July 24, 2012
As the 2012 Olympic Games commence this week, the Big Ten Conference will boast over 100 participants and coaches in London from July 25–August 12. The group of Big Ten competitors, which includes 27 former Olympians and nine returning medalists, will represent 32 different countries in 24 different sports. Each school will be represented at the games, with Michigan and Penn State leading the way with 19 Olympic participants each this year. The Wolverines and Nittany Lions are followed by Nebraska (14), Ohio State (11) and Wisconsin (9).
The Big Ten contingent of current or former student-athletes, coaches or alumni includes 57 members of the United States Olympic Team, along with participants and coaches from Australia, Bangladesh, Barbados, Bulgaria, Burundi, Canada, Colombia, Croatia, Czech Republic, Dominican Republic, France, Great Britain, Honduras, Hungary, Ireland, Israel, Italy, Jamaica, Kazakhstan, Latvia, Lebanon, Lithuania, Mauritius, Mexico, New Zealand, Nigeria, Puerto Rico, Serbia, St. Vincent and the Grenadines, Suriname and Sweden.
This collection of elite performers is highlighted by 27 former Olympians, including nine returning medalists. Former Illinois basketball player Deron Williams, former Michigan water polo player Betsey Armstrong, former Michigan swimming volunteer assistant Michael Phelps, former Michigan swimmer Peter Vanderkaay, former Michigan track and field athlete Nick Willis, former Minnesota volleyball player Lindsey Berg, former Minnesota track and field athlete Barbora Špotáková, former Nebraska swimmer Therese Alshammar and former Northwestern swimmer Matt Grevers have all earned Olympic medals in their careers. Williams and Armstrong return for their second Olympic Games after capturing gold and silver, respectively, in the 2008 Beijing Games. Phelps will be competing in his fourth straight Olympics, and secured eight gold medals in Beijing to become the only athlete in Olympic history to capture eight medals in one Olympic year. Vanderkaay struck gold in the 4x200 freestyle relay and took home a bronze medal in the 200 freestyle, while Willis ran to a bronze in the 1,500-meter run. Berg took home a silver medal in her first games, while Špotáková earned gold in the javelin. Grevers swam to gold in the 4x100 medley and 4x100 freestyle relay, and won a silver medal in the 100 backstroke. Alshammar will compete in her fifth straight Olympics, and captured two silver medals and one bronze in the 2000 Sydney Games.
The Big Ten will also be represented by 15 coaches serving as mentors in the London Games, including four head coaches in Michigan’s Mike Bottom (Serbia men’s swimming) and Steve Fraser (USA Greco-Roman wrestling), Minnesota’s Hugh McCutcheon (USA women’s volleyball) and Nebraska’s Peggy Liddick (Australia women’s gymnastics). Bottom has coached in the last five games and was a member of the 1980 USA Olympic team, while Fraser grappled to a gold medal for the United States in 1984. McCutcheon leads the women’s volleyball team after guiding the USA men’s squad to gold at the 2008 Games, and Liddick returns for her fourth consecutive Olympic Games with the Australian national team.
Big Ten student-athletes and coaches have been a part of the Olympic experience on more than 1,370 occasions, including many making multiple trips to the international event. That list of conference standouts has accumulated at least 460 medals, including 229 gold. Former medalists include Ohio State track star Jesse Owens, who won four gold medals at the 1936 Olympic Games in Berlin, and former Indiana swimmer Mark Spitz won four medals, including two golds, in the 1968 games before claiming seven gold medals during the 1972 Olympic Games in Munich. The winter games have also been rewarding, as 12 members of the 1980 “Miracle on Ice” United States hockey team were from Minnesota and Wisconsin.