LEXINGTON, Ky. (Aug. 9, 2021) — “Records are meant to be broken.”
University of Kentucky athletes competing in Tokyo seem to have taken celebrated Olympic swimmer Mark Spitz’s words to heart.
From the start of the delayed 2020 Olympics, Kentucky Wildcats were breaking records with a school-record 22 athletes participating in The Games. The number of UK athletes alone was larger than delegations from 106 countries, territories and principalities vying for medals in Japan.
And not long after the opening ceremony, UK rifle’s Will Shaner became the first Wildcat to medal in historic fashion. Not only did Shaner win gold, but it was the first ever for the Americans in men's air rifle and came after the three-time UK All-American set an Olympic record score in the final. And before leaving Tokyo, the Gatton College of Business and Economics senior from Colorado Springs, Colorado, placed sixth overall with teammate Alison Marie Weisz in mixed air rifle competition.
Not to be outdone, UK’s second gold won by medical student Lee Kiefer was also historic. Kiefer, a Lexington native and graduate of Notre Dame University, was the first American to win a gold medal in an individual foil event defeating reigning Olympic champion Inna Deriglazova (ROC) 15-13. She also earned Team USA's first fencing medal of the 2020 Games. Later that week, she took fourth with Team USA in women’s team foil.
More records were broken as track and field took center stage. Alumna Jasmine Camacho-Quinn would strike gold next for Puerto Rico with fellow track and field alumna and silver medalist Keni Harrison, a community and leadership development graduate of UK College of Agriculture, Food and Environment, on her heels in the 100-meter hurdles final. Camacho-Quinn, a native of Charleston, South Carolina, earned the Olympic record in the 100m hurdles semifinals (12.26) around 16 hours before her gold medal performance (12.37).
The next record to fall came in the Olympic 400-meter hurdles, when track and field alumna Sydney McLaughlin of Team USA won gold with a new world record of 51.46. The previous world record also belonged to McLaughlin after she ran 51.90 at the U.S. Olympic Team Trials. To close out Olympic track and field competition and celebrate her 22nd birthday in spectacular fashion, McLaughlin teamed up with Team USA’s Allyson Felix, Dalilah Muhammad and Athing Mu to bring home gold in the 4x400-meter relay. McLaughlin, of Dunellen, New Jersey, is only the second Wildcat to win two medals in the same Olympics.
Six other Wildcats also medaled in Tokyo. UK rifle star Mary Tucker and USA Shooting star Lucas Kozeniesky earned silver in the 2020 Tokyo Olympics mixed air rifle competition. The College of Education kinesiology sophomore from Sarasota, Florida, was the second UK rifle athlete to medal in shooting at the 2020 Olympics.
Wildcats also took medals in two fencing events in Tokyo, as UK medical student Gerek Meinhardt, a San Francisco native, secured a bronze medal in men’s team foil with Team USA’s Alex Massialas, Nick Itkin and Race Imboden. The Notre Dame graduate and husband of Olympic gold medalist Lee Kiefer, previously won a bronze medal in the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Games.
In track and field, UK alumna Javianne Oliver and Team USA teammates Jenna Prandini, Gabrielle Thomas and Teahna Daniels won a silver medal in the 4x100-meter relay at the Olympics. The medal earned by Oliver, a public health graduate from Monroe, Georgia, was the fifth medal on the track for a Wildcat.
The final three gold medals for Wildcats came on the basketball court. Bam Adebayo, Devin Booker and Keldon Johnson, a quarter of the USA Basketball Team in Tokyo, helped lead the Americans to their fourth consecutive gold medal with an 87-82 victory over France on Friday at Saitama Super Arena in Japan.
With Adebayo, Booker and Johnson’s medals and McLaughlin’s second gold on Aug. 7, UK finished the Olympics with a school-record 12-medals — eight gold, three silver and one bronze. Previously, the men’s basketball program held the record with nine medals in 1948. With a dozen medals, if UK was matched against countries medaling at The Games it would make the top 20. And according to Twitter account Olympians Made Here, UK tied for seventh in U.S. colleges earning medals in Tokyo.
In addition to the 11 Olympic medalists, 11 other UK students, alumni and staff competed in Japan. The other Wildcats making Big Blue Nation proud in Tokyo were:
- incoming College of Education freshman and UK softball player Alexia Lacatena, playing softball for Italy;
- UK track and field’s Megan Moss, a human health sciences junior, running for the Bahamas;
- graduate student, communication graduate and UK track and field runner Dwight St. Hillaire, running for Trinidad and Tobago;
- Devynne Charlton, a volunteer assistant coach for UK’s track and field team, running hurdles for the Bahamas;
- alumnus Daniel Roberts, running hurdles for Team USA;
- journalism and kinesiology and health promotion graduate Brittany Cervantes, playing softball for Mexico;
- marketing graduate Ali Galyer, swimming for New Zealand;
- alumnus Henrik Larsen, shooting for Norway;
- English graduate Leah Nugent, running hurdles for Jamaica;
- kinesiology graduate Jennifer O’Neill, playing basketball for Puerto Rico; and
- financing and accounting graduate Peter Wetzlar, swimming for Zimbabwe.
The University of Kentucky is increasingly the first choice for students, faculty and staff to pursue their passions and their professional goals. In the last two years, Forbes has named UK among the best employers for diversity, and INSIGHT into Diversity recognized us as a Diversity Champion four years running. UK is ranked among the top 30 campuses in the nation for LGBTQ* inclusion and safety. UK has been judged a “Great College to Work for" three years in a row, and UK is among only 22 universities in the country on Forbes' list of "America's Best Employers." We are ranked among the top 10 percent of public institutions for research expenditures — a tangible symbol of our breadth and depth as a university focused on discovery that changes lives and communities. And our patients know and appreciate the fact that UK HealthCare has been named the state’s top hospital for five straight years. Accolades and honors are great. But they are more important for what they represent: the idea that creating a community of belonging and commitment to excellence is how we honor our mission to be not simply the University of Kentucky, but the University for Kentucky.