Gold Rush! Northwest Athletes Come Home From Rio Olympics Laden With Medals
Eight more Olympic medalists with ties to our region stood on the podium this weekend before Brazilian music brought the Summer Games to a close in Rio de Janeiro. Former Washington State University standout Klay Thompson helped lead the undefeated U.S. men’s basketball team to the gold medal Sunday. The U.S. women’s team also dominated their final, yielding gold for WNBA Seattle Storm stars Sue Bird and Breanna Stewart.
A trio of former Oregon Ducks captured gold, gold and bronze this weekend in running events. Matthew Centrowitz, Phyllis Francis and Galen Rupp made the “O” for Oregon symbol with their fingers after their finishes.
Plus, two Northwest players worked the court in the U.S. women’s indoor volleyball team's victory over the Netherlands Saturday in the bronze medal match. Immediately afterwards, former University of Washington star Courtney Thompson, 31, of Kent, Washington announced her retirement. Outside hitter Kim Hill, 26, of Portland played in her first Olympics with the national team.
Among the Olympians with Northwest connections, Bremerton, Washington native Nathan Adrian collected the most medals in Rio. The 27-year-old swimmer earned two golds and two bronze in individual sprints and relays to raise his career total to eight Olympic medals across three Summer Games.
Adrian steered clear of the fabricated robbery scandal involving teammate Ryan Lochte. Instead, Adrian stuck to "Northwest nice" - like this praise about the buoyant atmosphere in Rio’s swimming arena:
"I really felt blessed because in London in 2012 I felt that we were kind of adopted as a little bit of the home team. The coolest thing is that the same thing happened here," Adrian told a Team USA interviewer midway through the games. "I can't tell you how many of the Brazilian volunteers or you know, just Brazilian citizens come up to you, 'Go USA, go USA!' That's really cool."
Not all of the crowds were as supportive. U.S. soccer goalie Hope Solo of Seattle was booed every time she touched the ball. That was apparent payback by Brazilians who felt slighted by Solo's public concern about the Zika virus. The heavily-favored U.S. women's soccer team had six players in all from the NWSL pro teams in Seattle and Portland. The Americans provided the biggest upset of the Olympic Games when they crashed out of the Olympic tournament in the quarterfinals after a penalty shootout loss to eventual silver-medalist Sweden.
Speaking of crashes, cyclist Kristin Armstrong of Boise avoided one on the way to capturing the gold medal in the rain-slicked road time trial. Armstrong returned home to Idaho last week to a hero's welcome including an airport fire truck water cannon salute. Armstrong came out of retirement to go for her third consecutive gold medal. Her Olympic victory came one day shy of her 43rd birthday.
"I found that I missed having a goal. So I set a goal," Armstrong said. "Nobody asks an Ironman athlete in their forties, 'Why are you doing this?' They know why they're doing it because it is a goal. But there are a lot of people asking me why am doing it in my forties. I say, 'Well, it wouldn't be fair if I competed in the masters. It wouldn't be fair if I competed in my local races.' I'm still at a high level and I love the challenge."
'A gentleman and a class act'
You could say the same for former Washington State University star runner Bernard Lagat. He’s 41-years-young and aptly nicknamed the “ageless wonder.” Saturday night, Lagat found himself unexpectedly called to the medal ceremony in the 5,000-meter run to receive the bronze medal after the disqualification of several faster finishers. But then after a delay, the disqualifications were reversed on appeal and Lagat was bumped to fifth. Reinstated silver medalist Paul Chelimo of Beaverton, Oregon, said Lagat handled the fiasco like a “gentleman and a class act.”
Every Olympic Games has stories of athletes overcoming adversity. Judo silver medalist Travis Stevens of Tacoma, Washington, had more than his share. Just last year, a bacterial infection knocked him out for three months, a concussion sidelined him for four and back problems, one more month.
"With all of the heartache and everything I've had to overcome - even my training partners overcame, from the coaches dealing with me to friends and family - the rush of emotion that I felt stepping on the podium was almost more than I could bear," Stevens said during an interview at the USA House in Rio.
More than 75 athletes with Northwest ties competed at the Rio Games. Others coming home with medals include former University of Washington rowers Kerry Simmonds and Katelin Snyder who won gold in the U.S. women's eight shell.
Equestrian Kasey Perry-Glass and her horse Dublet earned bronze in the team dressage event. Perry-Glass, 28, lived in Spokane for four years while she honed her skills at Spokane Sport Horse. More recently, Perry-Glass has adopted a bi-coastal routine of wintering at a stable in Florida and training in the summer at a ranch outside of Sun Valley, Idaho.
Fencer Mariel Zagunis, 31, of Beaverton earned a bronze in team saber but fell short of the podium in the individual event. Zagunis, a four-time Olympian, earned two gold medals at earlier Olympics.
Cyclist Chloe Dygert, 19, earned a silver in the track cycling team pursuit. Dygert is a fairly new resident of Bremerton, where she moved from Indiana to join her fiancé.
Fast track to medals
The majority of Northwest Olympians competed in track and field. Decathlete Ashton Eaton and his wife, heptathlete Brianne Theisen-Eaton, return to Eugene with gold and bronze respectively. Middle-distance runner Centrowitz of Portland redeemed a painful fourth place finish in London in 2012 to win gold in Rio. He led nearly wire-to-wire in the men’s 1,500-meters Saturday night to capture the first gold medal for the U.S. in this event since 1908. Ryan Crouser, a Gresham Barlow High School grad, set a new Olympic record in the men's shot put on his way to winning gold.
Former Oregon Duck sprinters English Gardner and Phyllis Francis won gold medals on separate relay teams, a 4x100m relay gold for Gardner on Friday and 4x400m gold for Francis on Saturday night. Earlier last week, Evan Jager of Portland took home silver in the 3,000-meter steeplechase.
“Winning an Olympic medal was something that I dreamed I would be able to achieve at some point in my running career when I was a kid, but to have that dream actually come true is such an incredible feeling,” Jager posted to Twitter on Sunday.
In the final running event of the Summer Olympics, Portland’s Galen Rupp took the bronze in the marathon. Rupp, 30, ran a personal best time of 2:10:05. The marathon completed Rupp’s daunting Olympic double. He finished fifth in the 10,000-meter run at the beginning of the Rio Games.
More than 20 other runners, throwers and jumpers from our region came away empty-handed.
“Unfortunately there is a lot more heartbreak at the Olympic Games than people like to think about,” Vancouver, Washington native Kara Winger wrote on Facebook. “I can't say thank you enough for all of the supportive words everyone has sent my way, and in (a lot of) time they'll slowly heal these fresh wounds.” Winger, 30, finished in 13th place in the javelin throw.
Other countries’ Olympians add to our total
If you count athletes with Northwest ties who competed for foreign nations at the Summer Games, the medal haul swells more. Distance runner Mo Farah, who trains part-time with the Nike Oregon Project in Beaverton, was a double gold winner in the 5,000 and 10,000 meters. Farah competed for Great Britain.
Former UW Husky rower Patricia Obee, 24, of Victoria won silver in women's lightweight double sculls. She represented Canada.
Portland Thorns forward Christine Sinclair scored the game-winning goal in Friday's bronze medal match between Canada and Brazil in the Olympic women's soccer tournament. The Canadian players were draped with bronze medals after they won 2-1. Sinclair and Canadian teammate Sophie Schmidt both graduated from the University of Portland and played for its vaunted collegiate soccer team. Midfielder Schmidt, 28, calls Abbotsford, British Columbia home.