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Chantae McMillan's third-place finish in the U.S. Olympic heptathlon finals in Eugene, Ore., Saturday night not only earned the Rolla, Mo., native a ticket to London, but also enhanced her alma mater's reputation as "Combined Events U" - the university with an inside track on pentathlon, heptathlon and decathlon champions. McMillan's performance under pressure is bound to boost her college coach's standing as one of the nation's top coaches for those combined events. A three-time Nebraska track and field captain, McMillan won two Big 12 Conference heptathlon championships and two Big 12 pentathlon titles before finishing her Husker career a year ago. A five-time All-American and school record-holder in both the heptathlon and pentathlon, McMillan majored in education with an emphasis on middle schools. Ask her coaches, or her academic and life skills leaders at Nebraska, and they'll tell you McMillan has all the traits to be a successful teacher. They love her enthusiasm and sense of humor and point out how her heart continuously beats for others. Case in point: McMillan was a 2011 Nebraska Hero Award winner for constantly reaching out and touching others.
McMillan deserves the spotlight, and Kris Grimes, her college coach, deserves credit for helping to recruit her and to develop her for world-class competition. Their hometowns reinforced their recruiting relationship. Grimes is a native of Jefferson City, Mo., located just 63 miles from Rolla, a town certifiably bursting with pride as natives follow one of their own to London. The road that paved McMillan's journey to the home of Big Ben, Buckingham Palace and the Tower of London began in Rolla, but the real groundwork was laid in Lincoln. Now all eyes will focus on London's Olympic Stadium, the newest field of dreams for Chantae McMillan, plus Badger and Peggy McMillan, her beaming parents who will find a way to attend the Opening Ceremonies while an estimated 1 billion people will watch on television.
Grimes is not the type to step into someone else's spotlight, but now seems an appropriate time for the N-Sider to acknowledge his role. When Gary Pepin hired Grimes, he landed a coach who had been an interim head women's track and field coach at Michigan State and a highly successful assistant at Washington State. McMillan's last two Big 12 titles gave Nebraska seven straight combined events conference champions, stretching back to Megan Wheatley, Ashley Selig and Sara Jane Baker, all coached by Grimes. As Nebraska's pole vault coach in addition to combined events, Grimes also coached Bjorn Barrefors to the 2012 Big Ten decathlon title and Natalie Willer to two Big 12 titles and three All-America honors in the pole vault.
Make no mistake. Saturday night was Chantae McMillan's magic moment. All athletes who pursue an Olympic dream wait years before they can exhale. Saturday night was one of those rare opportunities for relief, release and reflection. It was time for joyful celebration, even if it was for only a matter of hours. Now, McMillan's back on the clock, using every day to find a way to increase her chances to medal in London. One thing is certain about the high honor she earned at TrackTown USA. Her effort created a residual effect for her alma mater. McMillan not only enhanced her reputation, but also Nebraska's reputation - and Grimes' already lofty status - in the process. Bottom line, McMillan is the latest notch on a championship belt belonging to Combined Event U, a.k.a. Nebraska.
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