Aug. 13, 2012
NOTRE DAME, Ind. – When the flame was extinguished during Sunday night’s Closing Ceremony for the Games of the XXX Olympiad at the Olympic Stadium in London, England, it capped off an unprecedented run of success by Notre Dame athletes in Olympic competition. A record-setting 11 Fighting Irish athletes participated in the 2012 Summer Olympics, taking home a record-setting five medals (one gold, four bronze), which put Notre Dame in a tie for 14th place among all colleges that fielded athletes at the London Games (according to research compiled by CollegeSports360.com).
Three of this year’s Fighting Irish Olympic medals came in women’s soccer, with American Shannon Boxx (’99) becoming the first Notre Dame athlete to earn three Olympic gold medals, while Canadians Candace Chapman (’05) and Melissa Tancredi (’04) led their country to the bronze medal, Canada’s first medal of any kind in a traditional team sport since 1936 (silver medal in men’s basketball).
In addition, senior fencer Courtney Hurley (San Antonio, Texas/Earl Warren) and alum Kelley Hurley (’10) contributed to the record-setting Notre Dame medal count in London, each earning a bronze for the U.S. in the women’s team epee competition. It was the first time the United States had ever won a medal in that event, and the first time an American team of either gender won a team epee medal since 1932, when the U.S. men took bronze.
Notre Dame athletes have earned 14 medals (including eight golds) in the past six Olympiads (four summer, two winter) dating back to 2000, after collecting 11 medals (two golds) combined in 16 prior Olympic Games (15 summer, one winter) that featured competitors with Fighting Irish ties, beginning with the 1912 Stockholm Olympics. As an added note, female athletes have been responsible for earning each of Notre Dame’s 14 Olympic medals since 2000.
Here’s a sport-by-sport recap of each Fighting Irish athlete’s performance at the 2012 London Olympics:
Boxx started and played all 90 minutes as the United States won its third consecutive Olympic gold medal (and fourth in five tries) with a 2-1 victory over Japan before a record crowd of 80,203 at Wembley Stadium in London. The former Notre Dame standout was making just her second appearance of these Olympics after being sidelined with a hamstring injury 17 minutes into the Americans’ opener against France (a 4-2 win), but Boxx showed few lingering effects from her injury, providing a calm and veteran presence at the critical holding midfield position for the United States, while allowing her midfield partner Carli Lloyd to push forward into an attacking role, leading to Lloyd’s decisive two goals for the Americans.
The victory not only avenged the U.S. penalty-kick shootout loss to Japan in the 2011 FIFA Women’s World Cup final, but it also elevated Boxx into uncharted territory in Notre Dame athletics history, as the first Fighting Irish athlete ever to earn three Olympic gold medals (she also was a member of the victorious American squads in 2004 and 2008). What’s more, Boxx’s three Olympic medals are tied for the second-most by a Notre Dame athlete with her former U.S. and Fighting Irish teammate Kate (Sobrero) Markgraf (’98) and fencer Mariel Zagunis, behind only legendary track & field athlete/coach Alex Wilson (’32), who earned four medals in two Olympiads for his native Canada (bronze in 4×400-meter relay in both 1928 and 1932, as well as silver in the 800 meters and bronze in the 400 meters in 1932).
Meanwhile, Canada completed one of the most remarkable one-year turnarounds in international women’s soccer history, getting a goal in second-half injury time to defeat France, 1-0 in the bronze medal match at City of Coventry Stadium in Coventry, England. Led by four goals from Tancredi and veteran leadership from Chapman, the Canadians, who went winless in three outings at last year’s World Cup, not only posted their best-ever finish in an international tournament (topping their fourth-place showing at the 2003 World Cup), but they also earned Canada’s first Olympic medal in a traditional team sport (other than rowing or equestrian) since 1936, when the Canadian men’s basketball team took the silver medal at the Berlin Olympics.
Tancredi started all six matches for Canada, playing into the 77th minute of the bronze-medal match before departing. Chapman came on as a substitute in the 84th minute against France, making her first appearance since suffering a calf injury late in Canada’s opener against Japan (a 2-1 loss).
The Notre Dame duo are two of the cornerstone members of the Canadian Women’s National Team, with Chapman being one of six players in the nation’s history with at least 100 caps (the bronze medal match was her 114th international appearance, a count that includes 103 career starts), while Tancredi garnered her 88th cap and made her 72nd international start in that contest. Tancredi also finished among the Olympic tournament scoring leaders with her four goals (including both scores in a 2-2 draw against Sweden in the group-stage finale that clinched a medal-round berth for her nation), two behind her Canadian teammate, Christine Sinclair in the race for the adidas Golden Boot. Tancredi also had two assists in the tournament, both coming to Sinclair as part of the latter’s hat trick in a memorable 4-3 loss to the United States in the Olympic semifinals, a match decided on a U.S. goal with seconds remaining in the second half of extra time.
Courtney Hurley was the hero for the United States in its women’s team epee bronze medal match against Russia (the world’s secon-ranked team), scoring the winning touch 16 seconds into overtime against Anna Sivkova, as the U.S. earned its first medal of any kind (team or individual) in women’s epee, and the first U.S. team epee medal by either gender since the American men earned the bronze at the 1932 Los Angeles Olympics (the women’s team epee event debuted at the 1996 Atlanta Games).
The bronze medal came the hard way for the United States, which defeated the world’s fourth-ranked team, Italy in the quarterfinals, 45-35, and then had to bounce back following a tough 45-36 loss to South Korea in the semifinals. Courtney Hurley, a three-time All-American and the 2011 NCAA individual champion during her Notre Dame career to date, competed in all three U.S. team matches on Saturday, posting a combined 4-4-1 record (45-39 aggregate scoring total), including a stunning 8-3 win over Italy’s Bianca Del Carretto that turned the quarterfinal squarely in the Americans’ favor.
Meanwhile, Kelley Hurley was named a replacement fencer for the bronze-medal match against Russia, despite not having competed during the entire Olympics to that point. Nevertheless, the three-time Notre Dame All-American and 2008 NCAA individual champion held her own with a medal at stake, going 1-2 (9-10 aggregate scoring total), including a critical 4-1 victory over Sivkova in the fifth of the nine-bout match. Courtney Hurley followed that win with a 4-2 victory over Lyubov Shutova, and the Hurleys’ combined 8-3 run over the two bouts highlighted the United States rally after the Americans trailed 15-11 through the first four bouts.
Courtney Hurley also participated in the women’s individual epee competition, but was eliminated in the round of 32 by Laura Flessel-Colovic of France, 15-12.
The current top-ranked American epeeist, Hurley opened an early 5-3 lead against Flessel-Colovic, but the Frenchwoman answered with four of the next six touches to tie the bout at 7-7 at the end of the first period. Hurley then erased a two-touch deficit in the second period to square the contest at 11-all. However, Flessel-Colovic closed the bout on a 4-1 run to eliminate Hurley.
Freshman foilist Lee Kiefer (Lexington, Ky./Dunbar), the youngest U.S. fencer at this year’s Olympics at age 18, also saw action in both team and individual events, beginning with her quarterfinal showing in women’s individual foil.
After receiving an opening-round bye, Kiefer defeated Canada’s Monica Peterson, 15-10 in the round of 32. She then trailed South Korea’s Gil Ok Jung, 11-8 in period three of her round-of-16 match before reeling off four consecutive touches and seven of the final nine touches in the bout to earn the 15-13 victory.
Kiefer’s run through the tournament came to an end in the quarterfinals against Italy’s Arianna Errigo (the eventual silver medalist), who took a quick 9-4 lead on the Fighting Irish rookie. Kiefer battled back with four of the next five touches to pull within two (10-8) late in the first period. However, Errigo claimed five of the final seven touches for a 15-10 victory.
Kiefer then took part in the women’s team foil competition, helping the United States finish in sixth place. Kiefer posted a combined 3-5-1 (36-35 aggregate scoring total) in the Americans’ three matches during the competition.
The Americans lost their quarterfinal match to South Korea, 45-31, with Kiefer going 0-3 against Gil Ok Jung (4-1), Hee Sook Jeon (7-1) and Hyun Hee Nam (6-4). The United States then bounced back in its first classification match, defeating Japan, 44-22, behind a 2-1 performance by Kiefer — she shut out Chieko Sugawara (5-0) and Kanae Ikehata (6-0) and dropped a close 6-4 decision to Kyomi Hirata. In the fifth/sixth-place match, the Americans lost to Poland, 45-39, with Kiefer posting a 1-1-1 record in that match, defeating K. Chlewinska (7-2) and tying S. Gruchala (5-5), while falling to M. Synoradzka (5-3).
Two-time defending Olympic gold medal-winning sabreist Mariel Zagunis, the American flag bearer for the Opening Ceremony, finished in fourth place at this year’s individual sabre event. The Beaverton, Ore., native rolled to the semifinals with wins over Dian Permatasari of Indonesia (15-7), Seira Nakayama of Japan (15-9) and Min Zhu of China (15-6), and appeared poised to return to the gold medal bout, leading her semifinal contest with South Korea’s Jiyeon Kim, 8-2 after the first period and 12-6 midway through the second. However, Kim rallied and scored nine of the final 10 points to upset Zagunis, 15-13, dropping the American into the bronze medal contest.
Zagunis had only one hour to regroup before competing for the bronze against Olga Kharlan of the Ukraine. Again, Zagunis took an early lead, going ahead 4-1, but Kharlan came back to tie the score before Zagunis regained a 9-7 advantage. Kharlan then had the final response, scoring eight of the last nine points to claim a 15-10 win.
After having originally qualified as a replacement fencer for the United States men’s foil team, Notre Dame senior Gerek Meinhardt (San Francisco, Calif./Lick-Wilmerding) was added to the lineup for the Olympic competition, helping the Americans to a fourth-place finish. It tied the best placement by the U.S. in the men’s team foil event since 1932, when the Americans earned the most recent of their three team medals in that competition, a bronze in Los Angeles.
A two-time first-team All-American and the 2010 NCAA individual foil champion since coming to Notre Dame in 2009, Meinhardt did not need much time to make his mark for the United States — in his second quarterfinal bout (and the Americans’ seventh of nine) against France’s Victor Sintes (a bronze medalist at the 2011 World Championships), Meinhardt registered a stunning 11-1 victory, as the Americans rallied from a six-touch deficit over the final three bouts to defeat France, 45-39.
The United States then met the world’s top-ranked team, Italy, in the semifinals and came up on the short end of a 45-24 decision, sending the Americans in a bronze-medal match against Germany. Much like the semifinal against Italy, the U.S. ran into trouble early and could not manage to claw it way back, falling to the Germans, 45-27.
Meinhardt finished with a 2-6 record (25-37 aggregate scoring total) for his eight bouts, having coming on as the replacement fencer midway through the quarterfinal against France.
Notre Dame junior forward Natalie Achonwa (Guelph, Ontario/St. Mary’s Catholic) helped Canada reach the Olympic quarterfinals for the first time in 28 years before her team bowed out of the tournament to the eventual gold medalist United States, 91-48.
Achonwa (pronounced uh-CHAWN-wuh), the second-youngest women’s basketball player at this year’s Olympics at age 19 (and a mere 42 days older than Angola’s Ana Goncalves), came off the bench in all six games for Canada, averaging 7.2 points, 3.8 rebounds and 2.2 assists per game. She also ranked among the top four on the Canadian roster in rebounds (second), assists (third), steals (third – 0.8 spg.), field goal percentage (third – .385) and points (fourth).
What’s more, Achonwa posted two double-figure scoring efforts during the tournament — 14 points (and a game-high eight rebounds) in a 64-60 loss to Group B winner (and eventual silver medalist) France, and 11 points in a 79-73 win over the world’s sixth-ranked team, Brazil, during the preliminary round, a victory that clinched Canada’s quarterfinal berth (its first since a fourth-place finish at the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics) and was that country’s first-ever win against its South American rival.
WOMEN’S TRACK & FIELD
Former 10-time Notre Dame All-America distance runner Molly Huddle (’06) placed 11th in the 5,000-meter final in a time of 15:20.29. Competing in her first Olympic Games, Huddle (the American record holder at the distance in 14:44.75) looked to challenge the best finish ever by a U.S. runner in the event (ninth by Lynn Jennings in 1996 and Kara Goucher in 2008), qualifying for the final with a season-best time of 15:02.25 in the preliminaries. However, the Olympic 5,000-meter final was run at a much slower and more tactical pace, with the 15-person field bunched tightly until the final three laps of the 12.5-lap race. Ironically, Huddle’s time in her qualifying heat would have won the final by a full two seconds, with Ethiopia’s Meseret Defar winning the gold in 15:04.25.
MEN’S TRACK & FIELD
Representing Nigeria for the second consecutive Olympiad, former Notre Dame hurdler Selim Nurudeen (’05) advanced to the semifinals in the 110-meter high hurdles, successfully building upon his performance at the 2008 Beijing Games, when he reached the quarterfinals. A 15-time all-BIG EAST Conference and two-time All-America pick at Notre Dame, Nurudeen (full name pronounced suh-LIM new-roo-DEEN) ran a personal-best 13.51 to finish second in his preliminary heat and move on the competition. He nearly duplicated his personal-best time in the semifinals, covering the course in 13.55 seconds to finish fifth in his semifinal heat, but not high enough to advance to the final.
For more information on Notre Dame participants at the 2012 London Olympics, visit the special Notre Dame Olympics microsite (und.com/olympics), the official London Olympics web site (london2012.com) or the official NBC Olympics web site (nbcolympics.com).
— ND —