While most Yale athletes were enjoying a well-deserved break from competitive play in the dog days of July, seven current and former Bulldogs only saw the heat kicked up a few notches.
In a rare opportunity to face off against some of the best that the Western Hemisphere has to offer, a group of Yale athletes competed at the Pan-American Games in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, in late July.
Bulldog swimmers and brothers Kieran Locke ’06 and Morgan Locke ’08 competed for the U.S. Virgin Islands along with sailor Thomas Barrows ’10. The fourth Eli international competitor, softball shortstop Aracelis Torres ’08, was a member of the Puerto Rican contingent.
The international dimension of the competition appealed to first-time Pan-Am athlete Barrows.
“I really like the strong sense of identity that each team has for their home country and the exposure to different cultures,” he said.
The United States national team boasted former Eli squash stars Julian Illingworth ’06 and Michelle Quibell ’06, along with swimmer Alex Righi ’09 and Yale basketball head coach James Jones.
The U.S. team was the overall winner — taking home a total of 237 medals — and Yale representatives made a definitive mark in Rio.
Righi medaled in the 4×100 medley relay and the 4×100 freestyle relay, bringing a gold and a silver back New Haven. He also swam a personal-best 50-meter freestyle time trial (22.98 secs), matching the qualifying time for the U.S. Olympic Team.
The Locke brothers both finished 16th in their individual events and swam on all three Virgin Islands relay teams, which all finished in the top 10.
“Although I finished 16th in my 200 IM, that was an accomplishment in itself,” said Morgan Locke, who plans to use the Games as a path to Olympic qualification. “It’s important to keep in mind that these are the best athletes in the Western Hemisphere. I got to swim in the semi-finals, which was definitely a good experience. It’s an incredible event and it’s an honor just to be here.”
Squash player Illingworth nabbed silver by dispatching Colombian Miguel Rodriguez in a five-game semifinals, but fell in the finals to Mexican Eric Galvez. Quibell was ousted in the individual quarterfinals at the hands of an American teammate, but was part of the American threesome that won silver in the women’s team event.
Torres, a perennial member of the Puerto Rican national softball team, said the shortened schedule — with a three-game round robin in Group B instead of the usual seven because of inclement weather — hurt her team’s chances in Rio. They lost to Canada, Venezuela and Argentina, but Torres did record a base hit in the consolation round against host Brazil.
“The weather was a huge factor at the Pan Am Games,” Torres said. “We would be ready to go play, and on our way to the bus we would be told that our games were cancelled for the day.”
Despite the poor showing in conference play, Torres said the chance to be surrounded by people from many different cultures made her trip to Brazil worthwhile.
For Virgin Islander sailor Barrows, eight races did not yield any medals, but a fifth-place finish in his third contest was an achievement, he said.
“I wasn’t too excited with the outcome of the regatta, but I had some very good races and it was a great learning experience,” he said. “I had some tough breaks in some races that put me a little farther back then I thought I should be.”
Jones said that the American basketball team’s fifth-place finish was a bit disappointing, but the assistant coach made sure to point out the slight disadvantage that Team USA encountered.
“I’m never satisfied with anything other than first place, and I felt like this team could have done better,” he said. “USA Basketball has an interesting challenge to have teams that never play together to compete nationally. It’s very difficult because most of our opponents play together for many years, which gives them an edge.”
The experience of competing internationally was memorable and exciting for more than just the three Yalie medal winners.
For Morgan Locke, a two-time Pan-Am competitor and international veteran, swimming on a regional stage means connecting with fellow contenders.
“My favorite part of international competition is definitely seeing the friends that I have made,” he said. “Whether they are from Barbados, Trinidad or Suriname, it’s nice to see them again each year, it’s a great feeling.”