Six Cornell student-athletes, past and present, will represent four different countries when the 2016 Olympic Summer Games kick off Aug. 5 in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.
Two former Big Red rowers and four track and field athletes, including one current student, will be among more than 10,000 competitors representing 207 countries across 306 events in 28 sports at the XXXI Olympiad. Joining the Big Red contingent will be men’s track and field coach Adrian Durant, who will coach the U.S. Virgin Islands team, whose roster will include former NCAA triple jump champion Muhammad Halim ’08.
Joining Halim in Rio will be Nigerian shot putter Stephen Mozia ’15, Spanish sprinter Bruno Hortelano-Roig ’14, Team USA hammer thrower Rudy Winkler ’17 and rowers Tracy Eisser ’12 (women’s quadruple sculls) and Alex Karwoski ’12 (men’s eight).
Mozia may be Cornell’s top chance for an individual medal, as the eight-time NCAA All-American enters the Olympics with the third-longest throw in the shot put in the world this season at more than 71 feet. The Nigerian record-holder in the event, his best throw also is the second-longest throw in African history. Mozia finished as high as second in the NCAA in the shot put twice – and if he finishes on the podium in Rio, he’ll earn the first summer Olympics medal by any Cornell athlete since 1992 when three Big Red graduates collected a total of four medals (two golds, two bronze).
Albert Hall ’56 was a four-time Olympian in the hammer throw and, prior to this year, was the last collegiate athlete to win the U.S. Olympic Trials. The 21-year-old Winkler, whom many observers had tapped as the future star of the event, showed the future is now. With his best throw of more than 251 feet at the Olympic Trials, Winkler has the opportunity to make a name for himself on the international stage. He already holds the Cornell, Ivy League and Heptagonal records, and was the 2016 NCAA runner-up.
Hortelano-Roig, the 2016 European champion at 200 meters, may be overshadowed by arguably the greatest sprinter in history – Jamaican superstar Usain Bolt – but Hortelano-Roig relishes the challenge. In fact, he has already outraced Bolt, posting a faster time in the qualifying round of the 2013 World Championships in Moscow in August 2013. He will look to lower his own Spanish record of 20.18 while chasing down a spot in the finals.
Halim, a four-time NCAA All-American and the 2008 national champion in the triple jump, is the lone Cornellian making a repeat appearance at the Olympics. A 2012 qualifier for the U.S. Virgin Islands, he has been ranked among the top 10 jumpers in the world during his career. Halim did not make it out of the preliminary round four years ago, finishing 18th in the world. He enters the Olympics with the 16th-best mark and will need to finish in the top 12 to reach the finals.
Karwoski’s development into world-class rower and Olympian wasn’t surprising to those who worked with him on the Hill. A two-year member of the varsity eight for the Big Red heavyweight men’s team, he has spent the last four years training with the national team, winning bronze as part of the eight at the World Rowing Cup II. He was part of a U.S. team that rallied late to a first-place showing in a qualifying regatta, finishing less than a half-second ahead of the final qualifier.
Eisser had a challenging road to qualifying for the Olympics in the women’s quadruple sculls, as an individual qualifying event wasn’t used to select the team. Her training camp performances and other lineup evaluations allowed her to make the boat she had earlier helped qualify when the United States won its first-ever gold medal at the 2015 FISA World Rowing Championships. A walk-on for the Big Red women’s team, she developed into an All-Ivy League performer and capped her senior year by helping Cornell earn a bid to the 2012 NCAA Women’s Rowing National Championships, where her boat placed 11th.
The six former and current Big Red student-athletes bring the total of Cornell Olympians to 105, including 88 who have participated in the summer games. Cornell athletes have claimed a total of 55 medals, including 28 golds – more than Ireland or Egypt and more than twice as many as India.