From Minnesota Running to the Winter Olympics

From left to right: Jake Brown, Giorgia Birkeland, and Leif Nordgren, Photos courtesy of USA Today Sports


Cross country and track & field are sports that offer great benefits to any high school athlete. Soccer players can improve their endurance by running longer distances, football players can improve their speed through sprints or their strength through throwing, and volleyball players can improve their jumps through the high jump. 

Rankings: Top Boys T&F Returners | Top Girls T&F Returners

There are ample opportunities for athletes in all high school sports to become better at their sport or just become a better athlete through cross country and/or track and field. Running, jumping, throwing, sprinting, in general, is one of the most effective ways to stay in shape and train for each sport. Both sports can offer ways to become a more explosive athlete or can help improve your endurance, or you improve your agility.

In short, all sports can benefit from having their athletes partake in track and field, and cross country. 

See also: Meet Your Minnesota Track and Field Olympians

But did you know that running track and/or cross country can also take you all the way to Beijing for the Winter Olympics? Three winter Olympians competing in Beijing now have track and field and/or cross country experience in Minnesota. 

Those three Olympians are Forest Lake graduate Leif Nordgren (Biathlon), Minnesota native and St. Olat graduate Jake Brown (Biathlon), and Mahtomedi graduate Giorgia Birkeland (Speedskating). All three have varying experience in track and field, and cross country in Minnesota. 

Related: Q&A with Team USA Olympian Mason Ferlic

Let's find out more about each athlete, their Minnesota high school careers, and their current Olympic quest:


Jake Brown at the 2022 Beijing Winter Olympics, Photo Courtesy of Danielle Parhizkaran-USA TODAY Sports


Jake Brown
Minnehaha Academy
St. Olaf College

Brown is a 2010 graduate of Minnehaha Academy and a 2015 graduate of St. Olaf before transferring to Northern Michigan University to compete on their nordic ski team. He competed in four seasons of cross country and track & field at Minnehaha Academy. 

Personal Records High School
1600 Meter Run4:30.79
3200 Meter Run9:35.15
Two Mile Run14:06.50
5000 Meter Run15:56.00

As a member of the cross country team, he was all-state his senior year and was a four-time letter-winner in cross country, track, and nordic skiing. His best finishes in high school was a 3rd place finish at the 2009 state cross country championships and at the 2010 state track championships where he finished third overall in the 3200m and 14th overall in the 1600m.

Brown went on to become a member of the cross country and track team at St. Olaf, where he went on to win the 2013 NCAA National Cross-country Championships and become an All-American that season. After transferring to Northern Michigan University for his master's, he joined the nordic ski team there and went on to finish 6th at the 2016 National Championships in the 30km Free Mass Start. 

This will be Brown's first Olympic Games, but he's been competing in biathlon events since 2016. His Olympic schedule has him competing in the 20km individual, 10km sprint, and the 15km Mass Start. In the 20km, he finished 28th overall with a time of 52:45.40, to finish as the top American in the event. 


Giorgia Birkeland at the U.S. Olympic Trials, Photo courtesy of Patrick McDermott-USA Today Sports

Giorgia Birkeland
Mahtomedi High School

Birkeland is a 2020 graduate of Mahtomedi high school where she competed in the 2017 and 2019 outdoor track and field seasons in Minnesota. She primarily competed in the 800m dash but also dabbled in the 100m, 200m, and 1600m. She holds a personal best time of 2:27.69 in the 800m dash from the 2019 Section 4AA sections meet. She only competed in six meets (according to the MileSplit database), so who knows how good she could've been if she had stuck with track and field, but her speedskating alternative appears to have worked out very well!

Personal Records High School
100 Meter Dash14.95
200 Meter Dash32.14
800 Meter Run2:27.69
1600 Meter Run6:12.61

When she was not competing for the Mahtomedi track and field team, she was competing and practicing with the Midway Speedskating Club in Roseville. This is Birkeland's first Olympic games. She secured a spot on the team after winning a mass start at the Olympic trials and was the last member named to the Team USA Speedskating team. She is the youngest member of the Team USA speedskating team in Beijing. Birkeland now lives in Park City, Utah, and trains at the Olympic Oval. 

Fun fact: Birkeland has competed in national and regional inline speed-skating competitions in the U.S. 


Leif Nordgren at the 2022 Beijing Winter Olympics, Photo Courtesy of Danielle Parhizkaran-USA TODAY Sports


Leif Nordgren
Forest Lake Area High School

Nordgren is a 2007 graduate of Forest Lake Area High School. He competed in the 2005 and 2006 cross country season's in Minnesota. According to our database, he only competed in four races, but they also happened to be the biggest and most storied meets in Minnesota, Roy Griak, Swain Meet, and the Milaca Mega Meet.

Related: Ben Blankenship On His Running Career and the UMN Track News

His best result was at the 2006 Swain Meet where he finished 2nd overall in the boys junior varsity race. His best race came at the 2006 Milaca Mega Meet where he ran his personal best time of 18:08.60 for a 58th place finish. The winner of that boys AAA race that year? Fellow Olympian, Ben Blankenship.

Nordgren has previously competed in the 2014 and 2018 Olympic in three individual events. His best event was being part of the relay team at PyeongChang 2018 that placed sixth. This year thus far, he has competed in the 20km Individual Biathlon in Beijing, he finished 87th overall with a time of 59:29.80. He'll compete in the 4 by 6km mixed relay, the 20km, the 10km sprint, the men's pursuit, the 4 by 7.5km relay, and the 15k mass start.

Fun fact: Nordgren took part in his first skiing race at age four and has been competing in biathlon since 2007.