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Link: UK greats Hansen, McGovern honored in SEC's '40/40'

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This week, the SEC Digital Network has been celebrating the 40th anniversary of Title IX with "40/40," a celebration of women's athletics in the Southeastern Conference designed to bring awareness to Title IX.

Already, a pair of former University of Kentucky greats have been profiled. First was gymnast Jenny Hansen, the NCAA's first-even three-time All-Around national champion. The piece by Tim Letcher tells of Hansen's journey from her home in Wisconsin to champion to her ongoing comeback. Here's an excerpt about her surprise NCAA title as a freshman:

Despite the fact that she was recruited by powerhouse programs like Alabama, Florida and LSU, Hansen was not expected to be a major factor as a freshman. However, she quickly established herself as one of the top gymnasts in the country, competing in the always-tough SEC.

"I did really well my first year, it was really fun," Hansen says. "It was like a progression. I was learning new skills, I had new friends. I was continually having fun, therefore I continually won."

In fact, Hansen made it all the way to the NCAA meet in Corvallis, Ore. as a freshman. Once she got there, she faced some stiff competition.

"It was so unreal to me, because of the people I was competing against," Hansen says. "There was Dee Dee Foster (from Alabama, the 1990 NCAA All-Around champion), Hope Spivey (1991 NCAA All-Around champion from Georgia), Dana Dobrasky (another Alabama All-American), all of these girls were so big in college gymnastics at the time, and I was competing against them."

Not only did Hansen compete against them, she beat them all, claiming the 1993 NCAA All-Around championship as a freshman.
McGovern starred as a runner at UK a few years before Hansen arrived, and her journey to Lexington was quite unique. A native of Ireland, she transferred to Kentucky after the women's cross country program at Austin Peay was disbanded. Mark Maloney has the story:

McGovern had a few partial scholarship offers to transfer, but an Austin Peay teammate suggested she check out Kentucky. The Wildcats had a very good and young group of female distance runners.

She spoke with UK assistant coach Gene Weis, but didn't get a scholarship offer until she was home in Ireland.

For a second time, in 1988, she committed to a college that she had never visited: Kentucky.

McGovern -- now Dr. Valerie McGovern Young and living in Novato, Calif., a bit north of San Francisco -- would go on to become one of UK's and the Southeastern Conference's distance-running legends.

Right off the bat, she helped the Wildcats win the 1988 NCAA Cross Country Championships.

She would win three NCAA individual titles at 5,000 meters, earning All-America honors eight times in cross country and track. She won eight SEC titles and still holds five school records.

For recently retired UK head coach Don Weber, McGovern remains one of his all-time favorites.

When her head coach at UK, Don Weber, retired earlier this month, he couldn't help but mention two of the stars on the 1988 national championship team.

"You've got people like Lisa Breiding and Valerie McGovern, who were the sweetest, nicest people you'd ever run across," he said. "I remember, it kind of bothered me in athletics, and I don't see it as much anymore, but all the chest-thumping, macho stuff. Being a great competitor is much more about brain power than it is brawn.

"And seeing some of the sweetest, nicest young women being the most competitive, daring -- it was inspiring to watch. ... That's the best thing about coaching."

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