Team USA is stacked with athletes from across Minnesota, and three of those donning red, white and blue at the 2020 Summer Olympics in Tokyo are District 196 alumni. Gable Steveson (’18, AVHS), Mallory Weggemann (’07, EHS) and Payton Otterdahl (’14, RHS) are among the athletes vying for medals in wrestling, swimming and shot put, respectively, in the upcoming Olympic and Paralympic games.
This will be the first-ever Olympic appearance for both Otterdahl and Steveson, and Weggemann’s third trip to the Paralympics. The Summer Olympics take place July 23-August 8, and the Summer Paralympics take place August 24-September 5.
“It is an incredible feat to represent the United States at the Olympics, and even more amazing that we have three outstanding athletes with ties to District 196,” said Superintendent Mary Kreger. “Their success is a testament to our ‘Triple A’ philosophy and mission of providing opportunities for the pursuit of excellence. We are thrilled for our graduates and look forward to cheering them on.”
Steveson aims to pin down gold
A standout wrestler during his time at Apple Valley High School, Steveson has been honing his athletic prowess at the University of Minnesota-Twin Cities. In his time as a Gopher, he has become a household name in the world of wrestling, even securing a signature high-flying backflip following his matches.
Among his many accolades are Big Ten heavyweight champion, NCAA heavyweight champion, Pan American Games champion, and an incredible 67-2 record. All of these steps were critical to getting him onto Team USA, which he qualified for in April after sweeping the competition at the wrestling team trials.
“After making the Olympic teams, my emotions were all over the place,” Steveson, 21, said. “This is really a childhood dream come true to represent America on the biggest stage.”
Despite the postponement of the summer games because of the COVID-19 pandemic, Steveson said training continued to be his focus.
“I stayed very motivated through that time because I wanted to win when we got back into the swing of things.”
His ultimate goal, he said, is a gold medal. Ranked No. 1 for Team USA wrestling, Steveson will participate in the 125 kg freestyle wrestling.
Third time’s a charm for Weggemann
If there were ever an example of grit, determination and breaking down barriers, it is that of Eagan High School’s Weggemann. A decorated swimmer during her time as a Wildcat, she grew up loving the thrill of competition. At age 18, she was looking forward to a future full of possibilities.
Shortly after graduating, Weggemann, while receiving an epidural steroid shot for severe back pain, was paralyzed from the waist down. Despite the devastating situation, Weggemann tapped into incredible grit and determination to not only adjust but thrive in her new reality. She would go on to swim in her first Paralymic games in 2012, where she won a gold and bronze medal, adding to her already 34 American records and 15 World records.
A fall in 2014 in a hotel bathroom shattered her arm and damaged nerves from her elbow down. Yet, determined to continue fighting for her goal of another Olympic appearance, Weggemann pushed through the pain and became a member of Team USA during the 2016 Paralympic games in Rio de Janeiro.
Now, the 32-year-old once again has her eyes on gold in Tokyo after winning four of her six events during trials in June. She took first in the 50-meter freestyle, 50-meter fly, 100-meter backstroke and the 200-meter individual medley. Currently, Weggemann is deep into her training for her appearance in Tokyo later this month.
Otterdahl pushes through pandemic to reach Olympic dream
Just a few years ago, Rosemount High School’s Otterdahl graduated as the Class 2A state champion in shot put and discus, and had his sights set on collegiate titles. During his time at North Dakota State University (NDSU), he consistently upped his game, earning top spots in the NCAA rankings, shattered school records, and became NDSU’s first individual Division I national champion in any sport.
Now, at age 25, he’s focused on keeping that momentum going into the Tokyo Olympics. Otterdahl threw his personal best of 71 feet, 11 inches at the track and field team trials in June, punching his ticket to the summer games.
“All the hard work and dedication had finally paid off, and I couldn’t believe it,” he said. “I shared the moment with my family right afterward, and I was so glad they could be there to share it.”
Much of the hard work was put in during the last year when the COVID-19 pandemic forced the closure of his gym at NDSU. Putting it lightly, he said training was a challenge. His garage became his new training space throughout the winter and summer, and a local middle school provided him a space to throw when the snow melted.
“I didn't have any training partners most days, so I had to be very internally motivated,” he explained. “I am lucky my coach could be there most days. And once in a while I would have some teammates come throw with me.”
Self-discipline propelled him to reach this milestone in his athletic career, and said it will also be foundation for his Olympic run. He hopes to be in a medal position when he throws shot put.