Olympic Spotlight: Track and Field's Tonja Buford-Bailey and Shani Marks
July 11, 2008
by Jeff Smith
With the 2008 Beijing Summer Olympic Games quickly approaching, BigTen.org takes a look at both former and current Olympians who have made their mark in their respective sports. In today's "Olympic Spotlight" feature, we take a look at the Olympic track and field careers of Illinois' Tonja Buford-Bailey and Minnesota's Shani Marks.
TONJA BUFORD-BAILEY, 400-METER HURDLES, ILLINOIS, 1989-93
Illinois' Tonja Buford-Bailey was a three-time Olympian as a 400-meter hurdles specialist for the U.S. in the 1992, 1996, and 2000 Games. After capturing the NCAA 400-meters hurdle crown in 1992, Buford-Bailey became the first Illini female athlete to make the U.S. Olympic team. She did not medal in Barcelona at the 1992 Games, but Buford-Bailey would set another significant milestone for Illinois four years later in Atlanta.
In the 1996 Olympics, Buford-Bailey became the first female Illini athlete to win an Olympic medal when she earned a bronze in the 400-meter hurdles. All signs were pointing toward success in the Atlanta games for Buford-Bailey as the year prior to the Games she became the first woman in history to break the 53-second mark on two occasions in the event. She closed out the 1995 season ranked second in the world and her mark of 52.62 seconds still remains third on the all-time world list.
Perhaps most remarkable about Buford-Bailey's career is the fact she made the 2000 Olympics squad less than two years after giving birth to her son. Buford-Bailey did not train at all during the pregnancy, but answered the call with a win in the Grand Prix final after narrowly missing a bronze medal at the 2001 World Championships. She finished third at the 2002 Olympic Trials, which earned her a spot in her third Olympiad.
While at Illinois, Buford-Bailey was a 10-time All-American and won a Big Ten-record 25 individual and team championships. She was voted by her sport's peers as the conference's Athlete of the Year on four occasions and was named the Athlete of the Championships three times. Following her win at the 1992 NCAA Championships, Buford-Bailey was named to Illinois' All-Decade team. That same year she was awarded the first of two Dike Eddleman Female Athlete of the Year honors as the Illini's top female standout. During the 2007-08 season, Buford-Bailey spent her fifth year on the Illinois track and field staff and her first campaign as associate head coach.
* 1st Olympics in 2008
SHANI MARKS, TRIPLE JUMP, MINNESOTA, 2000-03
Former Minnesota track and field star Shani Marks qualified this summer for the 2008 Olympics by winning the triple jump at the U.S. Olympic Track & Field Trials in Eugene, Ore. In doing so, Marks became the first Minnesota women's track athlete to make the U.S. Olympic Team.
Marks took home her third straight title in the event after posting a personal-best leap of 47'-2 ¼". Her jump came on her third attempt and was also good enough for a Hayward Field track record.
Marks' successful jump was even more fulfilling after she just missed qualifying for the 2004 Olympic squad when she finished fourth in the triple jump. Prior to that event, she had placed runner-up in the event at the 2003 NCAA Championships.
But Marks has rarely missed a step in preparation for her 2008 bid. In 2006, she won the triple jump crown at the AT&T USA Outdoor Track & Field Championships in Indianapolis with a then-personal-best leap of 45'-7". She later went on to place seventh at the 10th Annual IAAF World Cup in Athens, Greece.
During her time at Minnesota, Marks was a three-time All-American and a five-time school-record setter in the triple jump and a winner of five Big Ten titles in multiple events. In her first two years, she captured Big Ten individual titles in the 600-meter run and triple jump, while also earning All-America honors at the 2002 NCAA Outdoor Championships. She finished sixth at the 2003 NCAA Indoor Championships and improved two feet in her distance during her senior year. She also captured runner-up finishes in the 600 meters at the 2003 Big Ten indoor meet and in the 400-meter hurdles at the conference's outdoor championships. Marks lists winning the Big Ten crown and setting the school-record time in the 4x400-meter relay as one of her top career moments.The former Gopher found success in the classroom as well, as she was a 2003 Academic All-American and Minnesota's recipient of the Big Ten Medal of Honor. In 2002, she graduated with her bachelor's degree later completed her master's with a perfect 4.0 grade-point average.