Top Pac-12 athletes to watch during the Summer Games
RIO DE JANEIRO -- There won’t be a Pac-12 flag waving around Maracana Stadium during Friday night’s opening ceremony (5 p.m. PT on NBC) in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, nor an anthem played from the Conference of Champions. But there will be a huge international contingent representing the Pac-12, whose 243 athletes would tie Poland as the 12th biggest delegation at this year’s Summer Games if it were a country.
Each of the dozen Pac-12 institutions will send at least one athlete to Rio, with USC (44) leading the way, and California (42) and Stanford (39) each boasting impressive groups of Olympians. From fencing to soccer, swimming, track and more, the Pac-12 once again features a diverse group of athletes on the world’s biggest stage. In a testament to the Pac-12’s global appeal, there are delegates representing 44 different countries in 22 different sports.
Here’s a look at some of the top Pac-12 athletes, duos and teams to keep an eye on throughout the games of the 31st Olympiad in Rio.
1. Klay Thompson & DeMar DeRozan, men’s basketball
While the United States won’t exactly be trotting out a Dream Team to the men’s basketball tournament in Rio, the squad is still expected to bring home the gold once again. Among the star-studded roster are a pair of Pac-12 alums -- Washington State’s Klay Thompson and USC’s DeMar DeRozan.
Thompson and DeRozan were in the Pac-12 during the 2008-09 season, facing off in two regular-season contests, before DeRozan led USC to the Conference tournament championship and a bid to the NCAA Tournament.
For both players, it represents their first trip to the Olympics. While Thompson has established himself as one of the best shooters in the world, DeRozan has already made headlines during warm-up competitions, throwing down dunks and skying high above opponents. Team USA gets started on Saturday against China, as it looks to win its third straight gold medal in men’s basketball.
2. Alex Morgan, women’s soccer
Expectations are equally as high for the U.S. Women’s National Team when it comes to soccer. Four years ago in London, Cal alumna Alex Morgan made a name for herself by scoring four goals in the Olympics, and has been a staple of the team’s attack ever since.
Morgan scored the team’s second goal in Wednesday night’s 2-0 victory in the opener over New Zealand, her 68th as a member of Team USA. At 27 years old, Morgan still appears to be in her prime and has established herself as one of the most recognizable forces in women’s soccer.
She won’t be the only Pac-12 alum roaming the field for Team USA in Brazil, as goalkeeper Hope Solo (Washington), young star Mallory Pugh (UCLA), forward Christen Press (Stanford), defender Kelley O’Hara (Stanford) and alternate Sam Mewis (UCLA) each have ties to the Conference of Champions.
3. Devon Allen, men’s track & field
His name sound familiar to football fans? Until this summer, Devon Allen was known as a dynamic wide receiver for the Oregon Ducks football team. After the Olympics, he’ll be able to add another title to his resume -- Olympic hurdler.
— Devon Allen (@DevonAllen13) August 3, 2016
Allen took Eugene by storm at the Olympic Trials in July, posting a career-best 13.03-second mark in the 110-meter hurdles to win the event and secure his spot on Team USA. With the victory, Allen became the first collegiate athlete to win the 110m hurdles at the U.S. Olympic Trials since 1980.
4. Katie Ledecky, women’s swimming
Last time around in London, Katie Ledecky won the gold medal in the 800-meter freestyle event as the youngest American Olympian at the age of 15. She’s still a teenager for these Olympics, where she has a legit shot at winning five gold medals. Along with the 800m event, Ledecky has established herself as a dominant force in the 200m and 400m races, and is expected to take part in the 4x100m relay and 4x200m relay.
Ledecky has already committed to Stanford, but delayed her college career for a year to focus on training. The Pac-12 is on notice, though, as Ledecky is slated to enroll at Stanford this fall.
5. Alexander Massialas, men’s fencing (foil)
Fencing might not get the same acclaim as, say, basketball or soccer when it comes to the Olympic games, but a gold medal is a gold medal. Among all of American athletes, Alexander Massialas is considered one of the favorites to bring home a top prize for Team USA.
A photo posted by Alexander Massialas (@amassialas) on
Like Ledecky, Massialas also took a year off from Stanford to focus on his Olympic training. But the Summer Games are nothing new for the 22-year-old Massialas, who was knocked out of the London competition in the round of 16. Since London, Massialas was a two-time NCAA Champion at Stanford (2013, 2015) while also finishing as the national runner-up in 2014.
The son of three-time Olympian, American fencing legend and Team USA fencing coach Greg Massialas, Alexander currently owns the No. 1 foil ranking in the world.
6. Kerri Walsh-Jennings & April Ross, women’s volleyball
Even if Kerri Walsh-Jennings retired after the London Games, she would have gone down as a legend of the sport. At the age of 37 years young, she is still a favorite to win her fourth-straight Olympic gold medal in beach volleyball.
[Related content: Follow the Pac-12 to Rio ]
Walsh-Jennings, a Stanford grad, won her previous three golds with Misty May-Treanor as her partner, but May-Treanor has since retired. This time around Walsh-Jennings will team up with USC alum April Ross, who earned the silver medal in 2012 with partner Jennifer Kessy after falling to Walsh-Jennings and May-Treanor in the championship match.
7. Jahvid Best, men’s track & field
Concussions be damned, Jahvid Best is still an Olympian. Always known as a speedster on the football field during his three-year career as a running back for Cal, Best also played parts of two seasons with the Detroit Lions in the NFL before retiring due to repeated concussions.
Since hanging up his football cleats in 2011, Best has turned his attention to the track. Though he doesn’t quite have the times to crack the Team USA roster, Best will be representing his father’s native St. Lucia in the 100 meter sprint. Best is on track to become the first ex-NFL player to ever compete in an Olympic Games.
8. U.S. women's water polo
Of the 13 athletes on the U.S. women’s water polo team in Rio, nine are Pac-12 alumni, two more have signed National Letters of Intent to respective Pac-12 schools and are expected to arrive on campus in the fall. Not to mention Team USA head coach Adam Krikorian guided UCLA to seven NCAA titles during an 11-year stint from 1999-2009.
— Courtney Mathewson (@CLKMathewson) August 4, 2016
The Americans have a solid chance to defend their gold medal from the London Games, relying on essentially a Pac-12 All-Star team from the past decade. Former Stanford star Kiley Neushul and UCLA’s Rachel Fattal highlight the robust attack while youngsters like Makenzie Fischer (Stanford commit) and Maddie Musselman (UCLA commit) will make their Olympic debuts.
9. Tony Azevedo, men’s water polo
The Pac-12 Men’s Water Polo Player of the Century is also recognized on the national level, as he has been named captain for Team USA. Azevedo was actually born in Rio de Janeiro but moved to the United States shortly thereafter. His father, Ricardo, played water polo for the Brazilian national team and has since enjoyed a long career in coaching.
Rio will mark Azevedo’s fifth consecutive Olympics, an impressive feat for any athlete in any discipline. The 2004 Stanford grad has racked up 55 goals in his Olympic career, and looks to add to that number when Team USA gets started against powerhouse Croatia on Saturday.
10. Allyson Felix, women’s track & field
Of all the 243 Pac-12 athletes in Rio, none are more decorated than USC alumna Allyson Felix. The sprinter owns four gold medals, including three from the 2012 Olympics, two silvers and will be competing in her fourth consecutive Summer Games for Team USA.
Felix, who actually didn’t race collegiately at USC, is expected to compete in two events: the 400 meters and 4x400m relay. At the USA Olympic Trials in July, she was edged out by Oregon alum Jenna Prandini by .01 seconds in the 200m, meaning Felix won’t be able to defend her gold medal in her signature event.
Honorable mention: Michael Phelps
The Team USA flag bearer and Olympic legend isn’t exactly a Pac-12 alum, per se, but he’s been immersed into the Arizona State University culture over the past couple of years while training for the games with Sun Devil coach Bob Bowman. Phelps might have 22 Olympic medals, including 18 golds, but perhaps his greatest achievement in a Speedo occurred when he joined ASU’s famed “Curtain of Distraction” at a basketball game earlier this year.