On Friday, more than 10,000 athletes representing 205 nations will march into Brazil’s Maracanã Stadium in Rio de Janeiro. Divided by country, sport and event, these men and women come from a host of different backgrounds and experiences.
But eight of them have one factor in common: undergraduate careers spent in New Haven.
Seven Yale alumni and one current student are headed to Rio as participants in the 2016 Summer Olympics. The seven Bulldogs are competing in four different sports — track and field, fencing, sailing and rowing — and under three different flags.
Check out brief biographies of each Yale Olympian below.
Name: Thomas Barrows
Class year: 2010
After sailing under the flag of the U.S. Virgin Islands in the 2008 Olympic Games, Thomas Barrows ’10 returns to the Olympic Games eight years later sporting the Stars and Stripes.
Barrows, 28 and an alumnus of Davenport College, graduated from Yale as one of the school’s most decorated athletes. In addition to winning an individual national title in his freshman year, the former captain was a four-time All-American and won the national College Sailor of the Year award after his senior year. In 2010, he became the first sailor in Yale’s history to receive the William Neely Mallory Award, given to the best male athlete in the graduating class.
In Beijing, Barrows represented the Virgin Islands, his native country, in the one-man Laser class event and finished 21st. After graduating from Yale with a degree in sociology, Barrows switched from the Laser to the 49er event, racing a two-person high-performance skiff boat.
In late 2012, he invited former Yale teammate Joseph Morris ’12 to join him in the 49er. Morris, who said he has wanted to go to the Olympics since he was 10 years old, was an easy sell.
Still, there were challenges to overcome, and time was not on the duo’s side.
“We had a truncated timeline compared to the other teams that had been racing for a while, and compared to a number of teams on the international stage,” Morris said. “Several teams are competing in their fourth or fifth Olympics. They’ve been professionals since 17 or 18.”
But over the past three-plus years, the pair has quickly climbed the rankings. They finished 13th at the Sailing World Cup in January of this year and 23rd at the ISEF World Championship the following month to lock up their Olympic berth.
Name: Ashley Brzozowicz
Class year: 2004
A veteran by Olympic standards, Ashley Brzozowicz ’04 was recently named to her third Olympic team. Four years after winning a silver medal with the Canadian women’s eight, she returns to the Olympic stage as an alternate in the same boat.
The 33-year-old Brzozowicz also finished fourth in the 2008 Summer Olympics in Beijing. The gold medal in both Beijing and London went to a powerhouse American women’s eight boat, one that has taken first in the event in each Olympics or world championship since 2006.
With her silver, Brzozowicz became the fourth Bulldog to win a rowing medal. Fellow Yale rower Taylor Ritzel ’10 rowed in the American women’s eight that ultimately finished atop the podium.
Brzozowicz, a member of Morse College during her time at Yale, rowed on the women’s varsity crew team for four years. Her senior year, she competed in the first varsity eight boat that placed second in the NCAA Championships. The team went on to finish second at the college championship, which remains the best finish in program history.
Since graduating from Yale with a degree in art history, Brzozowicz has devoted herself to her sport. Although she initially took a job in New York City after graduation, Brzozowicz returned to Canada and joined the national team in 2006. She currently resides in Ontario, the province in which she was born, and trains with the Peterborough Rowing Club.
She is married to fellow Canadian Roy Dykstra, and after her husband was admitted to a Ph.D program at Trent University in Peterborough, Ontario, she joined him at the college to become Trent University’s inaugural scholar-athlete in residence. Brzozowicz has been accepted into the Massage Therapy program at Fleming College in Peterborough, Ontario for the fall of 2016, according to her national team biography.
Name: Charlie Cole
Class year: 2007
The lone Yale Olympian actively seeking to defend a medal — or perhaps improve upon it — Charlie Cole ’07 is making his second trip to the Olympics as a member of the men’s four boat.
In 2012, Cole and his teammates earned a bronze medal in the men’s coxless four event — the first time in 20 years the Americans reached the podium in the event. Their finish was even more surprising considering that none of the four men in the boat had any international medals to their names, and they had never raced together internationally before London.
This year, it is different. Returning alongside one of his three teammates from London, Cole is one of the 108 members of Team USA heading to Rio as an Olympic medalist.
The 2011 USRowing Athlete of the Year was a member of the heavyweight crew team all four years at Yale. A history major and member of Pierson College, Cole, 30, spent a year at Oxford after graduating, studying environmental policy and rowing for the Oxford University Boat Club. He then joined the National Team in 2009.
Following the London Olympics, the New Canaan, Connecticut native took some time off before returning to training in 2013.
“I wanted to make sure when I came back that I was fresh, I was ready to go, looking forward and not be looking backwards,” Cole told the New Haven Register in May. “I got going again and it has all been about this goal … It is exciting. It is fun. With this four we are starting to get set with it, starting to come together as a combination and it is exciting. The other three guys are really great and we are going to give it everything we’ve got.”
However, the Americans will face familiar competition in Rio. The two crews that finished first and second in London — four-time defending gold medalist Great Britain and Australia — have both medaled at the last two World Championships in the event.
Name: Tom Dethlefs
Class year: 2012
Former heavyweight crew captain Tom Dethlefs ’12 heads to Rio as one of two alternates for the U.S. men’s rowing team. It is his first Olympic Games.
A member of Ezra Stiles College while at Yale, Dethlefs graduated with a degree in history. Under his leadership, the heavyweight crew team defeated four Ancient Eight foes and finished eighth at Eastern Sprints.
A seven-year member of the U.S. National Team, he earned a spot on the senior national team in 2013. The promotion necessitated a move, so the Lawrenceville, New Jersey, native returned to the Garden State so he could train with the team at Princeton.
While at Yale, Dethlefs was also a member of the Under-23 National Team. He won gold medals in the US men’s eight boat in 2011 and 2012 as well as a silver in 2010.
As a member of the senior national team, Dethlefs continued to race in the men’s eight. The boat finished seventh at the 2015 World Rowing Championships and fourth at the 2014 Championships.
Outside of rowing, Dethlefs serves as the manager and owner of Milestone Tutors, an education service founded by fellow Yale Olympian Charlie Cole ’07 that works with middle and high school-age students.
Name: Kate Grace
Class year: 2011
Sport: Track and field
After the 800-meter final at the Olympic Trials in Eugene, Oregon in early July, Kate Grace ’11 was perhaps the only person unsurprised by the results.
Never mind that she had blazed through the final 200 meters, catapulting herself from sixth to first to earn her first Olympic berth. Forget that her time of 1:59.10 was not only a personal best, but also the best by an American woman in the calendar year. Ignore the fact that during this race, with everything on the line, Grace reached the podium in a national race for the first time in her career.
“It’s surreal and I’m ecstatic,” Grace said after her race. “It’s been a long road. I’ve never podiumed in a national event — NCAAs or USAs — and I knew I was at this level. And I am so thankful for the support I’ve had throughout the years to allow me to get to this place.”
An elite middle-distance runner, Grace majored in environmental science and was a member of Saybrook College during her time at Yale. She was a four-time All-American and still owns the program’s top times in the outdoor 800-meter and 1,500-meter races, as well as the indoor 800-meter and one-mile runs.
Grace, 27, went pro shortly after graduating and has been sponsored by Oiselle — an athletic apparel company that outfitted Yale’s cross country and track teams the past two seasons — since 2012.
Grace also competed in the 2012 Olympic Trials, but failed to advance to the finals in either the 800- or the 1,500-meter.
Overcoming a series of injuries, including a torn ligament in her toe that kept her from competition for more than a year, Grace returned to peak form in February of this year. She qualified for both the 800-meter and 1,500-meter finals at Olympic Trials, but decided to pull out of the 1,500 to focus on the 800.
She is only the second Bulldog in school history to make the women’s track and field Olympic team.
Name: Stu McNay
Class year: 2005
The most experienced Yale Olympian heading to Rio, Stu McNay ’05 will be representing U.S Sailing in the 470 class for the third consecutive Games.
The 470 boat, a two-man dinghy, is not a boat in which college sailors compete, but after Yale coach Zachary Leonard convinced McNay to sail the 470 over the summer, he began competing in it. After working under Leonard as an assistant coach in the fall 2005 season, McNay chose to step down and train full-time.
“In high school, I started to understand what the Olympics were and began to think of that as a goal,” McNay said. “Throughout college, I felt like I continued to improve and find the sport interesting and engaging. That really has allowed me to have emotional energy to keep it as the primary focus in my life.”
In 2008 and 2012, McNay and crew Graham Biehl finished 13th and 14th, respectively. After London, McNay joined up with current partner Dave Hughes, and the two have effectively dominated American sailing ever since.
The McNay-Hughes team has won gold medals in the European and U.S. National Championships as well as two gold medals in the ISAF Sailing World Cups. In the last four years, the team has finished in the top-six of the 470 World Championships twice.
“We’ve focused all of our energy on the Olympics itself,” McNay said. “We’ve spent a substantial amount of time training at the Olympic venue. We have a very talented coach, I have a talented teammate and I feel like I’ve been able to raise my own game a little bit. I think if we perform at our best, we have the opportunity to be at the top of the fleet.”
McNay, 34, was a two-time All-American and a finalist for College Sailor of the Year while at Yale. The Boston native graduated in 2005 with a degree in architecture and was a member of Jonathan Edwards College.
Name: Katherine Miller
Class year: 2017
The only current undergraduate heading to Rio, Katherine Miller ’17 took what would have been her senior year off to train in New York and São Paulo.
In the last ten months, she has represented Brazil — where she is the fourth-ranked epee fencer in the entire country — at the Junior and Senior World Championships. In Rio, she will serve as the reserve for the team event portion of women’s epee. This is her first Olympic Games.
Miller, a Global Affairs major in Pierson College, grew up in New York, but her father was born and raised in Brazil. When Rio was announced as the host of the 2016 Olympics, Miller said, she realized she had the opportunity to forge her own connection with the country.
“I sort of had a thought at the back of my mind that it would be incredible to represent Brazil, but it was never more than a pipe dream until I got to Yale,” Miller said. “I didn’t grow up speaking Portuguese so I started L1 and then I did Yale’s Summer Session in Brazil right after freshman year which gave me the opportunity to start working with a coach down there and actually try out some competitions, and I just proceeded from there.”
Even in a highly competitive league — three other Ivy League fencers are going to the Olympics — Miller has been a standout. She finished 17th at the NCAA Championships in 2014 and earned second-team All-Ivy honors after both her sophomore and junior seasons. When she returns to school in August, she will serve as the captain of the fencing team.
Miller is the first Yalie to fence in the Olympics since Sada Jacobson ’06, a saber fencer who won medals in both Athens in 2004 and Beijing in 2008.
Name: Joseph Morris
Class year: 2012
In 2012, two days after Annapolis native Joseph Morris ’12 quit his job as a business analyst in Switzerland, he received a call from former college teammate Thomas Barrows. Barrows had recently begun to look for a new sailing partner, and he wanted to know if Morris was interested.
It was not a difficult decision, Morris said. He and Barrows had overlapped at Yale for two years, but their history dates back even further: Barrows’ team defeated Morris’ for a national championship while the two were in high school.
Luckily, by the time Morris got to Yale in the fall of 2008, there were no hard feelings.
“Our relationship is our greatest strength,” Morris said. “Thomas is my best friend and he was that before we started sailing together. We have a really open relationship in terms of how we communicate with each other and we have a high level of trust.”
Morris, a member of Pierson College, graduated in 2012 with a degree in history. He served as captain for two years and received Sailor of the Year honors from the New England Intercollegiate Sailing Association after his senior year.
The Olympics had always been one of his goals, Morris said. His record indicates as much: Morris’ senior year bio on the Yale athletics website lists his future aspiration as “Going to the Olympics in sailing.”
“There are so many people who have done such amazing things while sailing at Yale and after,” Morris said. “Knowing they’ve been there and done that was pretty inspirational for Thomas and me. We felt like we wanted to live up to the legacy of Yale sailing, especially in Olympic sailing.”
Morris will return to New Haven next year to assist Yale sailing director Zachary Leonard ’89.