SOUTH BEND, Ind.–The 2000 Summer Olympics Games are underway in Sydney, Australia, with an Irish flavor to the American team. A Fighting Irish flavor, that is. Triathlete Nick Radkewich and women’s soccer player Kate Sobrero have become the latest on Notre Dame’s list of Olympians.
The modern Olympics began in 1896 but Notre Dame’s first known Olympians did not compete until the 1920 Games in Antwerp, Belgium. Beginning with the Antwerp Games, the Fighting Irish have been represented on 14 of the 19 Summer Olympic teams, including the last nine Olympics.
Radkewich competes in the first-ever Olympic triathlon tomorrow after finishing second on May 28, at the U.S. Trials in Dallas, qualifying for the three-person Olympic triathlon team. The United States Olympic Committee’s 1998 triathlete of the year, Radkewich won five monograms at Notre Dame in cross country (1990-92) and track and field (1990-91).
Sobrero and the U.S. women’s soccer team began their quest for a second consecutive gold medal on Thursday against Norway and play against tomorrow against China. Sobrero — a member of the U.S. World Cup championship team in 1999 — starred for the Irish from 1994-97 as a three-time All-America defender. She was named the defensive MVP of the 1995 NCAA championship as she helped the Irish shut out all four opponents enroute to Notre Dame’s first NCAA national championship team.
August “Gus” Desch and Johnny Murphy own the distinction of being Notre Dame’s first Olympians, with Desch the first medal winner. He competed in Antwerp in the 400-meter hurdles and brought a bronze medal back to Notre Dame. Murphy placed fifth in the high jump. They returned to Notre Dame to help usher in the golden age of Irish track and field under head coach Knute Rockne. Desch won the 1921 NCAA title in the 220-yard high hurdles, while Murphy claimed back-to-back NCAA high jump titles in 1921 and 1922.
Their Notre Dame teammate, Tom Lieb, won back-to-back NCAA discus titles in 1923 and 1924. Lieb — the future head football coach at Loyola Marymount and Florida — traveled to Paris for the 1924 Games and won a bronze medal in the discus.
Notre Dame’s legendary track and field coach from 1950-72, Alex Wilson started the legend at the 1928 Games in Amsterdam. He ran in the 400 meters, 800 meters and 1600-meter relay for the Canadian team, winning a bronze medal in the relay. Wilson came to Notre Dame in 1930 and placed fourth in the NCAA 440-yard race. He won that race in 1931 and also finished second in the 880 yards. Wilson competed in the 1932 Games in Los Angeles and won a silver in the 800 meters and a bronze medal in the 400.
World War II forced the cancellation of the 1940 Games in Tokyo and Helsinki and the 1944 Games in London. Notre Dame All-American and Sullivan Award winner Greg Rice — world-record holder in the three mile in 1940 and billed as the greatest distance runner the U.S. has ever produced — surely would have tasted Olympic glory during those Olympiads.
The return of the Olympic Games in 1948 saw the first Notre Dame athlete win a gold medal in London. Vince Boryla, who played for the Irish in 1945-46, was a member of one of the Americans’ most traditionally-dominant teams at the Olympics, their men’s basketball team.
Baseball player Shaun Fitzmaurice participated in exhibition baseball games at the 1964 Games before another wave of Notre Dame Olympians — after just two from 1932-72 — began in 1972 in Munich. Rick Wohlhuter made the first of two Olympic appearances. Wohlhuter competed in the 800 meters in 1972 and returned to the Olympics in 1976 to win a bronze medal in the 800 meters, also running in the 1500 meters.
Adrian Dantley joined Wohlhuter at the Montreal Games in ’76. The two-time All-American scored 30 points against Yugoslavia in the final, joining Boryla in winning a gold medal with the U.S. in men’s basketball team.
Bill Hanzlik looked to join Dantley and Boryla as Irish men’s basketball gold medalists in 1980 before the U.S. boycott of the Games. Tim Glass would have become the first Irish fencing to compete in the Olympics in ’80, while current volleyball coach Debbie Brown — who played collegiately at USC — was part of the U.S. Olympic volleyball team that Olympiad.
Bjorn Vaggo, the NCAA men’s epee champion in 1978, captured Notre Dame’s only fencing Olympic medal in 1984 when the Swede won the silver medal. Two more former Irish fencers competed in the 1998 Seoul Olympics. Two-time NCAA women’s foil champion Molly Sullivan became Notre Dame’s first female Olympian, while former Irish epeeist Mike Gostigian qualified for the modern pentathlon.
Sullivan and Gostigian made repeat appearance in Barcelona in 1992, while Gostigian made an Irish record third appearance in the Olympics in 1996 in Atlanta. Also participating in the ’96 Games and finishing 15th in the 200-meter breaststroke was 14-year old Jilen Siroky, now a freshman on the Notre Dame women’s swimming looking to be an Irish Olympian at the 2004 Games in Athens.