Tokyo Olympics were a gold, silver and bronze bonanza for athletes with Pacific NW ties
Athletes from the Pacific Northwest will practically need an ore cart to push their haul of precious metal to the airport after the final weekend of action at the Tokyo Olympics. Professional basketball and baseball players from Portland, Tacoma and Seattle accounted for most of the gold and silver medals as the delayed 2020 Summer Games came to a close.
Olympians with strong connections to Oregon and Washington state mined 39 total medals at the Tokyo Games. That represents an impressive success rate out of a pool of 49 Team USA athletes with Northwest ties and approximately 53 more athletes who went to the Olympics representing foreign countries after starring for universities or turning pro in the Northwest.
“No, not in my wildest dreams,” the Seattle Storm’s Sue Bird said when asked if she ever thought of winning five straight basketball gold medals. “That's what makes it even more special. I never thought it was a possibility.”
The indefatigable 40-year-old Bird was her usual, steady self in the gold medal final Saturday against host Japan. Team USA led buzzer to buzzer to win 90-75 and secure an unprecedented 55th consecutive victory in Olympic competition.
While Bird signaled this would be her last Olympics, two of her Seattle teammates are only getting started. Power forward Breanna Stewart collected her second Olympic gold medal and guard Jewell Loyd won her first with the undefeated U.S. women's team.
On the men's side, Portland Trailblazer Damian Lillard and Bothell (Wash.) High School grad Zach LaVine, who now plays in the NBA for Chicago, were draped with gold medals. Lillard started and LaVine came off the bench to help Team USA defeat pesky France 87-82 in the gold medal game.
Portland-raised volleyball player Kim Hill also came away with a gold medal when her squad beat Brazil in straight sets in the finals early Sunday. The victory secured the first-ever Olympic gold for U.S. women’s indoor volleyball.
The final weekend of Olympic sports action also saw a former WSU Cougar and an ex-UW Huskies star win bronze medals in basketball for Australia and Seattle Mariners minor leaguers earned silver and bronze with the United States and Dominican Republic baseball squads.
More than two-thirds of the medalists with Pacific Northwest ties came from women’s events. The preponderance of female medalists in the Northwest delegation roughly mirrors the outsized success of the women of Team USA as a whole. This is a legacy of Title IX, a nearly five decade old federal law mandating equal treatment of girls and women in sports, according to many analysts.
As usual, the University of Oregon earned bragging rights as three alumni of its powerhouse track and field program ran down medals in sprints and middle distances. Two-time Olympians Jenna Prandini and English Gardner took silver in the 4x100 relay in Tokyo's Olympic Stadium while Ducks alum Raevyn Rogers claimed bronze in the 800 meters. That trio was among 15 current and former Ducks competing in track and field for multiple countries.
Another reliable producer of Olympians, the University of Washington crew program, had mixed success. Sixteen former Huskies crew team members were selected by seven different countries to row in Tokyo, but only 2016 men's team captain Jacob Dawson made it onto the medal podium. Dawson rowed in Great Britain’s bronze medal-winning men's eight. In the premier races of the Olympic regatta, the men's and women's eights, Team USA -- with four Huskies alums on board between them -- both finished in a disappointing and somewhat shocking fourth place in the finals.
The 17-day Olympic sports spectacle unfolded against a backdrop of a worsening pandemic in Japan. The athletes competed in eerily empty arenas where the only cheers seemed to come from teammates and delegation officials. Vancouver, Washington, native Kara Winger, a four-time Olympian in javelin, was chosen by her U.S. teammates to carry the American flag at Sunday's closing ceremony. The extinguishing of the Olympic flame conveyed a strangely hollow feeling despite the celebratory fireworks and usual mugging for the cameras by smiling superstars.
Athletes in the Olympic Village underwent daily saliva tests for the coronavirus. No athlete connected to the Northwest tested positive during the Games. The COVID-19 vaccine was not mandatory for Olympic athletes or coaches. The International Olympic Committee president estimated on the eve of these Games that close to 85 percent of participants were vaccinated or immune.
A bunch of Northwest athletes made Olympic history in different ways. Oregon native Ryan Crouser set a new Olympic record in shot put (23.30 meters/76 feet, 5.5 inches) to defend his Olympic title from the 2016 Rio Games. Former University of Washington hoops star Kelsey Plum and Gig Harbor Canoe and Kayak Racing Team alum Nevin Harrison of Seattle earned the first gold medals in the Olympic debut of their events — 3-on-3 basketball and women's canoe sprint, respectively.
OL Reign midfielder Quinn, who goes just by one name, was the first openly transgender athlete to compete at the Olympics, joined within days by several others. Quinn came out as non-binary last year. Quinn earned a gold medal with the Canadian women's Olympic soccer team.
"I feel proud seeing ' Quinn' up on the lineup and on my accreditation," Quinn said in an Instagram post as the Games opened. "I feel sad knowing there were Olympians before me unable to live their truth because of the world. I feel optimistic for change. Change in legislature. Changes in rules, structures, and mindsets."
Here is a complete list of Tokyo 2020 Olympic medalists with Pacific Northwest connections:
Sue Bird (basketball - USA) The ageless wonder should be entitled to some good-natured gloating when she recovers at home with the other half of Seattle’s sports power couple. Bird’s fiancée, Megan Rapinoe, also competed at the Tokyo Games, but only earned bronze with Team USA in soccer.
Jade Carey (gymnastics - USA) Carey won a surprise gold in the individual floor exercise after teammate Simone Biles pulled out of the event. Next stop for the Oregon State University sophomore could be Corvallis, where she has not yet set foot as a student because of remote learning during the pandemic and pre-Olympic training in Phoenix.
Ryan Crouser (shot put - USA) Crouser was raised in Oregon in a family that brims with elite throwing talent across three generations, though he is now the only two-time Olympic gold medalist and world record holder among them. Crouser graduated from Barlow High School in Gresham.
Nevin Harrison (sprint canoe - USA) This Seattle native graduated last year from Roosevelt High School. The 19-year-old, newly-minted gold medalist said she now hopes to defend her title at the Paris Olympics in 2024.
Kim Hill (volleyball - USA) Hill was raised in Portland and graduated from Portland Christian High School. The outside hitter has been a member of the U.S. national team since 2013 and now has a gold medal to go with her bronze from the 2016 Rio Games.
Zach LaVine (basketball - USA) Raised in Washington state, the Bothell High School grad was once named the state's top high school player. He started one game at guard for Team USA and was a valuable sixth man, averaging around 10 points per game. Tokyo was LaVine’s first Olympics.
Damian Lillard (basketball - USA) The Portland Trailblazers star was a consistent starter for Team USA as a first-time Olympian. He scored 11 points in the gold medal final against France.
Jewell Loyd (basketball - USA) The Seattle Storm starter found herself in familiar company most games partnering with teammate Bird at guard. The Tokyo gold came in Loyd’s first Olympic appearance.
Kelsey Plum (3x3 basketball - USA) The former University of Washington women's hoops star was the first athlete with Northwest ties to win a medal in Tokyo, and she did it memorably in the debut of the 3-on-3 street basketball event at the Olympic Games.
Quinn (women's soccer - Canada) Quinn is a midfielder for the NWSL's OL Reign in Tacoma. In Quinn's second Olympic appearance, they won a gold medal to pair with a bronze earned with Team Canada in 2016.
Lisa Roman (rowing - Canada) Roman pulled an oar in the bow position of Canada's women's eight crew boat. Roman is a 2012 graduate of Washington State University from Langley, British Columbia, and was the first Coug rower to be inducted into the WSU Athletics Hall of Fame.
Christine Sinclair (women's soccer - Canada) The veteran Canadian captain led her team to an upset win over Sweden in the gold medal match. She now returns to her other job as a high-scoring forward for the NWSL's Portland Thorns. Sinclair’s fourth Olympic appearance was undoubtedly the most productive for this University of Portland grad after back-to-back bronze medal finishes in Rio and London.
Breanna Stewart (basketball - USA) The 2020 WNBA MVP with the Seattle Storm chased down her second Olympic gold medal. She played power forward.
Ali Aguilar (softball - USA) The 2017 University of Washington grad starred on the diamond for the Huskies and proved that was no fluke with multiple highlight reel-worthy plays at second base during the Olympics.
Moh Ahmed (5000m - Canada) The 30-year-old Somalia-born Canadian who lives in Portland and trains with the Bowerman Track Club finally made it onto the winner's podium at his third Olympics with a gutty run in the 5000 meters. Early in the Tokyo Games, Ahmed finished sixth in the grueling 10,000 meters from which he recovered in time to grab the silver in the 5000.
Jordan Chiles (gymnastics - USA) The Vancouver, Washington native stepped up to help Team USA win silver in the team event after the stunning withdrawal of her friend and teammate, Simone Biles. Chiles is slated to join Biles and other U.S. gymnastics stars on a 35-city, post-Olympics touring show with the apt acronym GOAT, which in this case stands for Gold Over America Tour.
Eric Filia (baseball - USA) The 29-year-old outfielder with the AAA Tacoma Rainiers acquitted himself decently in the Olympic tournament and now awaits his first call-up to the majors. Filia was a 20th round pick by the Seattle Mariners in the 2016 MLB draft.
Courtney Frerichs (steeplechase - USA) She improved on her 11th place finish in the steeplechase at the 2016 Rio Olympics in a big way. Frerichs trains with the Bowerman Track Club in Portland.
Adrienne Lyle (equestrian dressage - USA) This 36-year-old who grew up on Whidbey Island, Washington, and graduated from Bellevue High School, earned silver at her second Olympics in the team dressage event. In the individual dressage event in Tokyo, she finished 19th on her horse Salvino.
English Gardner (4x100 relay - USA) The former Oregon Ducks standout recovered from a tough bout with COVID-19 in May to squeak onto the U.S. sprint relay team in June at the U.S. Olympic Trials. Gardner ran one leg of the 4x100 in the preliminary round to earn a silver medal to go along with the gold she earned in the same event at the 2016 Rio Games.
Scott McGough (baseball - USA) The former University of Oregon pitcher earned silver after Team USA succumbed 2-0 to host country Japan in the championship game. The ex-Oregon Duck was playing on familiar ground because he is currently a reliever for the Tokyo Yakult Swallows of the Japanese pro baseball league.
Jenna Prandini (4x100 relay - USA) Prandini competed in three Olympic events, the 100 meters, 200 meters and a sprint relay. In the 100 meters semifinals, the former Oregon Ducks standout tied her season's best of 11.11 seconds, but that wasn't fast enough to advance. She narrowly missed qualifying for the 200 meters final, before securing her first Olympic medal by running the third leg of the silver-winning 4x100 relay.
Janie (Takeda) Reed (softball - USA) This 2015 University of Oregon grad moved directly from her final season with the Ducks to the U.S. national team. The outfielder waited six years for softball to return to the Olympic stage and made the moment count.
Aron Baynes (basketball - Australia) Baynes was benched after the second game of the Aussie’s Tokyo campaign due to an on-court neck injury that he aggravated during a later slip in a bathroom. But at least the center came away with his first medal at his third Olympics. This Washington State University grad plays professionally for the NBA's Toronto Raptors.
Jacob Dawson (rowing - Great Britain) The UW crew alum stroked in the British men's eight, which edged out Team USA in rowing's premiere race at the Olympics.
Crystal Dunn (women's soccer - USA) Defender Dunn played nearly every minute of every game for the U.S. team. She'll now return to the Portland Thorns backfield.
Adrianna Franch (women's soccer - USA) The stalwart in goal for the Portland Thorns came to Tokyo as the backup goalkeeper on the U.S. Women's National Team. But an injury to starter Alyssa Naeher resulted in Franch seeing action in the Americans' last two Olympic tournament games. Franch tended goal in the 4-3 bronze medal victory over Australia, which followed a semi-final round loss to eventual tournament winner Canada.
Victoria Hayward (softball - Canada) Hayward played in the outfield for the University of Washington Huskies from 2011 to 2014. She was the youngest player to appear on the Canadian national team when she first joined them in 2009 at age 16. An Olympic medal makes it worth the wait, do you suppose?
Lindsey Horan (women's soccer - USA) The midfielder got shots on goal in every game the U.S. played, but only one of her shots went in during a drubbing of New Zealand. Horan also was credited with one assist. The Tokyo Games were Horan's second Olympics. She now returns to the NWSL's Portland Thorns.
Josh Kerr (1500m - Great Britain) The 23-year-old Scotsman set a personal best of 3:29.05 in the blazing fast Olympic final and probably would have moved into silver position if the race were 10 meters longer. Kerr moved to Seattle to train with the Brooks Beasts Track Club after he signed with the Seattle-based shoe company in 2018.
Rose Lavelle (women's soccer - USA) A newer name on the roster of Tacoma/Seattle's OL Reign, Lavelle was mostly a starter in the midfield for Team USA and sometimes a substitute. She scored one of the six goals in the game against New Zealand.
Danielle Lawrie (softball - Canada) The University of Washington Husky Hall of Fame pitcher hails from Langley, British Columbia, and pitched scoreless relief to carry Team Canada to the bronze. Lawrie was a 2008 Olympian, the last time softball was in the Summer Games until this year.
C.T. Pan (golf - Taiwan) Pan triumphed in a seven-golfer sudden death playoff for the bronze medal in Tokyo. This medal represents a significant improvement for the 2015 University of Washington grad who finished 30th in the Rio Olympics tournament.
Megan Rapinoe (women's soccer - USA) The longtime national team and OL Reign star generated numerous highlight moments, including the penalty kick that sealed a quarterfinal win over the Netherlands and an unassisted goal off a corner kick in the bronze medal match. The University of Portland grad, now a Seattle resident, can pair the bronze she collected in Tokyo with the gold she earned at the 2012 London Games.
Julio Rodriguez (baseball - Dominican Republic) Rodriguez showed why he is considered one of the Seattle Mariners’ top prospects by racking up a .417 batting average in the Olympic tournament. Rodriguez was promoted to the Mariners' Double-A affiliate Arkansas Travelers in June after beginning the 2021 season in High-A with the Everett AquaSox.
Raevyn Rogers (800m - USA) A six-time national champion while competing for the University of Oregon, Rogers moved her pro running base to Portland ahead of the Tokyo Olympics to train under Nike coach Pete Julian. That move paid off handsomely.
Jenn Salling (softball - Canada) This native of Port Coquitlam, British Columbia, began her NCAA career at the University of Oregon in 2007, and after redshirting the 2008 season to focus on the Olympics, she transferred to the University of Washington.
Becky Sauerbrunn (women's soccer - USA) The veteran Portland Thorns defender was chosen by her teammates to be captain of the U.S. Women's National Team for the Tokyo Games. This was Sauerbrunn's third Olympics. She, like teammate Rapinoe, previously earned an Olympic gold medal in London in 2012.
Matisse Thybulle (men’s basketball - Australia) Thybulle was a starting guard and scored 11 points in the Aussie’s bronze medal win over Slovenia on Saturday. The former University of Washington star and Eastside Catholic (Bellevue) alum lived in Sydney for about seven years as a youngster before relocating to the Seattle suburbs. He now plays for the NBA’s Philadelphia 76ers.