By Jeff Nelson, Penn State
UNIVERSITY PARK – As the Olympic Flame finishes its trip around the globe, a school-record 19 Penn Staters are gearing up to represent their school and countries at the 2012 Olympic Games in London. Opening ceremonies at the Olympics take place July 27.
Not including the 1980 Olympics in Moscow, where 65 countries did not participate, Penn State has sent athletes to each Olympic Games since 1948, a streak of 15-consecutive Games. Nittany Lion athletes also competed at the 1908 and 1948 Games in London, now the only city to be chosen to host the event three times. Walter Bahr, Penn State’s men’s soccer coach from 1974-87, was one of nine competitors from the school at the 1948 Games.
In all, Penn State competitors have won 23 medals, including five gold-medal efforts, from 78 Olympians. Former men’s gymnastics assistant coach Kevin Tan is the most recent Penn Stater to medal in the Olympics, earning a team bronze at the 2008 Beijing Olympics. Suzanne McConnell was the last Penn Stater to capture a gold medal, earning the medal as a member of the 1988 U.S. women’s basketball team. McConnell also took home bronze at the 1992 Games.
The 2012 Nittany Lion contingent consists of competitors from seven sports, including both male and female competitors in fencing, track & field and volleyball. Natalie Dell will make history for the school as the first Nittany Lion to compete in rowing at the Olympics.
Four competitors are current student-athletes at Penn State, while an additional 14 alumni and one Nittany Lion coach will also compete. Eight individuals will represent seven countries other than the U.S., including Canada, Great Britain, Israel, Jamaica, Mexico, Puerto Rico, and Suriname.
Penn State will be well represented in track & field with five athletes. Dominique Blake, a 2008 graduate, earned a spot in the Jamaican relay pool on the heels of a sixth-place finish in the women’s 400 final. The former NCAA champion in 4×400-meter relay already has some international experience under her belt, competing for Jamaica in the open 400 at the World Indoors, where she finished as a semi-finalist.
Shana Cox will represent Great Britain in the 400-meter event. Cox, another 2008 graduate, was an 11-time All-American and NCAA champion in the 400- and 4×400-meter relay as a Nittany Lion.
Kirsten Nieuwendam (Paramibo, Suriname), who owns sophomore eligibility indoors and freshman eligibility outdoors at Penn State, is set to compete in the 200-meters for her home country of Suriname. The trip will be the second for Nieuwendam, who competed in the same event at the Beijing Games in 2008. Nieuwendam enjoyed outstanding success in 2012, finishing second in both the 400-meters and 4×400-meter relay at the Big Ten Indoor Championships, before adding another silver medal in the 4×400, as well as a third-place effort in the 200 at the outdoor conference meet.
Bridget Franek, a 2010 graduate, and Ryan Whiting, a volunteer head coach for the Nittany Lions, will compete for the United States. Franek qualified for her first career Olympic berth, placing second in the 3,000-meter steeplechase at the U.S. Olympic Trials in Eugene, Ore. Franek, who was an NCAA champion in the event in 2010, matched her highest-ever US finish in the effort, thanks to a finishing time of 9:35.62. A 10-time NCAA All-American while wearing the Blue and White, Franek clinched a spot on her third U.S. squad, having traveled to the IAAF World Championships in 2009, and 2011. Whiting – the defending World Indoor Champion in the shot put – also earned his first Olympic spot, via a second-place finish in his signature event. One of the top throwers in the world as well as a volunteer coach on the Nittany Lion track & field staff, Whiting recorded a toss of 71-0.75 (21.66) to finish second to only Reese Hoffa’s 72-2.25 (22.00). Whiting is also no stranger to qualifying for U.S. teams, representing his country at the 2011 IAAF World Outdoor Championships, and 2012 IAAF World Indoor Championships. The Harrisburg, Pa., native was a six-time NCAA Champion while competing at Arizona State.
Four women’s volleyball players will be a part of the U.S. squad, including two 2009 graduates,Nicole Fawcett and Christa Harmotto, and 2010 graduates Alisha Glass Megan Hodge. Harmotto and Hodge were both selections to the 12-player U.S. squad, while Fawcett and Glass serve as alternates for the group.
The four Nittany Lions were all a part of Penn State’s historic run to four straight NCAA titles between 2007-10. Harmotto and Fawcett helped Penn State capture two (2007, 2008), while Hodge and Glass were part of three (2007, 2008, 2009). The 2009 AVCA National Player of the Year and ESPN The Magazine/CoSIDA Academic All-American of the Year, Hodge was a four-time First Team AVCA All-American. Hodge closed out her Penn State career ranked second all-time in the record books with 2,142 career kills and amassed a career record of 142-5 (97%). She also helped lead Penn State to 102 of its record-breaking 109-match winning streak. Harmotto is second in the Penn State career records in hitting percentage at .433 and fourth all-time in total blocks at 682.
Matt Anderson will help lead the U.S. men’s volleyball team. A two-time AVCA All-American and the 2008 AVCA co-National Player of the Year, Anderson led Penn State to the 2008 NCAA title where he was named the Most Outstanding Player of the championship. After leaving early to pursue a professional volleyball career, Anderson has become a fixture on the U.S. Men’s National Team. Most recently, Anderson led the U.S. Men to a gold medal in the NORCECA Men’s Continential Olympic Qualification Tournament where he was also named “Best Spiker”. He is making is first Olympic Games appearance.
A trio of fencers also compete at the London Games with Miles Chamley-Watson (Philadelphia, Pa.) and Doris Willette representing the U.S. and Daniel Gomez-Tanamachi (Mexico City, Mexico) donning Mexico’s colors.
Chamley-Watson took the 2012 collegiate season off to pursue a spot on the U.S. Olympic Team. It paid off as he qualified for the third spot on the foil squad. This follows his junior season at Penn State in 2010-11 that saw him fence his way to All-America honors for the third straight time with a runner-up finish. As a sophomore, Chamley-Watson tied for third at NCAAs, duplicating his performance as a freshman in 2009. Willette, a four-time All-American and two-time national champion, competed for Penn State from 2006-2011 and is making her second straight appearance in the Olympic games. Willette left Penn State with a 117-14 dual record and won the NCAA title in the women’s foil in 2007 and 2009 and was an All-American in 2010 and 2011.
Gomez-Tanamachi will be making his first appearance at the Olympics for his home country of Mexico. He enjoyed a stellar junior campaign in 2012, going 24-8 and placing first at the Mid-Atlantic/South Regional to qualify for the National Championships. He defeated 13 opponents to claim 10th in the nation and was an Honorable Mention All-American. After the season, Gomez-Tanamachi claimed a spot on the Mexico Men’s Foil Team for the 2012 Olympics in London and will return to Penn State as a senior this fall.
Soccer alumnae Erin McLeod and Carmelina Moscato¸ both 2006 graduates, will take to the pitch for Canada this summer. McLeod left Penn State as one of the most accomplished goalkeepers, earning NSCAA All-America First Team honors after leading the Nittany Lions to a No. 1 ranking during the 2005 season and a Women’s College Cup berth. McLeod was a two-time All-Big Ten First Team honoree, posting a 0.64 goals against average and a record of 39-2-3. McLeod was also a semifinalist for the Missouri Athletic Club’s Hermann Trophy, a rare feat for a goalkeeper. Her counterpart, Moscato, was a defensive stalwart on the 2005 College Cup team. Moscato helped lead the Nittany Lions to four Big Ten championships and the 2001 Big Ten Tournament championship. During the 2005 season, Moscato and McLeod teamed up to lead PSU to its best season ever at 23-0-2 with a 19-game winning streak. Along with McLeod, Moscato has been a mainstay in the Canadian National Team defense, earning trips to the 2003 and 2011 FIFA Women’s World Cup tournaments. Moscato is making her first Olympic appearance while McLeod is making her second after competing at the Beijing Games.
A pair of Nittany Lions will also be active in men’s gymnastics competition. Alumnus Tommy Ramos and junior Felix Aronovich (Kiryat Bialik, Israel) will represent Puerto Rico and Israel, respectively. The duo gives Penn State two Olympic gymnasts at the same Games for the first time since 1992 when Terry Bartlett and Ian Shelley represented Great Britain in Barcelona. A six-time All-American under the tutelage of Penn State head coach Randy Jepson, Ramos played a prominent role in helping the Nittany Lions to the program’s NCAA-record 12th national championship in 2007 and a Big Ten title in 2008. A two-time Big Ten still rings champion, he held the Penn State record in the event (16.000), set at the 2008 National Collegiate Championships, until Scott Rosenthal broke it in the 2012 season opener against Army, scoring a 16.300.
Interestingly, Aronovich qualified twice for the Olympics, first meeting the Olympic committee requirements at a test event in London in January and then meeting the Israeli Olympic committee conditions by placing 11th in the all-around at the European Championships in May. In 2012, Aronovich was a key member of a Penn State squad that finished third at the National Collegiate Championships. He earned his first two career All-America honors, placing seventh in the all-around during the team finals and placing fifth in the parallel bars at the individual finals. At the 2012 Big Ten Championships, Aronovich placed fourth in the all-around, earning First Team All-Big Ten honors. The former Big Ten Co-Freshman of the Year had his best collegiate season in 2012, setting career highs in five of six events and the all-around. The five-time Big Ten Gymnast of the Week has recorded 55 top three finishes, including 29 title wins, during his collegiate career.
Dell, a 2007 graduate, is a third-year member of the U.S. Rowing team after competing for the club-level Penn State squad, where she went undefeated in 2006. Competing in women’s quadruple sculls, the 2012 Games mark the first Olympic trip for Dell. She offers strong international experience, winning bronze in the quadruple sculls at the 2012 Samsung World Rowing Cup II and silver in the same event at the 2011 World Rowing Championships.
Cyclist Bobby Lea, a 2006 graduate, will travel to his second Olympics this summer after competing in Beijing in 2008. The endurance cyclist will look to improve upon his 16th-place showing in the Madison event in 2008, this time competing in the Omnium. Lea won 30 collegiate national titles as a part of the Penn State Cycling Team before turning pro after graduation. Since the Beijing Games, Lea has collected four national championships, including gold in the Individual Pursuit and the Omnium at the 2011 USA Cycling Elite Track National Championships.