We’ve known for some time that Mike Krzyzewski was headed to the Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, which are now less than three weeks away. We also assumed Clayton’s Johnny Dutch and Keni Harrison, the 2014 U.S. champion in the 400-meter hurdles and American record-holder in the 100-meter hurdles, would be there as well.
Both Dutch and Harrison were upset at the U.S. track trials, leaving the Triangle short of two potential medalists (Dutch announced his retirement afterward). Durham’s Megan Easy, a silver medalist in London in women’s volleyball, didn’t make that team because of injury. Same for Raleigh’s John Wall in men’s basketball.
While the list of those who aren’t going to Rio is longer than expected, there’s no shortage of other Olympians. Former Duke fencer Ibtihaj Muhammad will be one of the biggest stories of the games, the first American woman to compete wearing a hijab, the Muslim head scarf. Krzyzewski is missing LeBron James, Steph Curry, Wall and a host of other stars, but Kyrie Irving and Harrison Barnes will put aside their college and NBA rivalries as U.S. teammates.
The U.S. women’s soccer team has its usual contingent of Tar Heels, but no American team is as heavy on players with Triangle connections as the U.S. field hockey team. And Duke’s Abby Johnston, a diving medalist in London, is back again.
Even without some of its most familiar Olympic names, the Triangle has a chance to make global news in Rio.
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Irving and Barnes have been linked since they arrived at North Carolina and Duke in 2010, even if they never faced each other in college. They have in the NBA, most notably in this year’s NBA Finals, and now they’re part of a short-handed American squad that will attempt to deliver Krzyzewski a third straight gold medal in the Duke coach’s final – and presumably most difficult – go-round with Team USA.
Former Duke women’s basketball star Lindsey Harding is playing, but not for her native country: She’s a naturalized citizen of Belarus. Duke assistant coach Jeff Capel and video coordinator Kevin Cullen are also part of the U.S. staff.
SWIMMING & DIVING
After winning silver in synchronized diving in London, the first American diving medal in 12 years, Duke graduate and medical student Johnston qualified for Rio on her own in the 3-meter springboard, accompanied by Duke coach Nunzio Esposto.
Ryan Held was a surprise third-place finisher in the 100m freestyle at the Olympic Trials, earning the N.C. State rising junior a trip to Rio as part of the U.S. freestyle relay team. The Wolfpack also has Soren Dahl and Anton Ipsen competing for Denmark and Simonas Bilis, the 2016 ACC male swimmer of the year, for Lithuania.
TRACK & FIELD
The absence of Dutch, Harrison and hurdler Bershawn “Batman” Jackson leaves a big void, filled in part by Ronnie Ash, who learned to run the hurdles in the one year he spent at Knightdale High School in 2008 and qualified for Rio in the 110-meter hurdles.
St. Augustine’s track coach George Williams is sending three men and one woman to the games: Raleigh’s Burkheart Ellis Jr. for Barbados, Roxroy Cato for Jamaica and Jeffrey Gibson for the Bahamas along with Barbados’ Tia-Adana Belle.
North Carolina graduate Shalane Flanagan, a bronze medalist in the 10,000 meters in 2008, is headed to her fourth Olympics, competing in the marathon for the second time and Duke graduate Shannon Rowbury is headed to her third Olympics in the 1500 meters.
Muhammad, who graduated from Duke in 2007, has already appeared on the talk-show circuit and will be a major feature of NBC’s coverage of the games as she competes in the sabre. Named one of Time Magazine’s 100 most influential people of 2016, Muhammad has an outside shot at a medal but will be a compelling storyline either way.
North Carolina always makes up a healthy portion of the U.S. Women’s National Team, and the Olympics are no exception, with five Tar Heels on the roster: Crystal Dunn, Whitney Engen, Tobin Heath, Meghan Klingenberg and Allie Long.
North Carolina also has two alternates traveling to Rio with the team: three-time gold medalist Heather O’Reilly and Ashlyn Harris. North Carolina’s Katie Bowen will play for New Zealand and Duke’s Rebecca Quinn for Canada.
The Triangle’s Olympic team: Seven of the 16 players on the roster either grew up here or went to college here. That list starts with Chapel Hill’s Michelle Kasold, a two-time Olympian who played at Wake Forest. There are also five players from North Carolina (Jaclyn Briggs, Rachel Dawson, Katelyn Falgowski, Kelsey Kolojejchick and Caitlin Van Sickle) and one from Duke (Stefanie Fee).
Less than a month after qualifying for Rio in the 10-meter air rifle, N.C. State rising senior Lucas Kozeniesky won his first national championship in that event. No American man has ever won an air-rifle medal, so Kozeniesky has a chance to make history.
Duke’s powerful women’s golf program qualified two players for golf’s return as an Olympic sport: 2014 graduate Laetitia Beck (Israel) and rising sophomore Leona Maguire (Ireland).
2016 Summer Olympics
Where: Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
When: Aug. 5-21
Who: More than 10,000 athletes competing in 42 sports