Going for gold: UVA sends 18 Olympians to Rio

A record 14 competitors with ties to UVA will take part in the 2016 Olympic games August 3-21. A record 14 competitors with ties to UVA will take part in the 2016 Olympic games August 3-21.

A record 14 competitors with ties to UVA will take part in the 2016 Olympic games August 3-21, alongside two coaches and two alternates. The 16 participating athletes span from the class of 2007 to 2017, and represent seven different nations.

Two current students at UVA will compete at the Olympics, Leah Smith and Filip Mihaljevic, both rising fourth-years. Mihaljevic, competing in shot put for Croatia, will go up against his current assistant coach at UVA, Kemal Mesic, representing Bosnia and Herzegovina.

UVA’s head rowing coach, Kevin Sauer, and head soccer coach, Steve Swanson, will support the United States as assistant coaches in their respective sports.

As the Olympics begin, many Cavaliers will wave the flags of different nations, but all will represent UVA.

Field hockey

Michelle Vittese United States

Vittese is no stranger to the big stage when it comes to field hockey. The Philadelphia native started at UVA in 2008 and earned her spot on the All-American team three times during her college career. In 2012, Vittese redshirted to compete with the U.S. National Team and won U.S. Field Hockey National Player of the Year in the 2012 London Olympics. She returned to UVA to finish her studies, making the ACC Academic Honor Roll. Vittese enters the 2016 Rio Olympics with 150 appearances for the U.S. National Team.


Susanne Grainger Canada

Grainger, born in London, Ontario, helped UVA’s novice eight win the 2010 ACC Championship. Then, in 2011, Grainger helped Canada claim gold in the women’s eight at the 2011 U23 World Championships, and did it again in 2012, this time in the four. Also in 2012, she  was a member of the varsity eight squad that won the NCAA National Championships. In her senior year at UVA, the varsity eight squad finished fourth at the NCAA National Championships, but Grainger earned a spot on the All-ACC Academic Team. Now, she enters her first Olympics, representing Canada.

Inge Janssen Netherlands

Janssen will compete in her second Olympics this August. In the 2012 London Olympics, the Netherlands-born Janssen finished eighth overall in the women’s double sculls. As a senior, Janssen’s varsity four won the NCAA Championship in 2010, and she won a bronze medal at the 2015 World Rowing Championships in the women’s quad.

Matt Miller United States

The Fairfax native competed on UVA’s club rowing team all four of his years at the university. On the international stage, he placed fourth overall in the 2014 World Rowing Championships in the four, and seventh the next year. Rio is Miller’s first Olympics.

Meghan O’Leary United States

Hailing from Tulsa, Oklahoma, O’Leary has always been a competitor—just not always a rower. She graduated from UVA in 2008 without rowing once for the prestigious Virginia rowing team, instead playing softball and volleyball for the Cavaliers. It wasn’t until 2010 that she started rowing, and since then she has competed in two World Rowing Championships, earning her highest rank—sixth—in 2014. Just six years after picking up rowing, O’Leary qualified for the Rio Olympics in the double sculls.

Christine Roper Canada

Despite being born in Jamaica, Roper joins team Canada in Rio. She picked up rowing at age 14, thanks to her love of racing. While at UVA, Roper was a second-team All-American and helped the Cavaliers win the 2010 NCAA Championship. She moved to Canada after graduating from UVA in 2011, and there, earned two gold medals and one bronze in the U23 World Rowing Championships. She heads to her first Olympics at age 26.

Women’s soccer

Morgan Brian United States

Brian was on the U.S. National Team that won the 2015 FIFA World Cup, and at age 22, the St. Simon’s Island, Georgia, native was the youngest member of the team. While at UVA, Brian won the MAC Hermann Trophy two years in a row, only the fourth female ever to do so. She was named the U.S. Soccer Young Female Athlete of the Year and led the Cavs to a runner-up finish at the 2014 NCAA Tournament, its highest finish in program history. Brian was the first Virginia player to record 40 goals and 40 assists in her college career. Since UVA, she has continued her success, earning the first overall selection in the 2015 National Women’s Soccer League Draft to the Houston Dash. At 23, she heads to Rio hoping to add an Olympic gold medal to her résumé.

Becky Sauerbrunn United States

Standing at 5-foot-7, Sauerbrunn is a veteran defender and the U.S. Women’s National Team’s co-captain for the 2016 Rio Olympics. During her career with UVA, she played every minute of her 2003 and 2005 seasons, skipping 2004 to redshirt with the U.S. National Team at the U19 World Championships in Thailand. After college, Sauerbrunn went to the Washington Freedom as the third overall pick in the 2008 Women’s Professional Soccer Draft. She accompanied the national team to both the 2011 and 2015 FIFA World Cups, earning silver and gold medals respectively. At 31, Sauerbrunn became the first NWSL player to be named Defender of the Year three years in a row. In the 2012 London Olympics, she helped the U.S. team win a gold medal and hopes to have a repeat performance in Rio.


Yannick Kaeser Switzerland

Coming from Mumpf, Switzerland, Kaeser holds two Swiss national records in both the 100-meter and 200-meter breaststroke. He represented Switzerland at the 2012 London Olympics but failed to advance to the semifinals in the 200-meter breaststroke, finishing 24th overall in the preliminary heats. After the Olympics, Kaeser came to UVA where he was a four-time All-American. Now a college graduate, he looks to improve on his previous Olympic performance.

Leah Smith United States

The Pittsburgh native was the 2014 ACC Freshman of the Year, as well as a U.S. National Team member in 2014 and 2015. At UVA, Smith earned All-American status in four events and set NCAA records in three—the 500 free, 1,000 free and 1,650 free. Smith holds the UVA record for NCAA titles held by one athlete, winning the 500 free and the 1,650 free in both 2015 and 2016. At 21, she is one of two current UVA students to compete in the 2016 Rio Olympics.


Dominic Inglot Great Britain

London-born Inglot was a three-time All-American at UVA. After graduation, he won the doubles silver medal at the 2009 World University Games. Currently, the Association of Tennis Professionals ranks Inglot 30th globally in men’s doubles, and at age 30, he makes his first Olympic appearance for Great Britain.

Track and field

Robby Andrews United States

The New Jersey native attended UVA for only two years before pursuing a professional career in track and field. While at UVA, Andrews won both the 800-meter indoor track and the 800-meter outdoor track events at the NCAA Championships. At the 2010 International Association of Athletics Federations World Junior Championships, Andrews took home bronze in the 800-meters. He returned to UVA in 2014 to finish his degree in kinesiology, and after finishing second at the U.S. Olympic Team Trials, he’ll compete in the 1,500-meters in Rio.

Kemal Mesic Bosnia and Herzegovina

An assistant track and field coach at UVA, Mesic will compete in shot put against one of his students, Filip Mihaljevic, who won the 2016 NCAA Championship and came in fifth at the 2016 NCAA Outdoor Track & Field Championships. Mesic competed in the 2012 Olympic games but failed to qualify for the finals, finishing 24th overall.

Filip Mihaljevic Croatia

Born in Livno, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Mihaljevic will represent Croatia in the 2016 Olympics. He joins Leah Smith, the other current UVA student attending the games, and is in the odd position of competing against his UVA coach, Kemal Mesic, in the shot put events. Mihaljevic is an eight-time All-American at UVA and won seven ACC Championships along with one NCAA Championship. In his three years at UVA, Mihaljevic also has earned 2016 ACC Men’s Outdoor Field Performer of the Year, 2016 ACC Men’s Field MVP and 2014 ACC Outdoor Freshman of the Year. In 2015, he won the European Under-23 Shot Put Championship, and this year, he earned bronze at the IAAF World Indoor Championships. This will be his first Olympic games.

Olympic coaches

Kevin Sauer United States

UVA’s decorated head rowing coach joins five former UVA rowers in Rio as an assistant coach for the U.S. rowing team. During his 21-year career as UVA’s head coach, Sauer has won Collegiate Rowing Coaches Association National Coach of the Year twice, led the Cavaliers to two NCAA Championships and guided 39 student-athletes to 51 CRCA All-American citations. On the international stage, Sauer coached the U.S. four to a gold medal at the 2007 World Rowing U-23 Championships and to a third-place finish in 2015. In Sauer’s Olympic debut, he will coach Meghan O’Leary and her teammate Ellen Tomek in the women’s double.

Steve Swanson United States

Another UVA head coach will assist at the Olympics. Swanson, the women’s soccer coach, travels to Rio as the women’s national team seeks to repeat 2012’s gold-medal performance. Swanson, an assistant coach during the 2015 FIFA World Cup, helped the U.S. to its third World Cup. He built a dynasty at UVA, and in 2013, was named National Soccer Coaches Association of America National Coach of the Year. Then in 2014, Swanson led the Cavaliers to their first appearance in the College Cup final, and in 2014 to an ACC regular season title. He sent Emily Sonnett to the National Women’s Soccer League as the top overall pick in the 2016 draft. Sonnett follows Morgan Brian, a former Cav who went first overall in the 2015 NWSL draft. Swanson will be reunited with three former Cavaliers on the U.S. team.

Dawn Staley United States

Dawn Staley is an icon for UVA women’s basketball, taking the Cavaliers to the Final Four three times as a player and being named national Player of the Year in 1991 and 1992. Now, Staley is an icon for women’s basketball around the world, earning a spot as an assistant coach on the U.S. women’s Olympics basketball team. Staley, who has won three Olympic gold medals, will guide current legends such as Mia Moore and Diana Taurasi toward gold, which would be the sixth straight for the U.S. women’s basketball team. She is currently the women’s head coach at the University of South Carolina, where she has steadily improved the team’s record, from 11-18 in 2008, to 33-2 this past season.


Paige Selenski United States

A former ACC Freshman of the Year, Selenski will travel to Rio as a women’s field hockey alternate, which means she will join the roster if a member falls ill or suffers an injury. Selenski thrived at UVA, winning ACC Offensive Player of the Year in 2012 along with Virginia Female Collegiate Athlete of the Year. She recorded seven hat tricks, third-most in UVA’s field hockey history. Internationally, Selenski earned a gold medal at both the 2015 and 2011 Pan-American games and scored a goal at the 2012 London Olympics. At her second Olympic games, Selenski hopes to support the national team and earn a spot back on the starting roster.

Emily Sonnett United States

Following in Morgan Brian’s footsteps, Sonnett went first overall in the 2016 National Women’s Soccer League draft. She was named 2015 ESPNW National Player of the Year and earned ACC Defensive Player of the Year. With the U.S. women’s national team, Sonnett holds nine international appearances but is currently a member of the U-23 team.

This article was updated at 3:30pm on August 10 to add Dawn Staley to the list.

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