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Laura Seitz, Deseret News
Logan Tom makes her way through the halls of Highland High after the school honored her by retiring her jersey on Dec. 21, 2000. Tom and teammates captured Utah state titles in 1997 and 1998.

BEIJING — Logan Tom will stand on a podium in China to accept an Olympic medal this Saturday, most likely unaware how much her success means to her hometown of Salt Lake City.

"I've got the Olympic sleep deprivation thing going on like everyone," said Westminster women's volleyball coach Kim Norman, who was Tom's high school and club coach at Highland High when Tom led the Rams to state titles in 1997 and 1998.

"I've got a tournament this weekend. We're playing the No. 2-ranked team in the country at 10 a.m., but I told my players, 'Make it quick. I've got to get out of here and get in front of a big-screen TV.' It's awesome. She does a lot for the sport of volleyball."

It took three trips to the Olympics, but Tom will finally earn an Olympic medal when the U.S. team faces Brazil in Saturday's championship match. And it's not just those who watched Tom play for the Rams who will be cheering her on Saturday.

"We've been back to school this week in staff meetings, and every day we have been doing the Logan Tom updates," said Highland High principal Paul Shulte, who was not at the school when Tom was a student.

Still, he said, the Rams are so proud of their alumna that if the game were on a weekday, Shulte said he'd set up a big screen and let the students make a party out of it.

Tom's journey to that podium was long and sometimes discouraging. The Stanford alumna became a national darling at age 19, helping the Americans to the volleyball semifinals in the 2000 Olympics before losses in their last two matches kept a medal just out of reach.

After a quarterfinal loss in the 2004 Athens Games, the outside hitter took a three-year break from the U.S. national team while playing beach volleyball.

Last fall, a phone call brought all three — Tom, coach "Jenny" Lang Ping and the U.S. team — together for this magical Olympic run in Beijing.

"I knew they were struggling a little on the outside with ball control and passing, and I knew I could at least donate that to the team and hopefully some offense, too, since I'm a small player out there," said Tom after Wednesday's semifinal sweep of Cuba put the U.S. in the finals.

"I called them up and said, 'I'm here if you need me. I don't want to step on any toes. I know I took three years off, and I don't know if there's any hard feelings with that,"' she recalled.

"But they said they'd love to have me back and welcomed me with open arms — so it was a mutual embracement."

And a mutual benefit, with the U.S. and Tom both guaranteed to win a medal — the Americans' first since claiming a bronze at the '92 Barcelona Games, and Tom's first, period.

Norman said her contribution to the U.S. team cannot be measured just in statistics.

"Logan has made a huge contribution," Norman said. "They have benefited from her experience and her leadership skills. Every match, she's gotten better. She's already the best player in the world. ... She's doing a marvelous job."

Norman said it wasn't difficult to see Tom's talent — even at 13 years old.

"I remember the little girl who played baseball (she was a pitcher) coming into the gym in her cleats and knickers to try out," Norman said. "The first couple hits didn't go so well, but in no time she was missing the prom to play with the national team."

Was she always dominant?

"Absolutely, her talent was obvious," Norman said. "No doubt about it. She could see something done once and then do it. Some of us can practice forever, but she could just see something demonstrated and then do it. ... That's where she was magical."

Tom returned to Utah and Highland High in December of 2000 to have her jersey (No. 1) retired, an effort spear-headed by Norman. Then-Gov. Mike Leavitt also declared it Logan Tom Day, and the Utah Sports Commission honored her with a plaque. Private and very humble, Tom was overwhelmed and a bit surprised at her celebrity status.

"Logan really values people who knew her before she was famous," said former Highland High teammate Martha Brinton. "It was amazing playing with her ... but it was also hard. She was just on another level. It was a highlight, for sure."

Norman said Tom was instrumental in helping Utah get on the volleyball map.

"Logan kind of started it all," said Norman, who is also the executive director of Intermountain Volleyball Association, one of the 42 regions of USA Volleyball. "She was part of the generation that got good volleyball started. ... Now club volleyball has gotten very popular in Utah, and we've developed a lot of very nice players."

About a half-dozen Utah players are participating in the national team's A2 squad, a level below the Olympic Team. Another local, and coincidentally Stanford graduate, Kristin Richards, who graduated from Timpanogos High, was an alternate on this year's Olympic team.

"Logan paved the way and opened the eyes," Norman said. "We also have some great coaches in this state teaching very good volleyball. ... Kids are so lucky because to maximize talent you have to have top-quality coaches, and that's going on here a lot."

Tom would be embarrassed by the attention she's getting in Salt Lake City, and she's probably not giving it a lot of thought. Those who know her agree she's likely too focused on earning her first Olympic medal.

"I want gold. I mean, silver — don't get me wrong," Tom said. "But since I joined the national team when I was 15, it's been bred and beaten into my mind: Get a medal in the Olympics, go for gold and get a medal."

After two near-misses in as many previous Games and some five-game struggles to get to Wednesday's semifinals before a relatively easy sweep of Cuba to reach the finals, there had to be some thoughts that an Olympic medal may never come.

"It would cross my mind, and then I would kick it out — you don't want to think that, you don't want those negative thoughts," she said.

But when the chance came, Tom returned to the U.S. indoor team — just in time to help the United States clinch a Beijing Olympics berth with a third-place finish in November's World Cup. And just in time to get back into the eat-sleep-practice national team routine leading up to the Games.

"It's an amazing roll right now," she said, reflecting on the journey. "It's years and years and years of work and sacrifice and dedication. Along with a lot of these girls, we've sweat and we've bled and we've cried together in past Olympics."

Which made the exuberant, explosive display of celebration on the court after the Cuba win all the sweeter, with Tom still thinking of that call she made last fall to the national team.

"Right now," she said, "it's the best decision I've ever made in my life."

And as she tries to take that final step in her Olympic journey, her former coaches and friends will be with her.

"I haven't missed a game," Norman said. "Partly because as part of USA volleyball, it's our job to find the next Logan Tom."

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