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Ingrid Marcum pushing to be an Olympian

If the Olympics had a triathlon event that included balance beam, clean-and-jerk and sled push, Ingrid Marcum would be a lock to make the U.S. team.

Marcum was an accomplished gymnast and still is an elite athlete in weightlifting and bobsled, a singular combination of athletic excellence yet one that so far has left her short of the Olympic team standard in any of the sports.

“And the Olympic Games is something I have sought after forever,” Marcum said.

She will try again this year, going after the 2010 Winter Olympics in bobsled, with her hopes depending in part on whether the U.S. qualifies three sleds rather than two for Vancouver.

“Ingrid is definitely among our top five pushers, and if she continues to improve like she did last year, anything is possible,” said USA bobsled head coach Sepp Plozza.

The 33-year-old from Elmhurst plans to concentrate most of her energy on sled push training as soon as she takes another shot at winning a championships in weightlifting, which could be determined at the national championships beginning Thursday at the University of Illinois-Chicago.

The four-day weightlifting meet is a three-in-one event, with simultaneous competition for national titles, Pan American titles and Ibero-American titles. Some 300 athletes from 20 countries are entered.

Marcum lifts Saturday in the 165-pound class, where she took second in 2006 and 2007. She had dropped to 152 in an unsuccessful effort to make the 2008 Olympic weightlifting team.

“Any time I also am doing bobsled, I try to stay heavier,” she said.

Marcum, dressed in a pink T-shirt with the tongue-in-cheek message, “Lift like a girl,” laughs when she recalls having been a little club gymnast at Illinois Gymnastics Institute when she entered York High School.

An instructor at a lifting certification course introduced Marcum to Olympic-style weightlifting, which she began in 2000. Two U.S. bobsled coaches encouraged her to try their sport in 2003 after seeing her lift at a strength and conditioning convention.

“In all of them, you need balance, agility, a good strength-to-body weight ratio and flexibility,” said Roger Nielsen of West Dundee, U.S. Olympic weightlifting head coach in 2008 and 1992.

What Marcum lacked most for bobsled was pure speed. She worked on it last summer with Martin Rooney, a former bobsledder who trained Rams defensive end Chris Long for the 2008 NFL combine.

Olympic team selection will depend on push times in September and October competitions and results on the World Cup circuit. There also is an element of subjectivity, based on the coaches’ input.

It is all about being in sync, especially in running and jumping into the sled together, and Marcum has learned that requires as delicate a balance as walking a 4-inch gymnastics beam.