Following athletes who are ‘one of us’

I’ve had some fun debates this week with some colleagues over what makes an Olympic athlete “one of us”? It’s an important question for those us in the news media who are looking for the elusive local connection (ELC) on a national and international story.

The question started with Lindsey Vonn, who was born here and eventually moved to Vail. She listed Vail as her hometown on the U.S. Olympic Committee list of Olympic athletes.

“She’s still one of us because she was born here,” a producer friend said.

Fair enough. What if someone lives in Minnesota but wasn’t born here? Is she “one of us?”

bsu_hockey.jpg The Bemidji Pioneer has a great profile of Zuzana Tomcikova. She lives in Minnesota because she’s attending Bemidji State, where she’s the women’s hockey goalie. She’s from Slovakia originally, and is playing for the Slovakia hockey team, which isn’t expected to medal.

The great “one of us” question, of course, isn’t limited to sports. Music and Hollywood are the primary vehicles. Bob Dylan is one of us. He was born in Hibbing, but left the state when he was 19 and achieved his fame — and fortune — somewhere else, although — MPR senior producer (and Dylan expert) Jim Bickal reports — he still has a house here. Brian Setzer lives in Minnesota, even shouted “it’s great to be home” when he last appeared in concert here in November. But he’s from California. Not “one of us.”

When people move here, they often ask me “how long does it take to feel like a Minnesotan?” Good question. And when that point is reached, are they a “Minnesotan”? Are they “one of us”?

(Photo: Bemidji State University)