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Thursday January 21st

Relentless Gamble Pursues Elusive Olympic Success

The 5-foot-5 Gamble, an All-American triple jumper at North Carolina from 1996-1999, hardly fits the mold of a typical triple jumper, however.

"I had a lot of competitors overlook me because of (being short)," Gamble said. "Everybody's at least 5-foot-7 or 5-foot-10, and then they see me jump and it takes them out of the competition. They were like, 'Are you serious?'"

Now that Gamble has been selected to the ACC's 50th Anniversary team, people have stopped taking measurements.

Gamble continues to do so, however. She measures herself by her dream.

During her career at UNC, Gamble established herself as one of the finest triple jumpers in ACC history. Her indoor and outdoor conference records in that event still stand. Her triple jump career was capped off with an NCAA title in 1999, her senior year.

The spotlight Gamble wanted most, however, was from the Olympic torch.

The NCAA title was just another stepping stone in pursuit of that ultimate dream. Ever since taking up the triple jump in high school, Gamble wanted to be an Olympian.

"It's just amazing," Gamble said. "Something that you actually dream comes true."

Gamble earned an Olympic berth in 2000 with a personal best of 45-9 3/4.

But in Sydney, Gamble only managed a 43-7 jump in the first qualifying round, eliminating her from further competition and falling short of her own expectations.

"At the Olympic Games, she did what most people would do their first time there," said UNC coach Dennis Craddock. "She got nervous and excited and didn't do what she was capable of doing."

A lifelong dream came to fruition for Gamble. But even that wasn't good enough. Gamble's spirit and desire to achieve her personal best in the Olympics explains why at age 25 she works part-time at Foot Line while coaching at UNC.

The 2004 summer games have become her new dream. She doesn't believe she can medal, but she wants to improve on her 2000 performance.

Gamble is giving this last run everything she has. She stresses that track and field is important, and work ethic and motivation show one side of who Nicole Gamble is. But asked what is most important to her, she didn't hesitate.

"Family," she said. "When my mom had cancer in 2001, I was supposed to go down and spend three days with her. I spent two weeks. I stayed every night, seeing the pain, not knowing if she would make it."

Gamble said she had always felt a special bond with her mother.

"I just wished (her) pain would go away," she said. "My hair used to be long and straight and I got it all cut off. It made her laugh, but it made me cry. I could still see the pain."

It's that kind of emotion that makes Craddock emphasize that Gamble holds a special place at UNC. Even today he often uses Gamble as an example to his team.

"She reminds me of dynamite," Craddock said. "Everything she does is like a stick of dynamite, it's always 110 percent. If you said climb a hill, she'd probably jump up it. That's just the kind of person she is."

The Sports Editor can be reached at sports@unc.edu.

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