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Olympic champion Jake Varner to be honored at Olympic Homecoming Celebration in Iowa on Saturday

Jake Varner puts his hand on his heart as the U.S. National Anthem is played while he receives the Olympic gold medal at 96 kg in freestyle at the 2012 Olympics in London. John Sachs photo

Lolo Jones and Jake Varner will join gymnast Gabby Douglas, coach Liang Chow, 2008 gold medalist Shawn Johnson and others at an event to honor those with Iowa ties who competed in the London 2012 Games.

DES MOINES, IA – Several of the most talked-about athletes at the London 2012 Olympic Games are returning to Iowa on Saturday for a public celebration honoring them and their fellow Team USA members with ties to the state.

Women’s gymnastics all-around winner Gabby Douglas and hurdler Lolo Jones will join wrestling gold medalist Jake Varner, 2008 gymnastics gold medalist Shawn Johnson and a host of other athletes and dignitaries for an Olympic Homecoming Celebration. Hy-Vee is hosting the event, which will be held Saturday, August 18 at 11 a.m. at the Knapp Center at Drake University. The celebration is free and open to the public.

Gabby Douglas, who has lived and trained in West Des Moines, IA for the past two years, captivated the world and made history on her way to two gold medals in London. Lolo Jones’ quest for Olympic redemption in the 100 meter hurdles fell just short, but the Des Moines native’s passion, candor and determination won her legions of new fans. Jake Varner, a two-time NCAA champion for Iowa State, captured the gold medal in the 96-kg weight class, one of the toughest weight classes of the Games.

These three accomplished athletes will be joined at the homecoming celebration by other members of Team USA who were born in Iowa, attended school in Iowa or currently live in the state: Lisa Koll Uhl, a Fort Dodge native and former ISU standout who competed in the 10,000 meter run; and 19-year-old Miranda Leek of Des Moines, a member of the women’s archery team.

Making special appearances during the program will be Iowa native Shawn Johnson, gold medalist in gymnastics at the 2008 Beijing Games, and Natasha Kaiser-Brown, head men’s and women’s track coach at Drake and a silver medalist at the 1992 Games in Barcelona. Liang Chow of Chow’s Gymnastics in West Des Moines, who coached both Shawn Johnson and Gabby Douglas to Olympic gold, also will take part in the program.

The program will consist of video highlights, interviews with the athletes, music, dancing and a few surprises. State and local dignitaries are expected to attend to help honor the Olympians.

Doors at the Knapp Center open Saturday at 10 a.m. for general admission seating – no tickets are required. Free public parking is available in several lots near the Knapp Center and around the Drake campus as well as on surrounding streets. For more information about the event, visit

Iowa’s Olympic Homecoming Celebration is being sponsored by Hy-Vee, Drake University, WHO-TV, The Des Moines Register, WHO Radio, Coca-Cola, Kellogg’s, Procter & Gamble and Sara Lee.
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