U.S. Olympian Sheila Taormina wins in Taylor

There was a buzz among the competitors in the 2007 Rollie Hopgood Midtown Taylor 5K Run, held Saturday, July 14, in the streets of Taylor and in Heritage Park.

U.S. Olympic gold medalist Sheila Taormina was in the field of 347 registered runners.

Taormina, 38, has been a three-time U.S. Olympian in swimming (1996) and triathlon (2000 and 2004). She earned gold in the 800-meter freestyle relay in 1996.

At age 38, the Livonia native hopes to compete in the modern pentathlon during the 2008 Summer Olympics in Beijing. That’s the event that really encompasses five sports: shooting, fencing, swimming, riding (equestrian) and running.

Taormina is currently ranked fourth in the world in the sport. If she qualifies, Taormina would become the first U.S. Olympian to compete in three sports.

Her training has taken her to such locations as Cairo, Egypt – where she captured the World Cup silver medal in the pentathlon – and Rio de Janeiro, home of the 2007 Pan-Am Games, starting Monday. Other events have taken her all over the world.

So why the stop in Taylor, Michigan?

“Actually, this is in preparation for getting ready go to the Olympic qualifying races that we have coming up in the next two months,” Taormina said. “So, of course, in my sport, nothing is on the line at this race, but it prepares me for the races where something is on the line.”

Taormina, who lives in Colorado, knew she would be in the area visiting family and meeting with longtime coaches, so she asked her traveling coach to check the Internet to find a 5K or 10K run that would keep her active in preparation for the Pan-Am Games and the World Championships.

“He looked online and saw this race,” she said. “It’s a perfect location. I said it sounds like a legit race put on by a great city and a great group. We registered this morning.”

Taormina, who arrived in Taylor with her brother, Mark, finished the three-miles-plus course in 17 minutes, 48.4 seconds. She was the overall fastest female and finished sixth overall.

“Now that I’m doing the 3K in my competition, the 5K seemed a bit long for me,” she said, laughing. “I had a couple guys pass me in the last mile. I’m happy with it. It was a solid effort. And it helps me getting ready for these next races in the pentathlon.”

Overall, it was another fun experience in a memorable career.

“It doesn’t matter if somebody runs a minute faster than somebody else,” Taormina said. “I told my brother I love being at these events because it’s such a positive attitude. People are healthy, they’re smiling. To me, this is the healthy lifestyle right here.”

Taormina also provided inspiration for others in the 5K.

“I think it’s neat because if you have young kids here, what they see is, ‘Oh, somebody from this area went to the Olympics?’” she said. “If they have aspirations, they can see that this community provides what you need to reach whatever level you want to go to. If you’ve got it in your heart, they’ve got the facilities and the coaches in this area.”

Sheila Taormina crosses the finish line of the 2007 Rollie Hopgood Midtown Taylor 5K Run.

Sheila Taormina smiles in Heritage Park. Some great challenges for her lie ahead.