Olympic Spotlight: Track and Field's DeDee Nathan and Kara Patterson
July 25, 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 DeDee Nathan of Indiana and Purdue’s Kara Patterson.
DEDEE NATHAN, JAVELIN/HEPTATHLON, INDIANA, 1986-90
Indiana track star DeDee Nathan became the first Hoosier female athlete to represent the U.S. in the Olympics when she qualified for the Sydney Games in 2000. Earning the Olympic bid was a long time coming for the heptathlete as she just missed out on an invitation by placing fourth at both the 1992 and 1996 U.S. Olympic Trials.
Nathan had momentum on her side entering the 2000 Trials as she won the pentathlon at the 1999 World Indoor Championships and set a new personal best of 6,577 points in the heptathlon during the outdoor season. She was ranked No. 1 in the country and No. 3 in the world entering the 2000 season. At the 2000 Olympic Trials, her third attempt of achieving her ultimate dream, Nathan needed only 6,243 points to defeat Shelia Burrell by four points to stamp her ticket to Sydney.
The Hoosier standout finished a disappointing ninth at the 2000 Games with a score of 6,150, however at the age of 32 and with a nagging Achilles, she knew just being there was as good as any medal-winning performance.
Nathan’s career was certainly not defined by just qualifying for the 2000 Games. She was a winner at the 1991 Pan-American Games in the heptathlon and finished second at the 1993 and 1995 USA Outdoor Championships. Following the 1992 Olympic Trials, Nathan took home the bronze at the 1995 Pan-Am Games and recorded a new personal record of 6,283 points with a fourth-place finish at the USA Outdoor Championships. She would "PR" again in the 1996 Olympic Trials with a total of 6,327, but missed out on an opportunity to compete in Atlanta with a fourth-place finish.
After a false start in the 400-meter hurdles at the NCAA Championships put an end to her freshman campaign at Indiana, Nathan returned in 1988 to win the Big Ten titles in both the indoor and outdoor long jump competitions. She placed fourth in the event at NCAA Indoors to earn All-America honors as well. She followed with an All-American junior season, highlighted by another fourth-place result in the NCAA long jump and a sixth-place finish in the 400-meter hurdles after claiming the conference championship. As a senior in 1990, Nathan claimed the Big Ten Indoor Pentathlon Championship with a score of 4,157. She responded in the outdoor season with a successful defense of her 400-meter hurdles title and another long jump victory. At the NCAA meet, Nathan was seventh in the long jump and broke the 1984 school record in the heptathlon with a total of 5,855, which was good for second place overall. The seven-time Big Ten champion was inducted into the school's Hall of Fame in 2007.
KARA PATTERSON, JAVELIN, PURDUE, 2005-Present
Similar to DeDee Nathan’s historic feat, Purdue’s Kara Patterson earned her first Olympic bid in June with a win in the javelin at the U.S. Olympic Trials. In doing so, Patterson became the first female track and field athlete to represent Purdue at the Olympics.
The 22-year-old posted an Olympic Trials record toss of 58.44 meters (191’-1”) in her third attempt to win the event over defending national champion Dana Pounds and American record holder Kim Kreiner. Patterson was one of just two women to top the automatic standard at the Olympic Trials.
Throughout the qualifying process, Patterson appeared to be heading toward an Olympic bid. Her first toss of 55.56 meters was tops among all competitors in the opening round. She reached 54.72 meters in her second throw and then eclipsed the 58-meter mark in her final three throws. Patterson was the lone competitor to break the 58-meter distance.
The 2008 Olympic Trials was not the first national competition for Patterson. She qualified 19th at the 2004 Trials with a throw of 42.60 meters and also placed fourth at the USA Juniors event with a heave of 43.45 meters. In 2005, she responded with a silver-medal performance (50.08m) at the USA Juniors and a second-place finish (50.26m) at the Pan Am Juniors as well.
As a freshman at Purdue, Patterson won her first conference title and bested top-ranked Brenda Grace-Hunt of Louisiana Tech for the 2005 NCAA Mideast Regional crown. She returned to successfully defend her NCAA Regional crown in 2006 and later placed 26th overall at the NCAA Outdoor Championships. Patterson redshirted the 2007 campaign and then used the 2008 season to make her run at the Olympics.
This past season, Patterson earned her second career Big Ten title in the javelin in record fashion. Her throw of 61.56 meters shattered the Big Ten Championships and the school record, and was also the second longest throw in NCAA history. Her toss also placed her second on the all-time U.S. list behind Kreiner. Patterson completed her junior season finishing fifth at the NCAA Outdoor Championships with a throw of 53.93 meters.