Daria Bijak, Gymnastics, Germany
Daria Bijak already has known the disappointment of missing out on the Olympics - twice.
Finally, she hopes to actually compete.
The 22-year-old junior at the University of Utah earned the right to compete at the Beijing Games for her native Germany after finishing fourth in that country's national championships in June. Presuming she stays healthy - hardly a sure bet, for her - the achievement will fulfill a nearly lifelong goal.
Having discovered her talent for the sport in kindergarten, Bijak might have qualified for the 2000 Sydney Games, but she was too young to compete. Then, the Germans did not qualify for the 2004 Athens Games, leaving Bijak to abandon her Olympic dream.
Only as the Beijing Games drew closer following her eighth-place finish at the 2005 World Championships did she think she had one last shot, though few gymnasts reach the Olympics after entering college.
Bijak had the additional challenge of a long injury history - her mother once pressured her to quit the sport - having endured knee and ankle problems in two seasons with the Utes.
Nonetheless, she's expecting to compete in the all-around in China, as only the fourth Utah gymnast to compete in an Olympics.
Web site: None
Competition dates: Aug. 9-19
Born Nov. 12, 1985, the only daughter of Christel and Christoph Bijak in Ratibor, Poland. Family emigrates to Germany, moving 20 times in 12 years before settling in Cologne.
Early talent: In 1991, enrolls in gymnastics class after kindergarten teacher tells her parents she has a talent for it. Enjoys it so much that it becomes a habit, and doesn't seriously pursue other sports.
Breakthrough: Enjoys big breakthrough in 1998 by winning all-around and three events at the Junior German Championships.
Injuries: Qualifies in 2000 to represent Germany at the Sydney Games, but suffers first in a long series of injuries that keeps her from competing. Ultimately endures six surgeries to repair a variety of injuries to her feet, ankles, knees and elbows.
Utah interest: In 2003, finishes 20th in the all-around at world championships, after attracting the attention of legendary Utah coach Greg Marsden while preparing for the meet at a training camp at the University of Utah.
Marsden later offers her scholarship.
More Olympic disappointment: Temporarily shelves Olympic dreams in 2004 when Germany fails to qualify for Athens Games.
German titles: In 2005, wins first of two all-around titles at German national championships, finishes eighth at world championships.
Ready for college: Graduates in 2006 from Georg Buechner High School in Cologne.
All-American: Earns All-America honors as a freshman at Utah in 2007 by finishing eighth on uneven bars at the NCAA Championships despite mid-season knee surgery. Later finishes 15th in all-around as a sophomore to help Utes finish second in team competition.
Olympic dream revived: Finishes fourth this year in the all-around at the German national championships to become fourth Utah gymnast to qualify for the Olympics, following Great Britain's Cheryl Weatherstone in 1984, the USA's Missy Marlowe in 1988 and Canada's Gael Mackie (her current college teammate) in 2004.
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