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Sunday, March 03, 2024

For Liene Karsuma the road to Bejing runs through Gainesville.

The freshman from Riga, Latvia, has her eye set on the 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing, China.

While Karsuma is focused on her collegiate career at the moment, she dreams of international competition.

"I want to jump 1.91 [meters] so I can qualify for the Latvian Olympic team," Karsuma said. "Hopefully I will be able to make it to the Olympic Games."

She plans to compete in the Latvian Olympic trials later this summer in hopes of qualifying for the national team.

Karsuma is no stranger to competing internationally, however. She took the gold in the 2007 Latvian Junior Championships. Karsuma also won silver in the 2007 European Junior Championships and the Latvian National Championships.

The women's track program has produced 10 Olympians who have competed for four different countries since 1992.

There have been two Olympic track and field medals won by UF athletes, a bronze medal by Michelle Freeman in 1996 and another bronze medal by Novlene Williams in 2004. Both of them competed for Jamaica.

But before she can turn her attention to Olympic glory, Karsuma must first focus on the task at had.

Karsuma and the rest of the UF track team will make the trip to Auburn, Ala., this weekend for the Southeastern Conference Outdoor Championships.

The UF women will try and bring home the program's fifth SEC-team title, while the men will look to capture their fourth.

The last conference championship for the Gators came in 2003 when the women, led by SEC Coach of the Year Tom Jones, brought home the title.

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The Gators, currently ranked No.3 in the nation, will have their hands full when they arrive on the plains.

Nationally ranked LSU (4), Auburn (8), Tennessee (14), Arkansas (15), Kentucky (17), South Carolina (22) and Georgia (24) will all be in attendance.

The Gators enter the meet with a combined 35 athletes who each rank in the top-10 in the SEC for their respective events.

Karsuma has been what you would call an impact-freshman this season.

UF planned to lean heavily on sophomore Shara Procter and junior Jenna Utech in the high jump this season, but it has been Karsuma who has stolen the show.

So far the rookie has been impressive during her short stay in Gainesville.

She was able to rack up three wins in her first five collegiate meets during the indoor season and has already moved into third all-time on UF's indoor long jump list.

Her jump of 1.80 meters at the Iowa State Classic set a new freshman record in the event.

Karsuma was named Southeastern Conference female freshman of the week on Feb. 5 after setting the mark.

Though she has not been able to secure a first-place finish during the outdoor campaign, Karsuma has continued to be a solid performer for the Gators.

"She has made an immediate impact on the team," Assistant Track Coach Rana Reider said. "The way that her training is going and the way that she is jumping right now, I think that she is going to exceed our expectations."

New coaching, a new environment and the simple adjustment to college life can be trying for most 18 year-old athletes, especially one from halfway around the world. But Karsuma has a slightly different mentality than most of her classmates. Her maturity and experience set her apart from most of the other wide-eyed freshmen who set foot on a college campus for the first time.

"Competing at that level, competing at the European Junior Championships against older athletes, she's just not intimidated by anything," Reider said. "She has big goals internationally. She wants to compete in the World Championships and Olympics."

Standing on the track at James G. Pressley Stadium, Karsuma is thousands of miles away from home.

The shy blue-eyed blonde admits that it has not been easy being so far away from her family, but said that the opportunity to come to UF was too good to pass up.

"Being so far away from my home has been hard, but coming to Florida was a big opportunity for me, for my future," Karsuma said.

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