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Blankenship joins Mead on U.S. Olympic team

July 14, 2016

Ben Blankenship running in a race

Two University of Minnesota track and field alums are heading to the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro as former All-American Ben Blankenship punched his ticket on Sunday to join fellow All-American great Hassan Mead on the U.S. Olympic Team. 

A native of Stillwater, Minn., Blankenship took third in the 1,500-meter final in Eugene, Ore., clocking a 3:36.18. The Gophers alum edged 2012 Olympic silver medalist Leonel Manzano by less than half a second for the final qualifying spot. 

"That's the kind of determination you know you're going to get from Ben Blankenship," Minnesota Director of Men's Track & Field and Cross Country Steve Plasencia, himself a two-time Olympian, said. "He ran the race he wanted to, and he certainly fought hard to earn a spot on the Olympic team." 

A four-time All-American and three-time All-Big Ten honoree for the Gophers, Blankenship won three individual conference crowns while helping the program to five total Big Ten titles. He still holds the school record for the indoor mile (3:57.87), the indoor 3,000 meters (7:52.52) and the outdoor 1,500 meters (3:39.77). Blankenship anchored the U.S. distance medley relay squad to a new world record (9:15.50) at the 2015 IAAF/BTC World Relays and set a new course record (3:55.8) to win the 2016 Medtronic TC One Mile earlier this year.

Mead, meanwhile, took second in the 5,000 meters on July 9 with a time of 13:35.70. Both Blankenship and Mead will make their Olympic debut next month in Brazil.

"To have Hassan and Ben both qualify for the Olympics is really something special. It's a testament to both of them as well as their current coaches and support systems," Plasencia said. "They were great competitors when they were with us, and they just keep getting better and better."

Facilities

From certifiable classic to state-of-the-art, the U of M is bursting with iconic sports facilities. We have the venerable Williams Arena (aka “The Barn”)—with its unique raised floor—which has seen a century’s worth of hardcourt history. There’s the world-class University Aquatic Center, which has hosted numerous championship events. And our puck fans light up when they walk into Mariucci and Ridder Arenas, the envy of hockey fans everywhere. Discover more about our athletics facilities.

Good Times at ‘The Bank’

On the east edge of campus, TCF Bank Stadium is one of the newest stadiums in the country. It boasts the largest home locker room in college or professional football (you could run a 60-yard dash inside it) and one of the largest video boards. It’s home to the University of Minnesota Marching Band, and hosts big-name concerts and freshman convocation.

Traditions

The University of Minnesota sporting scene is rich in traditions, from Homecoming (which celebrated its 100th anniversary in 2014) to homespun chants that get the crowd going.

A Tradition of Excellence

From our seven national championships in football to our 11 combined national titles in women’s and men’s hockey, the University of Minnesota is known for its athletics excellence.

Here’s a snapshot of that greatness. Last year alone, the U of M won four team conference championships along with one national championship in women's hockey. The Gophers also had three individual NCAA national champions—Yu Zhou in 3-meter diving, Kierra Smith in 200 breaststroke, and Luca Wieland in heptathlon.

Our student-athletes also excelled in the classroom. For the second year in a row, the U of M ranked first among public institutions in its Academic Progress Report (APR). Fifteen Gopher programs posted perfect APR scores in 2013-14, and Gopher student-athletes had a cumulative GPA of 3.27.

Colorful Stories

Why are the Gopher colors maroon and gold, you ask? Thank Mrs. Augusta Smith for that. She was an English instructor (with good design sense) who chose those colors for graduation garb in 1880, “which made a favorable impression on the students and faculty,” so the story goes. “Ski-U-Mah” began 130 years ago as a rugby chant, playing off a Sioux battle cry. And legendary radio announcer Halsey Hall coined the nickname “Golden Gophers” in reference to the all-gold attire of the football team in the 1930s. Those years were golden, indeed, as the Gophers won five national championships in football between 1934 and 1941.

Cheerleading was Born Here

One of the most visible traditions in all of sports originated at the University of Minnesota. In the fall of 1898, the football team had lost three straight games and an editorial in the school paper said, “Any plan that would stir up enthusiasm for athletics would be helpful.” Student Johnny Campbell offered to lead organized cheers at the next home game against Northwestern, which Minnesota won 17-6. Much of the credit went to Campbell and his “yell leaders.” At that otherwise ordinary game, the tradition of cheerleading was born.

Learn about the “Pride of Minnesota”—the University of Minnesota Marching Band—and check out the U of M school songs.

Goldy Gopher

When it comes to excellence—and toothy grins—nobody beats Goldy Gopher, the beloved U of M mascot. Goldy is both athletic (how many other rodents can stickhandle a puck on ice or crank out 56 pushups after an eighth touchdown?) and entertaining, evidenced by two national mascot champion titles this decade.

You want entertainment? Goldy’s antics will make your head spin … or is it the other way around?

A Snapshot of Gopher Greats

  • Bud Grant with football
    Bud Grant
    Harry “Bud” Grant was one of the most beloved coaches in the state of Minnesota, guiding the Minnesota Vikings to perennial success and to four Super Bowl appearances. Before that he was the ultimate multi-sport athlete for the Gophers, playing football, basketball, and baseball and earning nine letters. He played professionally in the NBA, NFL, and CFL before becoming a coach.

Big Time in the Big Ten

When you talk about big-time power conferences, the Big Ten tops the list. It’s the oldest Division I college athletic conference in the nation, with a lineage of legendary sports powers—Minnesota, Michigan, Ohio State, and Wisconsin, to name a few—and more than a century of athletic and academic excellence.

How big is it? The Big Ten launched the first conference-owned television network in 2007, and the Big Ten Network now has more than 50 million subscribers. And the conference is growing. Penn State became the 11th school in 1990, Nebraska the 12th in 2011, and this year the conference welcomes Maryland and Rutgers.

Welcome to the Big Ten, sports fans. It doesn’t get any bigger.

Recreation and Wellness

It’s not just about the sports that others play at the University of Minnesota. You can stay fit, healthy, and happy, too. Students have access to stunning Recreation and Wellness Centers. Here you can take group fitness classes, join in intramural sports, go climbing, swimming, or spinning, and find just the right exercise—indoors or out—to fit your needs.