Yale’s storied history in the Olympics closed another chapter last Saturday when the 2016 Rio Olympics formally concluded. Among the 11,303 participating athletes were seven Yale alumni and one current student.
The eight Yalies in Rio competed in four different sports — fencing, sailing, rowing, and track and field — and under three different flags. Though no Bulldogs medaled, two advanced to the finals of their respective events and two others finished in the top 16.
Sailor Stu McNay ’05, one of the most experienced Bulldog Olympians, was also Yale’s top finisher in Rio, as he and partner Dave Hughes finished fourth in the men’s 470 sailing event. After placing 13th and 14th at the 2008 and 2012 Olympic Games, respectively, he and Hughes put together a solid series of races.
In their 11 races, McNay and Hughes finished no lower than 14th among all 26 boats. Though they advanced to the medal race, they were mathematically eliminated from medal contention before setting sail in the finals. However, they still managed to end on a strong note, coming in second in the final race, where the point values were doubled.
“One of the best things about the Games is that it’s a moment in time where you’re required to put your best foot forward,” McNay told US Sailing after his race. “It’s an interesting opportunity to say, ‘I’m going to be at my very best, here and now.’ You do what you can in the moment. I would have liked the both of us to do a little bit better, because I know that is well within our abilities.”
Duos from Croatia, Australia and Greece medaled in the men’s 470 event.
Middle-distance runner Kate Grace ’11 also advanced to the final of her event: the 800-meter run. The first-time Olympian, who still owns Yale’s indoor and outdoor records at the 800-meter distance, snuck into the semifinals with a time of 1:59.96, 16th best out of the 24 semifinalists.
Once in the semifinals, however, Grace proved she deserved her spot, finishing third in her heat after sneaking along the inside to pass two competitors in the final 200 meters. She earned a spot in the finals with a time of 1:58.79 — a new personal best.
Grace was the lone American to participate in the eight-woman final, won by London 2012 silver medalist Caster Semenya. Grace finished eighth, completing the race in 1:59.57.
The lone current student competing in Rio was Katherine Miller ’17, a member of the Brazilian epee squad that fell to Ukraine in the Round of 16. She served as the team’s alternate.
The Olympics’ location in Brazil — her father’s native country — made the experience all the more compelling, Miller said. After arriving at Yale, beginning her studies in Portuguese as a freshman and spending a summer in Brazil as part of the University’s summer session program, Miller said she realized her “pipe dream” of competing for Brazil could come true. In the fall of 2015, instead of returning for her senior year, she decided to train in New York and São Paulo.
“It’s probably the only time in my life that I’ll have the opportunity to meet so many people from different sports, countries, cultures and religions,” Miller, who intends to return to Yale this year to finish her degree, wrote in a message to the News. “We all have at least one big thing in common — the effort and desire to get to the Olympics.”
After taking some time off following a bronze medal-winning campaign at the 2012 Games, rower Charlie Cole ’07 rediscovered the effort and desire that once earned him a podium finish. Competing in his second Olympic Games as a member of the U.S. men’s coxless four, Cole and his teammates won the B final and finished seventh overall.
Though Cole called winning the B final a “nice consolation prize,” he expressed disappointment in the fact that the Americans missed the medal final.
Sailors Thomas Barrows ’10 and Joe Morris ’12, who competed together in the men’s 49er event, were similarly disappointed with their results. Two-time Olympian Barrows and first-time Olympian Morris finished 19th overall, and failed to advance beyond the preliminary races.
“I don’t think the scores reflect how well we’ve actually been sailing,” Morris said to US Sailing after nine of the team’s 12 races. “In four of the races, we’ve been in the single digits, and had a mishap that dropped us back. We do feel that we can sail with the fleet pretty well, and our speed and boat handling have been good.”
Their event, which began two days after McNay’s on August 12, was heavily affected by bad winds and saw competition both delayed and canceled. Despite struggles coming out of the gate, Barrows and Morris finished as high as sixth out of 20 in preliminary races.
Rowers Ashley Brzozowicz ’04 and Tom Dethlefs ’12, named to their third and first Olympic teams respectively, served as alternates on the Canadian and American rowing teams and did not compete. The Canadian women won a silver in the lightweight double sculls and the American men did not medal in any event.