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Dec. 5, 2021

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4-time Olympian Kara Winger presented key to the city of Vancouver

By , Columbian Sports Editor
Published:
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Four-time U.S. Olympian Kara Winger, left, stands with family and friends after being presented with the Key to the City of Vancouver on Monday at City Hall.
Four-time U.S. Olympian Kara Winger, left, stands with family and friends after being presented with the Key to the City of Vancouver on Monday at City Hall. (Micah Rice/The Columbian) Photo Gallery

Kara Winger’s journey from Skyview High School to four-time Olympian didn’t always go as planned.

There were injuries at inopportune times. The former American record holder in the javelin felt she never fully maximized her potential on the sport’s biggest stage.

But all those trials and triumphs led to one moment last summer that few Olympians experience.

When Winger’s teammates voted her to carry the American flag during the Closing Ceremonies of the Tokyo Games, it was the highlight of her career. It was a nod not only to her longevity but that peers saw in her the qualities they want representing the nation.

Winger spoke about that thrill and how random chance led her to the top of her sport on Monday, when Vancouver Mayor Anne McEnerny-Ogle presented her with the key to the city.

Winger is one of three Tokyo Olympians or Paralympians from Clark County, joining gymnast Jordan Chiles and wheelchair racer Yen Hoang.

Chiles was feted with a downtown parade and public ceremony in August. Though Winger couldn’t attend that event because she was competing in Europe, the now-Colorado resident was joined by her family and a few close friends for a small private ceremony at City Hall.

Winger recalled a journey from her childhood to the Olympics that was hardly straightforward.

She and her family moved 11 times before fifth grade, eventually settling in Vancouver. Her path could have been much different had her family not put down roots in one of 20 states to offer javelin in high school track and field. Winger happened to take geometry from then Skyview track and field coach Ron Heidenreich, who convinced her come out for the team to try javelin as a freshman in 2004.

Beyond javelin, Winger said that moving frequently gave her an ability to become friends with others who might not have much in common.

“In track and field, I’m very different than a lot of people I’m normally surrounded by,” Winger said. “Which, foreshadowing, means that being flag bearer at this Tokyo Olympics Closing Ceremony blew my mind.”

Winger has endured two major knee injuries. She tore the ACL in her left knee just a few months before competing in her second Olympics, the 2012 London Games.

Nine years later, Winger tore the same ligament during a competition less than a year before the Tokyo Games.

She placed 17th in that competition, falling short of her goal of making the event finals for the first time.

“I’ve dealt with a lot of personal disappointment at the Olympics,” Winger told The Columbian on Monday. “I was always a little injured or a little young the first time.”

Winger said she could have wallowed in her disappointment or used her energy to encourage others.

“You never know in those situations how other people are perceiving your actions,” Winger said. “To all of the sudden have that realization that the friendships I’ve developed are so reciprocated that they chose me to be flag bearer was an overwhelming thing.”

Winger said COVID made the Tokyo Olympics drastically different than her previous Olympics. No fans were in the stands and athletes were contained to the Olympic Village when not competing.

“Not being able to go anywhere meant that every night people were by the TVs in the village hanging out,” Winger said. “We really got to bond with other athletes from other sports and other countries. There was so much more time to enjoy the experience of the Olympics instead of all the hoopla that usually goes with it. I think I personally really needed that from the Olympic experience.”

Winger plans to compete for one more year. If all goes well, her final competition will be the 2022 World Championships in Eugene, Ore.

But she accepts that nothing will surpass being voted as just the fourth track and field Olympian to be the U.S. flag bearer.

“I’ll never top it in my life, and that’s completely OK with me,” she said. “It was a really cool culmination of everything I’ve ever experienced at the Olympics.”

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