8B.-- The Michigan Daily - SPORTSMonday - Monday, March 18, 1996
Wolverine heptatbiete Longe leads quietly on and off the track.
By Jeremy Horelick
Daily Sports Writer
ania Longe is the athlete you
hate to face.
Her svelte 6-foot-1, 181-pound
frame easily betrays her deliberate at-
tempts to remain inconspicuous.
So does her performance on the track.
When that single shot punctures the
eerie, pre-race si-
lence, she explodes
off the block,
emerging from the
cluster of competi-
meters and 7.93
seconds later, she
has capturedyet an-
other title, another
distinction to stash _
away in a cluttered
collection of tro- Longe
phies and medals.
"I don't look at myself as a great
athlete," Longe says. "I feel I should do
But how much better can she do?
After her first two seasons at Michigan,
the native Norwegian's resume features
top 10 finishes in five Big Ten Champi-
onship events, including last year's first-
place crown in the long jump with a
leap of 6.18 meters. Throw in a 5,396-
point performance in the heptathlon,
and her humility seems questionable.
And those are just last season's sta-
Two weeks ago in Madison at this
year's conference championships,
Longe set personal bests in both the
long jump and triple jump. Still, she
returned to Ann Arbor without an indi-
vidual title. What's more, the team fin-
ished a distant third behind Illinois and
Her reaction: "I guess I'm still a bit
upset about it... now I'm looking ahead
So how can an athlete, whose warm,
disarming smile comes as naturally as
track and field itself, affect such hard-
ened pragmatism? Why does a 21-year-
old athlete, who has committed a de-
cade of work to her sport, seem so
dismissive about her accomplishments?
What happened along the way?
"I guess I'm just different," Longe
says. "Whatever happens, happens."
After a long, pensive pause, she adds
slowly, "After I lost my mom and dad I
had to get away."
Longe, understandably, remains re-
served about the topic of her parents.
Then, somewhat cautiously, she pro-
ceeds to open up a bit.
Her teammates talk of her ironclad
emotions. Her coach, James Henry, has
but once - on the track - seen a smile
erupt across her face.
Now, the mild-mannered superstar, a
repository of private thoughts and feel-
ings, gradually begins to acknowledge
both her emotional commitment to the
sport she loves, and the tumultuous
childhood responsible for her unrelent-
ing drive toward perfection.
Longe discusses her adolescent years
How her father was once a world-
class decathlete himself. How her
mother figured Longe may have been
the recipient of her father's genetic gift.
So, at age 11, her mother enrolled her
and her sister Erika in a junior Norwe-
gian track club.
As it turns out, her mother's hunch
has evolved into a prophecy fulfilled.
But the year that Longe received her
first taste of track and field was the
same year she lost her mother.
The following year, she lost her fa-
I don't look at myself as a great
athlete. I feel I should do much better.
- Tania Longe
Michigan women's track and field heptathlete
"I didn't really understand it then,"
Longe says. "Before they died, I was
very active. (Since then) I've shut my-
self in. I changed. I lost a lot of confi-
Without the guidance of her parents,
Longe feared she was developing the
"I let people control me," she says.
"But I never let anyone see it. I just
looked like a very determined, strong
girl, but inside I was trembling."
Suddenly, her game-time "business-
only" personality appears all the less
mysterious, and her ever-raging battle
with perfection all the more explicable.
While her on-track gains can never
negate her off-track losses, that unadul-
terated feeling of victory clearly holds
special importance for the young Wol-
Something happened between now
and those early days when the sport
offered the kind of thrill that has re-
turned Longe time and again to the
"Track didn't give me pleasure the
year before I came here," she says. "I
thought it would be good to get new
When her uncle agreed that it was
time for the then-20-year-old to get
away, a number of opportunities arose.
He checked to see if Longe's times and
distances could qualify her for a schol-
arship in the United States.
Although her athletic performance
would have easily earned her a free
education, qualifying academically pre-
sented a whole different challenge.
As a Norwegian with English as a
second language, the SATs proved prob-
lematic. For a while, the prospect of
competing overseas looked remote. But
it was on a visit to Canada two years ago
that Longe scouted out Ann Arbor, its
life-style and track program.
"While I was there I liked the coach
a lot," Longe says. "He reminded me of
my dad. The athletes seemed funny and
nice, (but) I didn't know what to ex-
In light of this, her adjustment into
the collegiate ranks here in the states
has been remarkably smooth. While
there are numerous cultural quirks and
behaviors, especially within college life,
that would puzzle any foreigner, Longe
has caught on quickly. One major goal
off the track, she jokes, is "just being
cool like that."
But all joking aside, "being cool" is
enough to baffle any emigre who finds
himself or herself in the athletic spot-
light. And clearly, Longe struggles to
understand entirely the hype generated
by one slice of society that lionizes its
athletes and envisions them as some
sort of cultural novelty.
"Here, being a student-athlete is so
different than it is back home," she
says. "It's so special (here)."
Not that Longe objects to the atten-
While track and field superstars of-
ten fail to command the same attention
of say, football players, if you win
enough events, exposure will invari-
ably follow. Especially for Longe.
"I'm Norwegian, black, I'm tall, and
I'm a student athlete," she says.
Tall is right.
It is only after numerous years that
Longe has been able to accept her size
as an asset.
"I guess before it bothered me," she
says. "I was always one of the biggest.
Back home, guys would compare their
biceps. I started working out."
The results: "They don't mess with
me. (My size) earns me respect."
Spoken like a true American student-
athlete. Only, with a soft, Scandinavian
So what about the less-glorious half
Though she is smiling here, Tania Longe is all business on the track for the
Michigan women's track and field team.
ANTI- INFLAMMATORY MEDICATION RESEARCH STUD
If you are a healthy,18-50 year old male, and your weight is between 110
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You must not have a history of:
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of that student-athlete designation?
"I don't consider myself a serious
student," she says. "I still haven't de-
cided what I want to become. Now, I'm
going towards Physical Therapy."
With a gentle, inviting voice, Longe
has gracefully overcome the language
barrier to convey her thoughts deliber-
ately and articulately.
Maybe she isn't a "serious" student,
but her quiet affability reveals a certain
sophistication and class, both on and
off the track. She is worldly, having
traveled from Europe and the African
east coast, to the Baltics and the island
of Bermuda where she was born and
raised for several years before heading
On her itinerary for the near future:
the 2000 Olympic Games.
"James (Henry) thinks I have a good
chance of being there," she says. "I
haven't thought about the details, but
I'm doing what Pm supposed to do."
Yes, she is.
With her indoor pentathlon score of
just over 4,100, Longe knows that on an
outdoor track that score will approa
the 6,000 mark. That point total m
mean her ticket to Sydney four years
For a self-proclaimed "realist," Longe
certainly allows herself to dream.
Maybe that proves something. Maybe
"I'm starting to open up more," she
admits. "I'm reaching out more. I'm
letting myself be weak."
Tan ia Longe is the athlete you hate to
She continues to run no matter how
many hurdles stand before her.
Payment for completing this study is $2,422.00.
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