10 current and former Irish athletes to compete in Rio Games
Observer Sports Staff | Thursday, August 4, 2016
The formal opening of the 2016 Olympic Games takes place Friday in Rio de Janeiro, and per usual, Notre Dame will be well-represented at the summer games. Ten current or former Irish student-athletes will compete in Brazil over the next couple weeks, while a pair of Irish alums will have Olympic roles as coaches to bring Notre Dame’s contingent to 12.
From three-time medalist Mariel Zagunis to Olympic debutants Margaret Bamgbose and Amanda Polk, these are the 10 Irish-affiliated athletes chasing gold for their countries in Rio:
Natalie Achonwa – Women’s Basketball
One of two Canadian athletes with Irish ties, Achonwa heads to Brazil looking to bring back a first women’s basketball medal for her country. It’s been two seasons since Achonwa’s Notre Dame career came to an abrupt end when she tore her ACL in the 2014 Elite Eight win over Baylor, an injury that forced the Indiana Fever center to miss the 2014 season. She made her professional debut in 2015 though and has appeared 15 times for the Fever this season.
Achonwa and Canada open Olympic play Saturday against China, with a marquee matchup with the United States set for Aug. 12.
Margaret Bamgbose – Women’s Track & Field
Bamgbose, a 2016 Notre Dame graduate, will head to Rio to compete in the 400-meter dash and the 4×400-meter relay, becoming the second former Irish athlete to represent Nigeria at the Olympics. An 11-time All-American at Notre Dame, Bamgbose placed fourth in the 400 at the 2016 NCAA championships in her final collegiate meet.
The first round of the women’s 400 will take place Aug. 13, with semifinals Aug. 14 and the final Aug. 15, while the 4×400 will be contested Aug. 19 and Aug. 20.
Molly Huddle – Women’s Track & Field
After finishing 11th in the 5,000-meter run in London four years ago, Huddle returns to the Olympic scene this year to run a different race: the 10,000-meter run. The 2006 graduate does it fresh off setting history at the Olympic trials in Eugene, Oregon, last month, where she became the first American woman to win both the 5,000 and 10,000 at one trials.
Huddle, however, relinquished her 5,000 spot this year to focus on the 10,000 at Rio, which will go off Aug. 12.
Courtney Hurley – Women’s Fencing (epee)
For the second straight Olympics, Courtney Hurley is headed to the Olympic games to take part in both the individual and team epee competitions — though this time, she’s doing it as a Notre Dame alumna, not a student-athlete. The No. 1-ranked American women’s epeeist heads to Rio after helping the United States squad to a bronze in the team competition in London, and she will do it with a chance to go head-to-head with her older sister, Kelley, in the individual competition.
The individual epee competition will take place Saturday, with the team competition scheduled for Aug. 11.
Kelley Hurley — Women’s Fencing (epee)
The Rio Games will mark the third consecutive Olympic appearance for the 2010 Notre Dame graduate, who heads to Rio with the opportunity to face her sister Courtney for the first time in Olympic competition. After a 20th-place finish at the Beijing Games in 2008, Kelley Hurley will partake in the individual competition for the second time this year; she will also look to add another medal to the bronze she won in the team epee competition alongside her sister four years ago.
Like her sister, Kelley Hurley will be in competition Saturday and Aug. 11.
Lee Kiefer — Women’s Fencing (foil)
Kiefer heads to the Olympics in a different place than the other nine Irish-affiliated athletes going: She’s the only one who’s currently a Notre Dame student-athlete. The senior foilist, a three-time NCAA champion, is headed to her second games, and does so as a favorite to finish in the medals; she’s ranked No. 3 in the world in foil.
Kiefer, who did not compete for Notre Dame this season to concentrate on Olympic preparation, will fence Wednesday for the United States in the individual foil competition.
Gerek Meinhardt — Men’s Fencing (foil)
Like Kiefer, Meinhardt heads to Rio with a unique claim: He’s the only man in Notre Dame’s 10-athlete delegation to this year’s games. Once the youngest-ever U.S. Olympic fencer (he was 17 in Beijing eight years ago), the world No. 3 men’s foilist will have a gold medal on his mind as he heads to the 2016 Games.
The 2013 alumnus and now three-time Olympian will chase that gold medal Sunday in the individual foil, with another shot at one on the horizon Aug. 12 when he will contest in the team foil competition.
Amanda Polk — Women’s Rowing
A four-time All-American at Notre Dame, Polk will face high expectations as part of a United States coxed eight team going for its third consecutive gold medal. The 2008 graduate has been with the U.S. senior women’s rowing team since 2009 — she was part of the 2013 world record-setting women’s eight boat — but will be making her Olympic debut this week.
The women’s eight competition starts with heats Monday, continues Wednesday with repêchage and concludes with the medal round Aug. 13.
Melissa Tancredi – Women’s Soccer
Of Notre Dame’s 10 current and former athletes competing in Rio de Janeiro, Tancredi is the only one whose action began prior to Friday’s opening ceremony. The Canadian forward, a three-time Olympian, started in Wednesday’s 2-0 win over Australia, but was substituted just 23 minutes in a tactical substitution after Canada defender Shelina Zadorsky picked up a red card early in the game.
Tancredi, a 2004 Notre Dame graduate and 2012 bronze medal winner, will be back in action Saturday afternoon against Zimbabwe, with the group stage finale scheduled for Tuesday, when Canada will face Germany.
Mariel Zagunis — Women’s Fencing (sabre)
When it comes to Irish athletes making the trek to Brazil, Zagunis is quite literally the gold standard. She won the United States’ first fencing gold in 100 years — and the country’s first-ever women’s gold — in 2004 when she won the sabre, and followed it up with another gold and a team bronze in Beijing four years later.
While Zagunis is already the most-decorated fencer in American history, she’s just one medal away from tying former track & field athlete and coach Alex Wilson, class of 1932, as Notre Dame’s most-decorated Olympian. But despite the medals she’s won at past games, Zagunis is perhaps best known for a non-competition moment: She was the United States’ flag bearer at the 2012 Olympics in London.
Zagunis, the 2006 NCAA champion in sabre, will not only have a chance to tie Wilson’s record, but she could break it, competing Monday in the individual sabre competition and Aug. 13 in the team competition.
Angie Akers and Monty Williams — Coaches
Akers, a 1998 Notre Dame graduate, will make her first appearance at an Olympics as a coach, after joining the Netherlands’ beach volleyball coaching staff last year.
Similarly, Williams, a 1994 NBA first-round draftee, will head to Rio as an assistant coach for the men’s basketball team. Williams coached the New Orleans Pelicans for five seasons before moving on, serving as an assistant for the Oklahoma City Thunder last season.