Olympians among us: Meet the 19 Yalies who competed in Tokyo
19 current and former Yalies participated in the 2020 Tokyo Olympics this summer. Meet them here.
Courtesy of Vera Bucse - The Art of Rowing
Some are back in Yale classrooms this fall. Others have already graduated from the University. Read up on the current and former Yale students and staff who represented thirteen different countries over seven sports at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics: baseball, basketball, fencing, rhythmic gymnastics, rowing, sailing and track and field.
Israel had three Yale baseball alumni on its 2020 Olympic roster: Major League catcher Ryan Lavarnway ’09, pitcher Ben Wanger ’19 and alternate Eric Brodkowitz ’18. This was the first year since 1976 that Israel sent a team in any team sport to the Olympics.
The squad fell in a narrow 6–5 loss to South Korea and lost 8–1 to the United States in its opening group stage games, but earned a 12–5 win over Mexico in round one. South Korea defeated Israel 11–1 in round two. Lavarnway batted .350 over the course of the tournament, while Wanger finished with a 4.50 earned run average after making two pitching appearances.
Former Yale men’s basketball guard Miye Oni, who completed his second NBA season with the Utah Jazz earlier this year, competed with Team Nigeria in Tokyo. Training in Las Vegas before flying out to Japan, the team made headlines when it took down a star-studded U.S. side and beat Argentina in its first two pre-Games friendlies. Oni earned a spot on the 12-man Olympic roster alongside seven other NBA players, including Precious Achiuwa, Chimezie Metu, Jordan Nwora, Jahlil Okafor, Josh Okogie, KZ Okpala and Gabe Nnamdi Vincent.
In Tokyo, Nigeria competed in Group B along with Australia, Germany and Italy but lost three times and failed to advance. Oni started the squad’s first game against Australia, which featured his Jazz teammate Joe Ingles in the starting lineup, and its final game against Italy. He scored 15 points in Nigeria’s slim seven-point loss to Germany, hitting five of his six three-point attempts to complement 33 points from Nwora.
“To me, it meant the world,” Oni told ESPN after starting for D’Tigers in their first Olympic contest. “My mother was born there [in Nigeria], the country my father has lived in. I’ve been there. It means a lot to me and my family, that we carry that pride everywhere we go.”
Haibin Wang, former head coach of Yale men’s and women’s fencing, led the Chinese fencing delegation at the 2020 Olympics to a gold medal in the women’s individual epee. Prior to Tokyo, Wang represented China in four consecutive Olympics, earning silver in 2000 and 2004.
As of Aug. 31, 2021, Wang no longer serves as the head Yale men’s and women’s fencing coach. The University has not responded to requests for comment on the reasoning behind Wang’s departure.
First-year Laura Zeng ’25 completed her second Olympic stint this past summer, finishing in the top half of competitors. While Zeng has been successful on a national and international level, she sees coming to Yale as the start of a new life for herself — one where rhythmic gymnastics may not play a part.
At Yale, Zeng says she seeks to take “advantage of all the opportunities that Yale has to offer, but also [let] go a little bit. And of course, finding myself. I hate to sound cliche, but it’s so true.”
11 out of Yale’s 19 2020 Olympians are rowers — two hail from the women’s rowing team, and nine are products of the heavyweight men’s squad. Together, they represent a decade of Yale crew, with classmates Kristina Wagner ’15 (USA) and Simon Keenan ’15 (Australia) having graduated 10 years before Christina Bourmpou ’25 (Greece), a first year on campus this fall, is set to receive her diploma. Out of the group, three received medals: Charles Elwes ’19 (Great Britain, bronze), Ollie Wynne-Griffith ’17 (Great Britain, bronze) and Dan Williamson ’22 (New Zealand, gold). Williamson, in a league of his own, represented the only Bulldog to receive a gold medal in Tokyo. He is the first member of Yale’s heavyweight team to win Olympic gold since 1964.
“It’s really special and an amazing feeling to be able to line up against guys that I’ve raced with,” Williamson said. “Charlie [Elwes] was a guy that was in my boat here in 2019, and I look across the lake and see him sitting there. Different countries, both essentially living our dreams and … it’s like, well we made it.”
The list of Tokyo Olympic rowers also includes Sholto Carnegie ’18 (Great Britain), Andrin Gulich ’22 (Switzerland), Paul Jacquot ’18 (Switzerland), Jack Lopas ’22 (New Zealand) and Stephan Riemekasten ’17 (Germany).
Yale sailing alumnus Stuart McNay ’05 made his fourth Olympic appearance for Team USA in Tokyo. A three-time U.S. national champion and two-time All-American, he finished fourth in the 470 two-person dinghy race. It was the same spot he finished in during the 2016 Rio Games. He took 14th in the 2012 London Games.
McNay is second in all-time Olympic appearances by a Yalie behind William Steinkraus ’48, who competed in six equestrian competitions in the between the 1950s and 1970s.
Track and Field
Aliya Boshnak ’23, one of the 14 athletes Jordan sent to the Games, is the Jordinian national record holder in the 100m, 200m and 400m.
“It was the most surreal experience being at the Olympics and in the Olympic village,” Boshnak said. “It is every athlete’s dream, but having it come to fruition after such a crazy year made it all the more special. Being around all the athletes across different sports, seeing everybody in their uniforms proud to represent their country, and being there myself … It is beyond inspiring. Representing Jordan was unique in that we had a small team, so all of us from different backgrounds across different sports got really close and that is something I will value forever.”
Boshnak raced in round one of the women’s 400m in Tokyo, but she was disqualified for a minor lane violation. At Yale, Boshnak is ranked fourth all-time in the 400m indoors with a time of 56.42 and 10th all-time in the 200m indoors with a time of 25.32.