COLUMBIA - At the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta, Derrick Peterson's Olympic career began, while Natasha Kaiser-Brown participated in her second and final Olympic games.
Peterson was a volunteer, and he ran hurdles from one side of the stadium to the other. Kaiser-Brown was an alternate for the 4x400-meter relay team, an event she won a silver medal in at the 1992 games in Barcelona.
The 2008 Beijing Olympics begin today, and Missouri track alumni Kaiser-Brown and Peterson understand what the athletes are going through as they prepare for elite international competition.
In 2004 Peterson, who was 30, qualified for the U.S. Olympic team in the 800-meter run, four years after he graduated from Missouri. He placed fourth in his heat, but making the team was a life-long goal he had set for himself - one he didn't accomplish for the 2000 Olympics.
"Relieved is the first word that comes to mind," Peterson said about making the 2004 Olympics. "It's been such a long journey. I was so close to making the 2000 team."
After volunteering in 1996 and participating in 2004, he became the treasurer of the Missouri/Illinois Olympic chapter last year.
"It's more the spirit of the Olympics that makes it so special," Peterson said about competing in the Olympics. "To the athlete, it's just another track meet."
Being part of the Olympics was not always Kaiser-Brown's goal, but once she got the taste for the Olympics in 1992, she needed more.
"When I made the team in the trials, it wasn't enough. I wanted to be in the Olympics," Kaiser-Brown, a 1989 MU graduate, said.
Both athletes said establishing a daily routine was difficult as they prepared for their events.
Peterson said he had to go through three security checkpoints every time he wanted to return to his hotel room. A security guard followed him whenever he left the island of Crete, where he stayed during the Olympics in Greece. "It's like trying to get into the White House."
Eating and practice routines that had helped Kaiser-Brown reach the Olympics changed when she competed in Barcelona. Trying to maintain normalcy was not easy when she had to attend press conferences, live in a hotel, and be away from family and friends. Competing at the Olympics and having that lifestyle wasn't something she foresaw.
Kaiser-Brown said, "I never set out to be an Olympian or a medalist."
Now that she coaches track and field for Drake University, she finds relief in being the one who creates creating her own schedule. She no longer has to deal with the pressure of representing her nation in a foreign country. "It's fun, it's exciting, but at the same time you are representing the United States," Kaiser-Brown said. "That's carrying a lot of stress."
Peterson said it was an honor to wear the red, white and blue uniform but he also was representing the Missouri track team.
"I think in my heart I'm always wearing black and gold," Peterson said.