Former, current Irish athletes to compete in 2020 Olympics, Paralympics
Nate Moller | Tuesday, July 6, 2021
Notre Dame will be well represented in Tokyo, Japan, this summer with 20 athletes competing in the 2020 Summer Olympic and Paralympic Games.
Notre Dame women’s basketball has been very strong over the last decade, and three former players were selected to their national teams this year.
Skylar Diggins-Smith (USA)
Diggins-Smith currently plays for the Phoenix Mercury and is averaging nearly 20 points per game this season. The South Bend native played for the Irish from 2009-2013 and is widely recognized as one of the greatest players in Notre Dame basketball history after leading Notre Dame to three final fours and two national championship game appearances. The first time Olympian was a four-time All-American and was drafted third overall in the 2013 WNBA Draft.
Jewell Loyd (USA)
Loyd will also be making her Olympic debut for Team USA in Tokyo. Loyd played for the Irish from 2013-2016 and ranks fifth all time in scoring despite playing only three collegiate seasons. Loyd holds the school record with seven career thirty-point games and ranks second in points per game at 17.0. Loyd currently plays for the Seattle Storm.
Natalie Achonwa (Canada)
Achonwa was recently named an Olympian for the third time for Team Canada. Achonwa currently plays for the Minnesota Lynx and has been fighting a knee injury as of late, but should be ready to compete in the Olympics. Achonwa played for the Irish from 2010-2014 and served as a captain during her senior season. At the time of her graduation from Notre Dame, Achonwa ranked twelfth on the Notre Dame career scoring list.
There will be a record eleven former and current Irish fencers participating in the 2020 Summer Olympics. The previous record at the Olympics for the Irish was five.
Head coach Gia Kvaratskhelia said he was very excited to see so many of his current and former athletes qualify for the Olympics.
“In 2016, the record was five. If someone had told me we would have more than five, I would have been absolutely delighted. But this is double that number plus one, which shows the kind of vibrancy of the program and its health,” Kvaratskhelia said.
“Ten of the 11 athletes who are going to Tokyo are a member of an NCAA championship team,” Kvaratskhelia said. “I think 8-9 of them won individual titles in the past. That means that they were huge contributors to our success.”
Amita Berthier (foil, individual, Singapore)
Berthier will be making her Olympic debut for Team Singapore as an individual foilist. In her first two seasons at Notre Dame, Berthier solidified herself as an integral part of the Irish foil team and received First Team All-American accolades as a first-year.
Courtney Hurley (epee, USA)
This will be Hurley’s third consecutive Olympics and will mark the third time that she and her older sister, Kelley, are both Olympians. The Hurley sisters took home a bronze medal in the 2012 Olympics as members of the United States epee team. With Notre Dame, Hurley won an NCAA title in 2011, finished third in 2009 and 2010, and was a three year First Team All-American.
Kelley Hurley (epee, USA)
Hurley will be appearing in her fourth consecutive Olympics this summer. She was on the 2012 Olympic epee team that won the bronze medal. At Notre Dame, Hurley was the NCAA champion in 2008 and the runner-up in 2007. She was also a First Team All-American in 2007 and 2008.
Kaylin Hsieh (epee, Hong Kong)
Hsieh will be the youngest athlete for the Irish in the Olympics. In her first year at Notre Dame, Hsieh took second place in the NCAA in the women’s epee and was a part of the 2021 team title.
Nick Itkin (foil, USA)
Itkin will be making his Olympic debut this summer. Itkin has had plenty of success at Notre Dame, including two NCAA titles in the foil in 2018 and 2019. Itkin will be a senior next year for the Irish.
Lee Kiefer (foil, USA)
Kiefer will be making her third trip to the Olympics this Summer and is currently the top-ranked women’s foilist in the United States. At Notre Dame, Kiefer was a four-time NCAA foil champion and four-time First Team All-American.
Sabrina Massialas (foil, replacement athlete, USA)
Massialas will be competing in her first Olympics. She was a captain of last year’s team and received All-American accolades four times with the Irish.
Gerek Meinhardt (foil, USA)
Meinhardt will be competing in his fourth Olympic games this summer and is currently the second-ranked foilist in the world. Meinhardt was part of the bronze medal foil team at the 2016 Olympics and was a four-time All-American while at Notre Dame.
Francesca Russo (sabre, replacement athlete, USA)
Russo was selected to her first Olympics. She was the NCAA sabre champion in 2015 and 2017.
Ewa Trezebinska (epee, Poland)
Trezebinska will participate in her first Olympics for Team Poland. Poland has the second-ranked epeeist team heading into the Olympics.
Mariel Zagunis (sabre, USA)
Zagunis is one of the most celebrated fencing athletes in the world, and she will be competing in her fifth Olympics this Summer.
“Mariel was the first Olympic champion as an individual, so it kind of raised the standards for everyone around the country, and especially for our program here because we were the home of the first Olympic champion in the modern era,” Kvaratskhelia said.
Zagunis has four medals total in her Olympic career with two individual gold medals in 2004 and 2008 and two team bronze medals in 2008 and 2016.
In the London 2012 Olympics, Zagunis served as the flag bearer for the United States at the opening ceremony.
Kvaratskhelia discussed the impact of Zagunis carrying the United States flag had on the Notre Dame fencing program.
“Every time someone goes to Olympics for us, it’s just a celebration of our program and what we stand for at Notre Dame with having the highest standards for the sport of fencing,” Kvaratskhelia said. “It was even better, though, to see someone who was the part of this team here leading the delegation for an entire country.”
Sam Grewe (high jump, USA)
This will be Grewe’s second appearance at the Paralympic Games. In the 2016 games, Grewe won the silver medal in the high jump. Grewe has three Paralympic world titles in the high jump and is one of the favorites heading into the event. Grewe exceeded the Olympic standard height of 1.8 meters at the Paralympic qualifiers, qualifying with a jump of 1.85 meters. Grewe is a recent graduate of Notre Dame and will be attending the University of Michigan Medical School starting this fall.
Ilija Tadic (swim, Montenegro)
Yared Nuguse (1500m run, USA)
Yared Nuguse is the most recent Irish athlete to qualify for the Olympics, finishing third with a time of 3:36.19 at the Olympic Trials in late June. Nuguse previously ran the Olympic standard time by running under 3:35 in the distance at the prelims of the conference meet.
Sean Carlson, who is the men’s head cross country coach and assistant track coach, broke down how Nuguse’s race in the 1500m Olympic Trials final played out. Nuguse had to advance through two rounds of prelims as well to make the final race.
“We talked about how the race was probably going to be pretty tactical,” Carlson said. “The whole plan was to stay on the outside so he could move freely and not get stuck on the rail because it is just really hard to get out of that. He ran in lane one and half and lane two but with the pace being something very manageable for him, that was the best option.”
The goal was for Nuguse to be in a spot at the end of the race where he could use his kick.
“We wanted him to get to a spot with 200m to go where he was in contention, and we know he has a pretty good kick so it was really about putting ourselves in a spot where we could use it,” Carlson said.
Carlson described the emotions he felt when Nuguse sealed his qualification for the Olympics.
“There’s not a better person than Yared that I would want to have this,” Carlson said. “He represents all that we do and have our kids try to do in our program. Having him qualify is just such a reinforcement of what we are doing and such a reinforcement of who he is. I really couldn’t be happier for anyone. Proud is only the word that I have for it.”
While the Olympics seemed like a stretch at first, Carlson strategically planned Nuguse’s races throughout the cross country and track season to allow him his best chance to qualify. It was not until he hit the standard at the conference meet, that the Olympics seemed very possible.
“We had ideas that it was certainly realistic, but when he ran 3:34 in the conference meet at prelims was when we started to realize that this was a very real thing,” Carlson said. “He’s still a really young runner and this is going to be a great experience for his future. He still has one year left at Notre Dame, but he will probably sign with a shoe company and run pro for a little bit after that is up. I think this puts him in a position where he can take the next steps in professional running.”
Carlson hopes Nuguse can advance through qualifications and get a chance to compete in the final race.
“On the day of the final anything can happen, so we want to put ourselves in a position to compete well,” Carlson said.
Molly Seidel (marathon, USA)
Molly Seidel was the first Irish athlete to punch her ticket to the Tokyo Olympics with her qualification in the marathon in February 2020 at the Olympic Marathon Trials in Atlanta by placing second in a time of 2:27.31 in her first-ever marathon.
Seidel had no goals of making the Olympics heading into the race and just wanted to gain some valuable experience in the marathon distance.
“I was just going out there and racing and being in the moment, and then all of a sudden I’m 19 miles in and up in second,” Seidel said. “It’s just one of those moments where you just have to not think about what you’re doing and how scary it is that you have never been in this place before. I had literally never run 26 miles in my life up until that race, so you kinda just go with it.”
Seidel talked about the emotions she felt after the race.
“It was such a cool day because my entire family was there, and so many of my friends were there,” she said. “They had come out expecting to watch me run my first marathon — not to make the Olympic team — so they were just losing their minds. It was one of those days that I don’t think I could have imagined it more perfect in my mind.”
Seidel’s focus has turned to her competition and its makeup as she prepares for the games.
“Suddenly I am not against the best in the US, but the best in the world. I’m trying to approach it with humility and knowing this is going to be really tough,” Seidel said. “This is probably going to be the toughest race that I [have] ever run. … [I’m] just going out and seeing what I can do and trying to stick my nose in it and stay competitive.”
Seidel competed for the Irish from 2012-2017. Her most notable achievements at Notre Dame include winning the 2015 NCAA Outdoor 10,000-meter race, the 2016 NCAA Outdoor 5,000-meter race, and the 2016 NCAA Outdoor 3,000-meter race.
Molly Bruggeman (USA)
Molly Bruggeman ’14 will be making her Olympic debut in Tokyo as an alternate on the Team USA rowing team. Bruggeman won fourth place in the four person at both the 2019 World Rowing Championships and 2019 World Rowing Cup. The 2014 Notre Dame graduate is the only Irish rower to be named to three straight invitations for the US Women’s Rowing Under-23 Selection Camp and became the second Irish rower to achieve All-American status in at least three seasons (2012-2014). Bruggeman was also a First Team All-Big East Selection in 2011 and 2013 and a First-Team All-ACC Selection in 2014.
Swim and Dive
Tyler Christianson (Panama)
Christianson will be competing for Panama in the Tokyo Olympics. Christianson made a huge impact on the Notre Dame swim and dive team in his rookie season last year and was awarded Rookie of the Year by Swim and Dive coach Mike Litzinger. One of Christianson’s best performances of the season came in the ACC Championships where he swam a 1:54.32 in the 200-yard breaststroke, which was good for an eleventh-placed finish.
Editor’s Note: This article was updated at 10:33 p.m. on July 13 to include the up to 20 current and former Notre Dame athletes who will be participating in the 2020 Summer Olympic and Paralympic Games.