Pac-12 on the ground in Tokyo to provide coverage of its athletes and coaches at the Summer Games
This week, the Olympics will open in an odd-numbered year for the first time in the modern era. And what an odd year it will be. Every athlete in Tokyo will be tested daily for a virus that was unknown two years ago and will vie for medals in fan-free stadiums – to the roar of no one. In a twist, reporters in Tokyo will also be competing – for permission to work at the venues. Press rooms will operate at 60% capacity to comply with social distancing protocols, requiring reporters to request daily access (to be awarded lottery style).
For a lone reporter in Tokyo, strategy would be essential under normal conditions. This year, most plans will end in a crapshoot. The upside is that readers can expect a serendipitous potpourri of Pac-12 coverage.
In the first week, we already have our eye on former CALIFORNIA rower Kara Kohler who will try to capture the first U.S. Olympic gold in history in women’s single sculls. Her heats are the morning of the Opening Ceremony and it’s been a nine-year drought since her last Olympic appearance, in 2012, where she won bronze in quad sculls as a rising junior with merely two years of rowing experience. She missed the cut for Rio in 2016, struggled to return, and is now a legitimate medal contender.
Also in rowing, Pac-12 athletes will be coxing both U.S. eight boats. Julian Venonsky (California) and Katelin Guregian (WASHINGTON) will discuss their role and the post-Rio rule change that allows men to cox women and vice versa. Also expect a feature on Brooke Mooney (Washington), a powerful ex-skier in the women’s eight who set a world record at the Olympic distance (2,000 meters) on the ergometer, in March.
In triathlon two days later, ex-COLORADO runner Morgan Pearson, who scored two eye-popping podium finishes in 21 days this past May/June against the world’s best triathletes, may well become the first American man to seize a triathlon medal since the sport’s Olympic debut in 2000. Teammates say he’s revitalized the team and instilled toughness and confidence – despite his older brother’s unexpected death on March 1. Pearson has a second shot at a medal on July 31, in the new co-ed relay event.
As men’s gymnastics begins, look for a mind-probing piece on Brody Malone, the new U.S. and two-time NCAA all-around champ and rising STANFORD senior who hopes to bag some medals in just his third international competition. We’ll also have insight from Malone’s college coach Thom Glielmi, also the U.S. men's gymnastics head coach in Tokyo, who guided the small-town Georgia native to No. 1. On Monday, July 26, the day of the men’s gymnastics team final, the U.S. women’s softball team faces Japan in a key round-robin rematch, 13 years after Japan prevented an American gold-medal four-peat before softball disappeared from the program, only to return for a cameo in Tokyo. Eight Pac-12ers are on the 15-member U.S. team and assistant coach Laura Berg played in all four Olympic tournaments ever held, winning three gold medals and taking home silver in 2008. Berg now coaches OREGON STATE and gave us the lowdown on who’s who for the U.S.
On July 27, the lone Pac-12 diver on the U.S. team, Delaney Schnell of ARIZONA, tries to upset the Chinese dominance in the 10m platform like she nearly did at the 2019 world championships by taking bronze, marking the first individual U.S. women’s world medal in that event in 14 years.
Swimming will also dominate first-week headlines as the U.S. team features 13 swimmers with Pac-12 ties. Most notably, world record holders Regan Smith and Katie Ledecky of Stanford, and Cal’s Ryan Murphy will compete in multiple events. So, too, will Katinka Hosszu, Hungary’s “Iron Lady” and USC alum who is aiming for four medals in her fifth Games. At least one Pac-12 swimmer has been around even longer: 37-year-old Ous Mellouli of Tunisia who will complete his sixth Olympics on August 5 in the open water 10km, the very last swimming event. In 2012 London, the former Trojan captured medals both in the pool and open water.
When track begins on July 30, Grant Fisher (Stanford) and Joe Klecker (Colorado) give the Pac-12 a 1-2 punch in the first medal event, the men’s 10,000m, but the next day, the men’s grueling 800m heats will feature one of the most colorful and charismatic characters to emerge at the U.S. Olympic trials, NCAA champ Isaiah Jewett (USC) who sees his entire race through anime. Wait for that story, especially if he makes the final on August 1st – the same day the women’s steeplechase opens with Rio bronze medalist, CU's Emma Coburn, and fellow Buff Val Constien. We’ve teed up a story that will explore why and how Colorado has produced four of the nine U.S. Olympians in that event since its Olympic debut in 2008.
The Pac-12 is also a triple threat in women’s beach volleyball not only thanks to the exciting international emergence of Kelly Claes (USC) and Sarah Sponcil (UCLA) and 3-time U.S. Olympian April Ross (USC) and her new Olympic partner Alix Klineman (Stanford)…but also Latvia’s Tina Graudina, the first NCAA beach player to qualify for the Olympics. Graudina qualified for Tokyo as a USC sophomore in 2019. She and her partner will be the first women to represent Latvia in Olympic beach volleyball. We’ve already chatted in-depth with three of those players.
And we haven’t even mentioned water polo. The US women have never missed an Olympic podium and will vie for a three-peat in Tokyo – aided by the intriguing leftie Stephania Haralabidis, a Greek-born USC grad. She is just one of a dozen Pac-12ers on the strongest team in the world. The U.S. men’s roster, features 10 Pac-12 players, including 21-year-old Hannes Daube, an emerging star who played in Greece during the COVID pandemic, while preserving his two remaining years of NCAA eligibility at USC. Learn more about them during Week 2.
Finally, on August 8… in the men’s marathon, the entire U.S. men’s contingent is Pac-12. Before they lace up, they’ve agreed to fill us on what they’ve been doing while since the Olympic cauldron was lit.
Those are just a few stories you can expect to see here from Pac-12’s reporter on-site and on-the-pulse of the long-awaited 2020 Tokyo Games, in 2021.