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Drake’s Olympians

It’s an event that comes around once every two years; a time when national pride rises and Americans join forces across the country to cheer on their countrymen. It’s the Olympics.

When the 2012 Summer Olympics came to a close just a few weeks ago, the United States had earned 104 medals, and stellar athletes from around the world made history. Two Drake alumni and Drake’s current head track coach can relate to these athletes; they know a little about the honor, challenges, and glory that come with being an Olympian.

Natasha Kaiser-Brown, silver medalist in track and field

After watching Natasha Kaiser-Brown, current men’s and women’s head track coach at Drake, compete in the Drake Relays in the ‘80s, the late Jim Duncan, former Drake professor and long-time Drake Relays announcer, predicted she would be an elite athlete.

From Drake Relays to the Olympics

More than 110 Drake Relays alumni competed in the 2012 Summer Games in London. Take a look at who they are and how they fared.

She recalls Duncan saying, “Trust me, Natasha, I’ve seen them all.”

Duncan’s forecast was right—and she has a silver medal to prove it.

Kaiser-Brown competed in two events during the 1992 Summer Olympics in Barcelona. Although she didn’t make the finals in her individual event, the 400-meter dash, she still had a chance in the 4×400 relay.

“I was the face of the team since I started the race off,” she says. “Looking up at the big screen and seeing myself wearing the U.S. uniform is one of my favorite memories.”

Along with her teammates, Gwen Torrence, Jearl Miles, and Rochelle Stevens, the U.S. 4×400 relay brought home the silver.

“The Olympic crowd is very similar to the Drake Relays crowd—they are both very supportive.” Kaiser-Brown says. “They also have a lot of respect for the U.S. team.”

She returned to Drake in 2000, where her track career had flourished more than a decade before, to coach the University’s men and women’s track teams. Under her leadership, eight athletes made appearances in the 2012 NCAA West Preliminary Rounds.

Being a two-time Olympian and Olympic medalist, Kaiser-Brown brings experience to the track program. She also has made 16 Drake Relays appearances and was inducted to the Drake Relays Athletes Hall of Fame in 1995.

But Kaiser-Brown doesn’t take all the credit for her success.
“Sometimes you just have to do enough right things and hope God finds favor,” she says.


Dani Tyler, gold medalist in softball

Dani Tyler, BN’97, was playing shortstop for the Drake softball team in 1992 when she heard the call to Olympic glory. Someone spotted the Bulldog standout in a game and invited her to try out for the inaugural U.S. Olympic softball team.

“At first I thought making [the team] was a long shot,” Tyler says. “All the other girls played at big schools, and I was the only one from the Midwest.”

Finding out if she made the team was a waiting game—the trials took place in 1993 and the final team was not chosen until 1995. The anticipation paid off and Tyler officially made the team, taking her senior year off to train and play in the 1996 Olympics.

Once she started training with the team, Tyler learned she would have to transition from her usual position to play second and third bases.

“It was challenging to learn the other positions,” Tyler says. “But when someone asks you if you want to try this position to make the Olympic team, of course you’ll say, ‘I can try it.’”

Tyler’s Olympics experience was far from low-profile. The U.S. softball team was favored to win gold, and it was the first year softball would be part of the Olympics; the team paid visits to national television shows, including The Oprah Winfrey Show and Today.

Seven softball teams competed in the Atlanta Games. By the end, the U.S. had played nine games, only losing one to Australia in an upset.

The U.S. team made it to the top of the podium after a win against China in the gold medal game.

“Standing on the medal stand, receiving our gold medal, with the national anthem playing was the best feeling,” Tyler says. “The Olympics is one of the biggest thrills that any softball player could have. Wearing USA on your chest and playing in front of your home country—it was absolutely amazing.”

Tyler recalls the phenomenal support she received from the Drake community during her preparation for and participation in the Olympics. Professors mailed her articles from home and sent letters of encouragement.

“I would have never made the Olympic team if I hadn’t played at Drake,” Tyler says. “The girls I played with were my family, and the program was really strong.”

She returned to Drake after her Olympics experience to finish her final year. At Drake, Tyler was team captain, a 1993–1995 letter winner, all-conference, all-region, and the recipient of the Tim and Jerry Howlett Memorial Award.

Tyler has since turned in her glove for golf clubs and running shoes. She keeps herself busy with golf, training for marathons, and working as a partner at a Chicago accounting firm.


Karlos Kirby, two-time Olympian in bobsledding

In 1992, Karlos Kirby, GR’01, became the first person from Iowa to represent the U.S. in the Winter Olympics, competing in the four-man bobsled event.

Kirby was no stranger to competing in high-level events. As a teenager he competed in the Drake Relays for Valley High School, where he ran on multiple championship relay teams.

“I believe Drake helped me athletically,” Kirby says. “The fact that the Drake Relays is such a large event, it helped me be comfortable competing in front of large groups of people.”

So how did he transition from running to bobsledding, a sport foreign to most Iowans?

“I remember watching bobsledding on television and thinking I really would like to try that. It just looked like a lot of fun,” says Kirby, who was a first-year student at the University of New Mexico when he received his first tryout. “The sport of bobsledding isn’t like anything else in this world. A roller coaster doesn’t have anything on a bobsled ride.”

Going into the 1992 Winter Olympics, the U.S. team was considered an underdog. They placed ninth in the four-man competition. Although the finish was “disappointing,” the team posted the four fastest start times of the Games, and the best start times the U.S. bobsled team has ever had.

“There is nothing like the Olympics,” Kirby says. “It’s unlike any other sporting event; everywhere you turn there are some of the most famous athletes in the world.”

Kirby returned to the Winter Olympics in 1994 to compete in Lillehammer, Norway. This time around his team was considered the favorite to win. However, in the final day of competition, they were disqualified because of a mechanical problem.

After retiring from bobsledding after the Lillehammer Games, Kirby went on to serve on the United States Olympic Committee (USOC) Board of Directors and the Salt Lake City Olympics Organizing Committee Board of Directors. In his positions, he led efforts to add women’s bobsled and the sport of skeleton to the Winter Olympics lineup.

As a Des Moines-area native, Kirby grew up with Drake as a strong influence. Along with his Drake Relays experiences, his mother also attended Drake.

He received his educational specialist degree from Drake in 2001 and has high hopes to return and earn his Doctor of Education.

Click here to see photos of Drake’s welcome home celebration for the 2012 Summer Games Olympians with Iowa ties.