Going for Gold
After an extra year of waiting, the world’s best athletes headed to Tokyo this summer for an Olympic and Paralympic Games like no other—without spectators, but with a lengthy list of COVID precautions. Illinois athletes were well represented on Team USA’s roster, and many international students and alumni also competed for their home countries.
Naperville native Jordyn Poulter, ’18 MEDIA, has set for the women’s national team since she graduated in 2018. Joining her behind the net is Michelle Bartsch-Hackley, ’12 AHS, a 2020 inductee into the Illinois Hall of Fame who plays professionally in Turkey.
TRACK & FIELD
Ten-time NCAA All-American David Kendziera, ’17 LAS, EDM ’19—a Mt. Prospect native who now trains in North Carolina—made the team in the 400-meter hurdles.
Alumni Thomas Detry, ’16 BUS, and Thomas Pieters,’13 AHS, are good friends who both play on the European Tour; they both represented their native country, Belgium.
Tyson Bull, ’18 AHS, soars on the high bar, excels at the pommel horse and represented Australia at the Games. Meanwhile, Alex Diab, ’20 AHS—who specializes in rings and floor—was an alternate for Team USA.
South African Kevin Anderson has been ranked as high as fifth in the world and was inducted in the Illinois Hall of fame in 2018. In Rio in 2016, Rajeev Ram won silver mixed doubles with his partner Venus Williams. He also has three Grand Slam doubles victories to his name and coaches at University of California, Berkeley.
Tatyana McFadden, ’13 ACES, EDM’ 19, long a dominant force, has hopes of adding to her 17 Paralympic medals, including seven golds—and current graduate student Susannah Scaroni, who’s studying to be a dietitian with a special focus on Paralympic athletes, headed to her third Games. And if men’s racer Daniel Romanchuk looks familiar, you might have seen him winning one of several major marathons in 2019, or on the wrapper of your chocolate brownie Clif bar.
Other Paralympic track athletes in Tokyo were incoming freshman Hannah Dederick; undergrads Alexa Halko, Eva Houston, and Isaiah Rigo; and current grad students Jenna Fesemyer and Kelsey LeFevour,’11 MEDUA, MS ’14 AHS. Alumni participants include Yen Hoang, ’19 BUS, MS ’20 BUS; Ray Martin, ’17 AHS; Chelsea McClammer, ’17 ACES; Amanda McGrory, ’10 LAS, MS’18 IS; Aaron Pike, ’11 LAS; and Brian Siemann, ’13 LAS, EDM ’15.
WHEELCHAIR BASKETBALL (Men’s/Women’s)
Ryan Neiswender, ’99 BUS, has played with the Men’s National Team since he was in high school; after graduation, the four-time All-American played professionally in Europe.
In Rio in 2016, Steve Serio, ’10 AHS,was co-captain of the U.S. team that won gold for the first time since 1988; he also has a bronze medal from London in 2012. In between Paralympics, he plays for the National Wheelchair Basketball Association’s New York Rollin’ Knicks.
Meanwhile, Utah native and current student Ali Ibanez was also selected for the Women’s National Team in high school, and now makes her first trip to the Games.
Germany’s Edina Mueller, ’08 AHS, retired from wheelchair basketball in 2014, two years after winning gold in London in 2012. She made it to Rio in 2016 in rowing, where she won silver.
Dylan Alcott won gold in Beijing in 2008 with the Australian wheelchair basketball team, then switched sports. In Rio in 2016, he won gold in both singles and doubles in the quad class, for athletes with restrictions in their playing arm as well as impairment in one or both legs.
Current Illinois wheelchair track coach Adam Bleakney, ’00 LAS, MA ’02 MEDIA, will coach for Team USA in Paralympic track & field. Other former Illini athletes who’ll coach at the Games are Erin Virtue,’05 HAS, ’05 AHS (volleyball); Joey Peters (Paralympic track & field); Christina (Ripp) Schwab, ’05 AHS and Robb Taylor, ’06 AHS, (wheelchair basketball) and Kevin Orr, ’89 AHS (quad rugby, for Japan).