by Rob Joyce
The Olympics are for more than just the average sports fan. In fact, a large majority of those who tune in aren’t “traditional” fans who will watch a 162-game baseball season or 16 weeks of football. Between the expanded demographic and the fact that most sports don’t feature traditional household names, human interest stories and hometown Olympians become fan favorites.
Connecticut is well-represented in Rio this year, with plenty of athletes claiming ties to the Nutmeg State. Ten athletes or coaches either grew up or currently reside in the state. Everyone else is currently enrolled at or graduated from UConn or Yale.
Here are those Huskies and Bulldogs:
UConn women’s basketball (USA Edition):
Let’s get this large chunk out of the way first. Sue Bird and Diana Taurasi are at their fourth Olympics, Maya Moore and Tina Charles are at their second, and Breanna Stewart is making her debut. That’s a list that features the top three scorers in program history (Moore, Stewart and Charles), four of the top seven, three of the top four rebounders, two of the top five assist leaders and three of the top ten leaders in blocks. Not to mention the national titles and perfect seasons those five have seen. And leading the way for Team USA the second time is Geno Auriemma, he of 11 national titles.
Meanwhile, the lone current Husky at the Games is Nurse, who is hoping to medal with Team Canada. She won national titles in each of her first two years in Storrs, and will be heavily relied upon as the Huskies look to defend their four straight national titles in the post-Stewart/Moriah Jefferson/Morgan Tuck era. The Canadians won their first two contests, and play Senegal and then the U.S. to wrap up group play.
Thomas Barrows & Joe Morris:
Former sailing teammates at Yale, the pair are the top-ranked U.S. sailing team in Rio in the 49er division. Both 2012 graduates, they were named the top collegiate sailing team in the nation in 2009. Morris is a five-time U.S. national champion, while Barrows is making his second Olympic appearance – but first for the red, white and blue. In 2008 he represented the Virgin Islands in Beijing in the laser class. They first take off on Friday.
The Yale grad (front row, far right) was the national runner-up in 2004 for the Yale eight and is a staple on the Canadian rowing team that consistently medals at the world championships. Born in Ontario (where she currently lives), in 2012 she took home silver at the London Games in the women’s eights.
Another rower from Yale (second from the left), Cole is a Connecticut native, growing up in New Canaan. An ’07 graduate, Cole won bronze in the men’s fours in 2012 in London, and was the gold medalist in both the 2015 World Rowing Cup 2 and the 2016 World Rowing Cup I.
George is making her second Olympic appearance for the Canada in track and field. In 2012 she placed sixth in the 100-meter hurdles, after choosing to focus solely on hurdles (she also qualified for the 100-meter dash, but chose not to participate). At last year’s Pan-American Games she finished in fifth in the hurdles.
The U.S. finished 12th in field hockey when Gonzalez made her Olympic debut, but the former UConn stud has the Americans on a phenomenal run to start things off. A two-time Big East Defensive Player of the Year in her time at Storrs, the U.S. captain has helped Team USA make two big upsets in group play. First it was a 2-1 win over the second-ranked Argentinians to open the Games. Then on Monday they beat third-ranked Australia. Four of the top six in pool play will advance to the quarterfinals.
The 2011 Yale grad is the underdog story of the track and field team, despite being a four-time All-American during her time in New Haven. A seven-seed in the 800-meters at the Olympics trials, she had never medaled in college or at the national level. Grace was trailing heading into the last 150 meters when favorites Brenda Martinez and Alysia Montano stumbled, allowing Grace and Ajee’ Wilson to place first and second, respectively.
At UConn she was a four-year starter in goal, and was named the 2008 Big East Goalkeeper of the Year. Now she’s in net for the Washington Spirits of the NWSL and is the starter for Team Canada in Rio. Despite her position, it was her scoring that helped the Huskies a few times in her career, as she converted on penalty kicks in the 2007 NCAA Tournament and 2008 Big East Tourney.
The sailor from Yale (left) has a new partner this year in David Hughes, but that didn’t stop him from qualifying for his third Olympics in the two-person dinghy (or the 470, as its also called in sailing). He won three-straight U.S. national titles from 2013-15 and was a Sailing World Cup bronze medalist in ’14 and ’15.
Entering her senior year at Yale, Miller is ranked in the top five in epee fencing in the country and is representing Brazil at the Games. She didn’t fence last year for the Bulldogs to train for the Olympics, but placed 12th in 2015 at the NCAA Championships.