Olympics around the world

UND faculty members have rich and varied perspectives when it comes to sport on the global stage.

Jim Whitehead

A study by former grad student Sam Morton may help put to rest the “muscle-bound myth” concerning strength training, observes UND faculty member Jim Whitehead.

All eyes are on the Olympics across the United States ― and the world for that matter.

While many of us are fixated on the exploits of Team USA, there are many people in the University of North Dakota community that have competing interests. Several UND faculty members have roots in countries around the world, and though they may have an interest in how American athletes fair (after all, it is their current home), they can’t help but feel a sense of pride for their homeland.

One such faculty member is James “Jim” Whitehead of the UND Kinesiology Department. Whitehead, a native of Great Britain who has spent nearly half his life in the United States, loves sport and the spirit of competition. While his career teaching and researching focus has been on health and wellness issues, he has also kept a strong interest in what makes athletes tick in mind and body.

He says it’s a special time for him every few years when the Olympics roll around. He closely watches the athletic prowess of Americans, his homeland Brits and other great competitors from around the world. He’s also had the chance to see some of his own students from UND compete in the Games. Students such as Grand Forks natives Monique and Jocelyne Lamoureux of the U.S. women’s ice hockey team.

But what many don’t realize about Whitehead is just how much he appreciates what it takes to compete at such a high level in any sport ― or in his case ― to come up just short of making it to the Olympics.

Before coming to the United States to study and to eventually start a career as a university professor, Whitehead competed for six years on the United Kingdom’s National Track and Field Team as a hammer thrower. His best finish took place at the Commonwealth Games in 1978 at Edmonton, Alta., where took fifth place.

His finishes were not quite enough to make the U.K. Olympic team that would compete in the 1980 Moscow Games ― the one that the U.S. boycotted ― but he still relishes the experiences and the knowledge he acquired of what it takes to aspire to be a world-class competitor.

“It’s a big deal to be an Olympian,” Whitehead says. “It’s a lofty goal but they’re doing it, in many cases, at great personal cost with not much help.”

Whitehead adds that, in his view, the concept of “Olympism” is still a viable and meaningful concept to most of the world. The media, especially in the United States, tends to focus more on chauvinistic themes, but, in many countries, the idea that the Olympics might make the world a better place is still significant.

Whitehead grew up just outside of the bustling city of London in a small village called Walkern. There, in his youth he worked hard on nearby by farms mostly around adults. He developed a strong physique that made him a handful on the athletic field in games such as rugby and with the hammer in track and field. He honed his hammer-throwing technique at local athletic clubs and eventually found himself on the U.K. Track and Field Team.

He eventually would go on to get his teacher’s certificate in physical education and biology from Loughborough University in the U.K., and spent several years as a physical education teacher. Whitehead became a bit disillusioned by the physical education curriculum at the time, and thought that there must be a way to make it more meaningful as a source of health and wellness in the lives of his students.

On a trip to America, he had the opportunity to meet one of the pioneers of modern physical education based upon the science of health and wellness, Chuck Corbin. He first met Corbin on a visit to Penn State University, and would join Corbin again when Whitehead was a student at Arizona State University. Corbin, who has received many honors for his work and leadership, is now a professor emeritus at Arizona State. Whitehead has been a longtime professor of kinesiology and public health education UND, where he has espoused many of Corbin’s innovations in health, wellness and fitness.

While Whitehead’s experiences on the world stage of sport were more personal, other faculty members on the UND campus lived out their Olympic dreams a bit more vicariously, like the rest of us, by admiring the amazing exploits of world-class athletes on television and through the media.

Here are some samples:

Pablo de Leon

Name: Pablo de Leon, associate professor of Space Studies

Hometown: Buenos Aires, Argentina

Argentinian Olympic Team: 215 athletes

What sport have you been focused on in the Rio Summer Games?  Football, or soccer, as it’s known in the United States. While the Olympic Games are not normally associated with soccer, there is a competition in this sport. We (Argentina) just lost to Germany in the World Cup, so the Olympics should give us another chance.


Grant Tomkinson

Name: Grant Tomkinson, associate professor of Kinesiology and Public Health Education

Hometown: Sydney, Australia

Australian Olympic Team: 423 athletes

What sport will you/have you been focused on in the Rio Summer Games? I will dine in on track and field, swimming and basketball, and snack on rowing, soccer and rugby sevens.

Greatest Olympic memory? When Kathy Freeman won the women’s 400-meter sprint at the Sydney Olympics in 2000― it was the race that stopped the nation and the result that lifted the nation!

James Mochoruk

Name: James Mochoruk, professor of History

Hometown: Winnipeg, Canada

Canadian Olympic Team: 314 athletes

What Olympic sports do you focus on?  Not to contribute to a stereotype, but like a lot of Canadians, I focused on the Winter Olympics and especially on hockey ― and then in between hockey games ― I would watch some skiing, speed skating and figure skating. For the Summer Olympics, it was the decathlon, high jump and short-distance races that I always watched.

Memorable Olympic moments? The most positive memory was when Sydney Crosby scored the gold-medal-winning goal for Canada in overtime in 2010 (against the U.S. team, unfortunately).

Prakash Ranganathan

Name: Prakash Ranganathan, assistant professor of Electrical Engineering

Hometown: Chennai, India
Indian Olympic Team: 121 athletes

What games are  you most excited to watch during the Rio Olympics?  Field hockey, archery, badminton and gymnastics.

Greatest Olympic moments for your country?  In 1928, the Indian team won its first Olympic gold medal in field hockey, and until 1956, the Indian men’s team remained unbeaten in the Olympics, winning six gold medals in a row.


Simona Barbu

Name: Simona Barbu, assistant professor and Burgum Endowed Chair of Cello

Hometown: Timisoara, Romania

Romanian Olympic Team: 96 athletes

When you were growing up, were the Olympics something that you would tune into at your home?Definitely. I very much enjoyed watching the Olympics even if I had to stay up all night to watch the live streaming TV.

Olympic memory? My greatest Olympic memory was when the Romanian women gymnastic team won the gold medal.


Dave Yearwood

Name: Dave Yearwood, professor of technology

Home country: St. Vincent and the Grenadines

St. Vincent and the Grenadines Olympic Team: 4 athletes

What Olympic sports do you focus on? Bicycle racing, both track and road; track and field; cricket and soccer.

Greatest Olympic memory? I attended the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta, where I got to see bicycle racing, rowing, track and field events (100 M and 200 M), gymnastics, and synchronized swimming.