CLEVE, KOKOT GIVE DEFINITION TO 'STUDENT-ATHLETE', PART 2
Editor's Note: Kansas State's athletic department celebrated the academic side of being a student-athlete last week with the second annual Mark A. Chapman Powercat Choice Awards. Winners of the 2010-11 Scholar Athlete Awards - Nina Kokot of Slovenia and Moritz Cleve of Germany - both came from the Wildcat track and field program, and both happen to be international student-athletes. Sports Extra sat down with the two K-State honorees to learn their view on being a stellar student, and an Olympic caliber athlete. Yesterday, our Q&A focus was on the academic side; today's conversation is on adjusting to life in America and their future in track and field.
By Mark Janssen
When roll calls are announced for the elite of the elite women's long jumpers and male multi-athletes in the nation, the names of Kansas State's Nina Kokot and Moritz Cleve are among the first to be involved in any track and field conversation.
Kokot currently ranks third on the NCAA charts in the long jump at 21-2½, which is bettered only by Nebraska's Mara Griva (21-7¼) and Clemson's April Sinkler (21-6¼). Take a moment to visualize, or even walk off just how far seven yards is that Kokot is sailing.
In gearing his season for this weekend's Big 12 meet, Cleve has only competed in individual events this spring, running a 14.24 110-hurdles, long jumping 21-6¾, throwing the shot put 45-5¼, the discus 121-2 feet and leapt 15-1 in the pole vault.
Cleve, a 6-foot-4 senior, was runner-up in both the indoor and outdoor German Junior Championships in 2006, and since coming to K-State he became the first 8,000-point scorer in Big 12 Conference history, has been a three-time All-American and a two-time league champion in the heptathlon and decathlon.
As a teenager, Kokot participated in the World Youth Championships and the World Junior Championships to go along with being an indoor and outdoor champion at the Slovenia National competition.
Plagued by injuries at K-State, Kokot was second in the Big 12 indoor last year, plus finished 12th at the NCAA Championships.
Coupled with nearly straight "A" work in the classroom where Kokot majors in kinesiology and Cleve in public relations, is why the two earned the honor of being K-State's Scholar-Athletes for 2010-11.
Sports Extra visited with each on the adjustment of being first-timers to the United States upon their arrival four years ago.
SE: Coming to Kansas ... did you know anything about the state?
Kokot: (Laughing) "Only Dorothy!"
Cleve: "I just knew there were not as many people density wise. I also heard it was pretty flat. The city I come from is smaller than Manhattan, but where I went to school for four years was bigger than Wichita, and the surrounding area had six million people."
SE: What was the toughest thing to adjust to in the U.S.?
Kokot: "Oh, the food. In my country, you know that American people crave junk food. Some of it is now coming to Europe. I decided not to live in the dorm because I wanted to cook every day ... chicken, rice, pasta ... normal food. I don't call going to McDonald's normal.
Cleve: "The food here is not the healthiest, but you do have a choice of making it healthy, which is what you have to do as an athlete. I may have a burger and fries if I'm going to be late for a class, but I like to choose better food. I cook a lot on my own."
SE: Have you enjoyed your four years in the U.S.?
Cleve: "Yes. I like how easy going the people are. Especially where I live back home, people are very intense. Time is money, basically. Here people are open and friendly. Plus, K-State's track team is very International, so it's been a lot of fun to meet people from all over the world, along with all over the United States."
Kokot: "I've had ups and down here. The downs were mainly the injuries, but going through bad things make you stronger. I've enjoyed it here, but the biggest difference is that people in Slovenia are much closer tied than here. Americans are more individuals. Back home families are together all the time. The country is small. If you're born in a place, you'll likely be there for life. Families don't move around job to job. We just have much stronger bonds with friends because we don't move around."
SE: You are both seniors. Athletically, what's in your future with 2012 being an Olympic year?
Kokot: "I would have another year to compete here, but I am going back home and train for the Olympic year. Right now I am No. 1 in my country (21-2½). When I came here my Olympic dream was for 2008, but unfortunately injuries got in the way.
I am looking forward to going home and putting all my energy into track. I'm a perfectionist and I want to do 100 percent in school, too, so that took a lot of energy away from track. I want to go home and put 100 percent into track and see how well I can do."
Cleve: "In Germany, I would currently be in the top six or seven, but that's without competing this year. Big 12 will be my first decathlon this year. Honestly, if I develop without any big injuries, I think my chance would be quite good (to make the German Olympic team).
Cliff (Rovelto) has taken me from being a mediocre decathlete who nobody knew, to a guy that is in the conversation when it comes to NCAA Championships or Big 12 Championships. He's shown me the way, but now it's up to me to make the right choices.
I'll return for one more year to train for the Olympics with Cliff, but will only compete unattached. My eligibility is over."
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