San Diego connections to the Rio Games
List of Olympic athletes with San Diego connections.
Australia’s BMX team held a media day last week before flying to Brazil for the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro that open Friday. It wasn’t in Sydney or Melbourne or the capital of Canberra or on the Gold Coast, where the nation’s bicycle motocross headquarters are.
It was in Chula Vista.
There are five members of Australia’s BMX team. Sam Willoughby, Lauren Reynolds and Anthony Dean live in Chula Vista. Bodi Turner rents a room in Lakeside from Nic Long, who will race for the U.S. in Rio. Caroline Buchanan lives in Sun City and regularly commutes down Interstate 15 to train with her teammates.
“It’s just a great training environment,” national coach Wade Bootes said at media day. “Great weather. Easier international trips to get to Europe and South America. You’re training against some of the best in the world, on some of the best facilities in the world, which increases the intensity of the training and the consistency of international performances.
“It’s really a no-brainer for us.”
Bootes was standing at the starting ramp of one of three BMX tracks at the Olympic Training Center in Chula Vista. Below him in the distance, athletes gathered on the polyurethane oval to begin another day of practice, part of the contingent of 14 track and field athletes the center is sending to Rio.
Farther in the distance glistened the waters of Lower Otay reservoir, where most of the U.S. rowing team spends half the year. To the north, an archery range where the U.S. team has been based for two decades. To the south, a field that the men’s and women’s rugby teams — new additions to the Olympic program — call home.
It has become a quadrennial pastime for America’s Finest City, embracing its five-ring identity, celebrating the diversity of its athletic legacy, cataloging the number of Olympians who are from here or currently live and train here: two water polo players, three sailors, four volleyball players, runners, jumpers, throwers, BMX cyclists, track cyclists, gymnasts, triathletes.
The count for Rio, including those competing for foreign countries and the part-time rowing contingent, is north of 110 — which is up slightly from London in 2012, which was up from Beijing in 2008, which was up from Athens in 2004.
Let’s pause for some perspective: Only 25 entire countries sent Olympic delegations to London larger than San Diego’s 114-strong presence in Rio; 177 countries sent smaller groups, including Cuba, Greece, Mexico, India and Nigeria.
Another way to look at it: San Diego County has roughly 1 percent of the nation’s population, and about 18 percent of its 555 Olympic athletes in Rio. The Olympic Training Center compiled a list of U.S. athletes who used the facility at some point during the previous four-year training quad — some for years, some for weeks — and the number swelled to 200.
And that’s after an inordinate amount of near misses. Five local athletes in track and field alone finished fourth at the U.S. Olympic Trials and one spot off the Rio team — Tia Brooks by less than a foot in the shot put, Omar Craddock by two inches in the triple jump, Liz Podominick by two inches in the discus, Mike Hartfield by an inch in the long jump, Deante Kemper by three-quarters of an inch in the high jump.
San Diego State alum Kawhi Leonard presumably had a spot locked up on the U.S. men’s basketball team if he wanted it, which he didn’t. Phil Mickelson would have been high enough in the world rankings to make the four-man U.S. golf team if the cut-off date was a week later, after his runner-up finish at the British Open instead of before it. La Costa Canyon High alum Natalie Hagglund was the final cut from the women’s indoor volleyball roster. Samantha Barlow, the daughter of 1992 Olympian Chris Barlow, just missed in flatwater kayaking.
And yet . . .
There are sailors in different boats — Caleb Paine and Briana Provancha — who attended Point Loma High a year apart. Coronado High can claim a sailor (Paris Henken) and water polo star (Jesse Smith). San Diego State has a discus thrower (Whitney Ashley) and triple jumper (Shanieka Thomas).
La Costa Canyon High produced Karsta Lowe, who plays volleyball under a roof. Just down the road, Carlsbad High produced Lauren Fendrick, who plays volleyball on sand.
There are men’s and women’s marathoners: San Diego High’s Meb Keflezighi and Hilltop High’s Desiree Linden. There are men’s and women’s 800-meter runners: Mission Bay High’s Charles Jock and Escondido High’s Sarah Attar, who four years ago became one of the first women to represent Saudi Arabia in an Olympics and was picked again.
There’s a trampoline gymnast (Nicole Ahsinger) from Scripps Ranch High, a rower (Kerry Simmonds) from Torrey Pines High, a water polo player (Alex Bowen) from Santana High, a race walker (John Nunn) who lives in Bonsall, a track cyclist (Sarah Hammer) who raced on the velodrome in Balboa Park as a kid.
But it’s always been that way here, the climate and coaching and conditions always luring top U.S. athletes. What is starting to change is the rest of the world is noticing.
Take Willoughby, the Australian BMX cyclist. He moved here in 2010 at age 18 because girlfriend — now fiancée — Alise Post had relocated to the Chula Vista center and its array of BMX tracks. (She’ll be in Rio representing the U.S.) He was allowed access only to the smaller training track during public sessions and not on the grand replicas of the Beijing and London competition courses.
Didn’t matter. He figured out a way to effectively train anyway, on local trails, on local streets, in a makeshift gym in his buddy’s garage, and won a silver medal in London while the Americans, who had won three of six available medals in 2008 and had daily access to the replica tracks, were shut out. So he stayed.
“I guess I’m always bragging about how much I love being in San Diego and training here,” Willoughby said. “There’s nothing it doesn’t have. There’s just something about being in a place where you feel good. I think that’s what draws people in.”
One by one, the rest of the Aussie riders followed him. The 21-year-old Turner was the last, moving in March from the Gold Coast, where Australia’s youth development program is based. It also helps that access to the Chula Vista center’s competition tracks has been relaxed, with three “foreign” sessions per week.
“Me being the only one (on the national team) back home on the Gold Coast,” Turner said, “I needed more competition. And here in Chula Vista, you have the best competition in the world. There’s nowhere else that has facilities like this. They’ve built a couple tracks in Florida, but nobody likes the weather in Florida.”
There have been BMX riders from Canada, Ecuador, New Zealand, France and even Thailand in Chula Vista this year.
Expect the trend to continue, and not just in the relatively young sport of BMX. Beginning next year, the USOC is transferring ownership of the training center to the city of Chula Vista, which will hire an outside operator to manage it — free to rent rooms and facilities to U.S. and international athletes alike.
Brazil figured it out. A fluctuating group of track and field athletes trained at San Diego Mesa College, some moving here permanently, some coming for extended camps. Five made Brazil’s Olympic team.
It figures. Head coach Renee Ross’ staff at Mesa has three Olympians, including Brazilian middle distance star Jose Luiz Barbosa. And that doesn’t count former head coach Arnie Robinson, who won medals in the long jump at the Games in 1972 and 1976.
Mesa College’s mascot is the Olympians. Of course.
LIST OF ATHLETES WITH SAN DIEGO CONNECTIONS
A look at the more than 100 athletes with San Diego ties who are headed to the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro. The list includes people who grew up here or currently live and train here. Thirty-five rowers spend the winter on Lower Otay Reservoir before returning to their East Coast base. The rest of the Olympic Training Center (OTC) athletes are based there year-round.
Archery: Mackenzie Brown (OTC), Brady Ellison (OTC), Zach Garrett (OTC)
Beach volleyball: Lauren Fendrick (Carlsbad High)
BMX: Nic Long (El Capitan High), Alise Post (Chula Vista resident), Corben Sharrah (OTC), Connor Fields (OTC) and Brooke Crain (OTC)
Track cycling: Sarah Hammer (Temecula resident, Omnium/team pursuit), Jennifer Valente (San Diego resident, team pursuit)
Equestrian: Steffen Peters (San Diego, dressage)
Gymnastics: Nicole Ahsinger (Scripps Ranch High, trampoline)
Rowing: Kerry Simmonds (Torrey Pines High)
Men’s rugby: Perry Baker, Danny Barrett, Garrett Bender, Andrew Durutalo, Nate Ebner, Madison Hughes, Carlin Isles, Folau Niua, Ben Pinkelman, Zack Test, Maka Unufe, Chris Wyles (entire team based at OTC)
Women’s rugby: Ryan Carlyle, Victoria Folayan, Kelly Griffin, Kathryn Johnson, Jillion Potter, Lauren Doyle, Joanne (Nana) Fa’avesi, Carmen Farmer, Alev Kelter, Richelle Stephens, Jessica Javelet, Bui Baravilala (entire team based at OTC)
Sailing: Paris Henken (Coronado High, 49erFX), Caleb Paine (Point Loma High, Finn), Briana Provancha (Point Loma High, 470)
Track: Andrew Evans (OTC, discus), Whitney Ashley (SDSU, discus), Chris Benard (OTC, triple jump), Will Claye (OTC, triple jump), Ryan Crouser (OTC, shot put), Sam Crouser (OTC, javelin), Sean Furey (OTC, javelin), Jeff Henderson (OTC, long jump), Darrell Hill (OTC, shot put), Cyrus Hostetler (OTC, javelin), Charles Jock (Mission Bay High, 800m), Meb Keflezighi (San Diego High, marathon), Joe Kovacs (OTC, shot put), Desiree (Davila) Linden (Hilltop High, marathon), Heather Miller-Koch (OTC, heptathlon), John Nunn (Bonsall resident, 50k race walk), Brittney Reese (OTC, long jump), Ricky Robertson (OTC, high jump)
Tennis: Coco Vandeweghe (Rancho Santa Fe, doubles)
Triathlon: Greg Billington (Poway resident), Joe Maloy (Poway resident)
Men’s volleyball: David Lee (Granite Hills High)
Women’s volleyball: Carli Lloyd (Fallbrook High), Karsta Lowe (La Costa Canyon High)
Men’s water polo: Alex Bowen (Santana High), Jesse Smith (Coronado High)
Foreigners: Sarah Attar (Escondido High, Saudi Arabia, track), Shanieka Thomas (Jamaica, triple jump), Joao Vitor de Oliveira (San Diego resident, Brazil, 110 hurdles), Sam Willoughby (Chula Vista resident, Australia, BMX), Gibran Lajud (Tijuana Xolos, soccer), Alexa Moreno (Baja California, gymnastics), Daniel Corral (Ensenada, gymnastics), Tania Arrayales (Baja California, fencing sabre), Anthony Dean (Chula Vista resident, Australia, BMX), Lauren Reynolds (Chula Vista resident, Australia, BMX), Bodi Turner (Lakeside, Australia, BMX), Tamires de Liz (San Diego resident, Brazil, 4x100-meter relay)
Rowers (part-time residents): Samuel Dommer, Austin Hack, Alex Karwoski, Steve Kasprzyk, Glenn Ochal, Samuel Ojserkis, Hans Struzyna, Mike DiSanto, Robb Munn (men’s eight); Nareg Guregian, Anders Weiss (men’s pair); Matt Miller, Henrik Rummel, Seth Weil, Charlie Cole (men’s four); Anthony Fahden, Edward King, Tyler Nase, Robin Prendes (men’s four lightweight); Kate Bertko (women’s lightweight double sculls); Grace Luczak, Felice Mueller (women’s pair); Meghan O’Leary, Ellen Tomek (women’s double sculls); Adrienne Martelli, Grace Latz, Megan Kalmoe, Tracy Eisser (women’s quad sculls); Emily Regan, Amanda Polk, Lauren Schmetterling, Meghan Musnicki, Amanda Elmore, Eleanor Logan, Katelin Snyder, Tessa Gobbo (women’s eight)