman can finally say she is an Olympian. Borgman is the third Alaskan to win an Olympic berth in rowing, joining former West Anchorage High School athletes Kris Thorsness (1984, gold medal) and Diana Olsen (1992, sixth place), who both competed in the women's eight.

"It feels great to actually be able to say it," she said. "I've been working toward it for so long. (Friends and family) kept calling and asking, 'Are you going yet? Are you going yet?'

"It feels amazing after all the time and work. It's great to have a payoff."

Borgman becomes the second woman from Homer to qualify for the 2004 Olympic Games. Tela O'Donnell qualified in women's wrestling earlier this summer.

Other Alaskans to qualify for the Olympics include former Juneau-Douglas High School basketball star Carlos Boozer Jr., who plays for the Cleveland Cavaliers, and former University of Alaska Fairbanks shooter Matt Emmons in riflery.

Jeff Donaldson of Juneau will be a bike mechanic for USA Triathlon during the Olympics. Donaldson's girlfriend, Sarah Jones of Stanwood, Wash., also qualified for the U.S. Olympic rowing team on Wednesday, teaming up with Kate McKenzie of Novi, Mich., to win the women's pairs event. Jones competed in the women's eight boat in the 2000 Olympics.

Two other Alaskans will be competing in their sports' Olympic trials next week.

Derek Gibb of Petersburg will participate in the 50-meter freestyle and 100-meter backstroke events at the USA Swimming Olympic Trials July 7-14 in Long Beach, Calif. Carl Blackhurst of Haines will compete in the 3,000-meter steeplechase event at the USA Track & Field Olympic Trials July 9-18 in Sacramento, Calif. Features on Gibb and Blackhurst will run next week in the Juneau Empire.

• Juneau Empire sports editor Charles Bingham contributed to this story.

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