Raleigh, N.C. - Sports fans in North Carolina know the Summer Olympics showcases some of the best competitors in the world with ties to the Tar Heel state. The state boasts winners in swimming, women's soccer, track and field and basketball. This year should be no exception for teams and individuals seeking to bring honor and medals home to the United States. It fits perfectly with the state's sports culture.
Among familiar names are that of boxer Sugar Ray Leonard, 1976 gold medalist who grew up in Wilmington; and also from Wilmington, Michael Jordan, gold medalist in basketball in 1884 and 1992. Bobby Jones from Charlotte was on the 1972 silver medal basketball team in a game against the Soviet Union that remains controversial.
Women's soccer became an Olympic sport in 1996 and provided a world stage for the incomparable Mia Hamm, UNC-Chapel Hill standout, who came to be considered the best female soccer player ever. The 2016 U.S. women's soccer team has five former UNC players including Tobin Heath, seeking her third gold medal, and Meghan Klingenberg, Crystal Dunn, Whitney Engen and Allie Long.
In 1968 swimmer Stephen Rerych won two gold medals for the 4x100 freestyle and 4x200 meter freestyle. He completed his medical degree at Columbia University, did an internship at Duke University and later was a surgeon at Duke University Medical Center and the Veteran's Medical Center in Asheville.
This year's standout swimmer from Duke is alum Abby Johnson, who won a silver medal on the synchronized team in 2012 but is competing solo in the three-meter springboard in 2016. N.C. State University grad Cullen Jones won a gold and two silver medals at the 2012 games in the 4x100 meter relay, 50 meter free and 400-meter free relay, respectively, and is going into his fourth Olympic games.
Kathleen Baker of Winston-Salem will compete in the 100-meter backstroke in her first Olympic games. She trains at SwimMAC in Charlotte with a cadre of Rio-bound swimmers. Ryan Lochte is competing in his fourth Olympics and seeking a medal in 800-meter freestyle and 200-meter individual medley.
Anthony Irvin won two medals in 2000 and competes in the 400-meter freestyle relay and the 50-meter individual freestyle this year. Jimmy Feigen also will compete on the 400-meter relay, in his second Olympics. Camille Adams will be at her second Olympics and compete in the 200-meter butterfly, while Kate Meili makes her Olympic debut in the 100-meter breaststroke. That's a lot of power from Charlotte.
Ryan Held, N.C. State University sophomore, makes his Olympic debut on the 400-meter relay team also.
Track and Field has a long history of standouts. Floyd "Chuck' Simmons won bronze medals in decathlon in 1948 in London and 1952 in Helsinki. In 1956 and 1960, N.C. Central University's Lee Calhoun took the gold in the 110-meter high hurdles. Vince Johnson of Johnson C. Smith University won gold for the 4x400-meter relay in 1968 and a gold for the 400-meter in 1972. Dave Sime of Duke University won silver in the 1960 Olympics.
Joan Benoit attended N.C. State University and won the first women's Olympic marathon in 1984. In 2000, Marion Jones, who attended UNC, became the first woman to win five medals in one Olympics - three gold and two bronze. She was later stripped of the awards after admitting steroid use.
Raeford native Kathy McMillan won the silver medal in the long jump at the 1976 Montreal Olympics. In 2012, Manteo Mitchell of Shelby won a silver medal in the 4x400-meter - while running the last 200-meters on a broken leg.
This year UNC-Greensboro grad Paul Chelimo will compete in the 5000-meter race in Rio, while East Carolina University grad LaShawn Merritt is seeking his third gold medal in as many Olympics. He won the 400- and 4x400-meter races in 2008, and will compete this year in the 200- and 400-meter
Tavis Bailey of Kernersville will debut in the discus throw while Greenville born Sean Furey will compete in the javelin in his second Olympic games. Duke grad Shannon Rowbury will compete in the 1500-meters in her third Olympics. UNC grad Shalane Flanagan will run in her fourth straight Olympic marathon. Wake Forest grad Greg Billington will compete in the men's triathlon.
Raleigh born Burkheart Ellis, Jr. will compete in the 200 meter for Barbados, and is one of 39 Olympians who have been coached by the renown George Williams at St. Augustine's. Williams has won more track and field championships than any other track coach in the country. He has coached three Olympic gold medalists and will have four runners in the games this year representing other countries. He was head of the 2004 U.S. Track and Field team.
The late Leroy Walker, Jr. of N.C. Central University, was the first black coach of an American Olympic team in 1976. The U.S. team included Edwin Moses and Bruce (Caitlin) Jenner, and won six gold medals. He was president of the U.S. Olympic Committee in 1996 and also coached Lee Calhoun.
The field hockey team will feature eight players with North Carolina ties, including Michelle Kasold, who was on the 1984 U.S. team, which won the bronze medal. No U.S. team has medaled since. Kasold attended Wake Forest, as did team member Lauren Crandall. Other members are Stefanie Fee, who attended Duke; and Jackie Briggs, Rachel Dawson, Katelyn Falgowski, Kelsey Kolojejchick and Caitlin Van Sickle, all who attended UNC. They comprise half of the 16 member U.S. team.
The U.S. men's basketball team has won 14 gold medals of the 17 contests, aided by some of the greatest talents from North Carolina, players and coaches alike. Among the players are Michael Jordan, Vince Carter, Grant Hill, Bobby Jones, Sam Perkins, Christian Laettner, Chris Paul, Tommy Burleson, Charles Scott, Tom LaGarde and many more.
The Rio team will feature Duke's Kyrie Irvin and UNC's Harrison Barnes.
Legendary coaches Dean Smith, of UNC, and Mike Kryzewski of Duke, have coached the men. Krzyzewski is coaching his third Olympics and says it is his final tour; Smith coached two Olympic teams. N.C. State University Coach Norm Sloan led the 1994 men's team. In 1988, the U.S. women's basketball team won the gold medal coached by N.C. State University coach Kay Yow.
Other sports less influenced by North Carolina will see athletes in Rio. They include Duke grad Ibtihaj Muhammad in fencing on sabre, individual and team; N.C. State grad Lucas Kozeniesky on 10-meter air rifle and Ashton Locklear, of Lumberton, alternate in women's gymnastics.
Casey Eichfield of Mount Holly is attending his third Olympic games and competes in canoe slalom events. Michael Smolen of Gastonia makes his Olympic debut in the kayak slalom event.
To learn more about the Olympics and North Carolina and see some biographies, visit ncpedia.org. The North Carolina Sports Hall of Fame, housed in the N.C. Museum of History, includes 31 Olympians and a biography of all SHOF inductees. Many named here are members. Other Hall of Fame Olympians are Walt Bellamy,Tim Duncan, Sam Jones, Carla Overbeck, Karen Shelton, Sue Walsh, Buck Williams, Roy Williams and Susan Yow. A complete list of SHOF Olympians is available at ncpedia.org.
The N.C. Sports Hall of Fame is an affiliate of the N.C. Museum of History, part of the N.C. Department of Natural and Cultural Resources. The State Library of North Carolina provides NCpedia, the online source for North Carolina facts, and within the N.C. Department of Natural and Cultural Resources.
About the North Carolina Department of Natural and Cultural Resources
The N.C. Department of Natural and Cultural Resources (NCDNCR) is the state agency with a vision to be the leader in using the state's natural and cultural resources to build the social, cultural, educational and economic future of North Carolina. Led by Secretary Susan Kluttz, NCDNCR's mission is to improve the quality of life in our state by creating opportunities to
experience excellence in the arts, history, libraries and nature in North Carolina by stimulating learning, inspiring creativity, preserving the state's history, conserving the state's natural heritage, encouraging recreation and cultural tourism, and promoting economic development.
NCDNCR includes 27 historic sites, seven history museums, two art museums, two science museums, three aquariums and Jennette's Pier, 39 state parks and recreation areas, the N.C. Zoo, the nation's first state-supported Symphony Orchestra, the State Library, the State Archives, the N.C. Arts Council, State Preservation Office and the Office of State Archaeology, along with the Division of Land and Water Stewardship. For more information, please call (919) 807-7300 or visit www.ncdcr.gov.