The Texas Longhorn athletes seemed to follow the “if you aren’t first, you’re last” mantra during the Olympic games, as burnt orange athletes finished the games with 13 medals, an astounding 10 of which were gold.
If the Forty Acres were a country, Texas would finish 7th in gold medals of all countries in the games, and 20th in total medals. The 10 gold medals is the second-most Texas athletes have ever had in the Olympics, second only to 2004’s Athens games.
As expected, the Longhorns left their greatest marks in the pool and on the track. In swimming, current Longhorns Clark Smith, Jack Conger, and Townley Haas all earned gold for the U.S. for the 4x200 meter freestyle. Haas in particular had a phenomenal performance in the event, posting a race best 1:44.14 time, the 5th fastest 200 meter leg in history.
Jimmy Feigan may have gotten caught up in the “robbery” controversy, but let’s not forget he also made the burnt orange nation proud by earning gold in the 4x100 meter freestyle for his preliminary round leg. The Texas-Ex had placed silver in the event in 2012, but the 26-year old can now lay claim to being a gold medal winner.
Lastly, Joseph Schooling shocked the world when he topped Michael Phelps in the 100 meter butterfly. The Singapore native was instructed by Texas swimming coach Eddie Reese in preparation for the event, and was able to grab his country’s first ever gold medal with a 50.39 time, an Olympic record. The 21-year old earned a $1 million dollar payout for the win, but better still made his country and his college proud.
While men dominated in swimming, it was Texas women who stood on the podium in track and field events.
The most anticipated Longhorn event was in the 4x400 meter relay, when American Courtney Okolo and her Jamaican Texas teammate Chrisann Gordon faced off. Okolo ran the first leg of the final round for the U.S., and the four members of the team finished with a first place 3.19:06 mile time. Gordon’s Jamaican team finished second in the event. For her part in the silver effort, Gordon contributed a leg to a 3:22:48 qualifying round time.
"I'm so happy for both of those ladies. They worked so hard this year. It's so great to see the rewards of so much dedication to a craft this entire season. I'm so proud of them all,” Texas track and field associate head coach Tonja Buford-Bailey said.
Texas senior Ashley Spencer was another one of Buford-Bailey’s student-athletes who will return to Austin as a medal winner. The Indianapolis native took bronze in the 400 meter hurdles in an exciting finish. Spencer described the euphoric moment of seeing her name at third as “the most incredible feeling ever”.
In addition to mid-distance running, Longhorn track also fared well in the sprints, as Texas junior Morolake Akinosun earned gold in the 4x100 meter relays. Akinosun raced in the qualifying heat, where her team finished the quarter mile with a 41.77 time. The United States would go on to win gold in the event.
On the “field” side of track and field, Texas-Ex Michelle Carter set an Olympic world record in the shot-put with a 20.68 meter throw. The professional make up artist who sports red lipstick while competing became the first American woman to ever take gold in the event.
Another Longhorn claimed victory in the men’s shot-put, as recent Texas graduate Ryan Crouser also earned gold for the United States. He posted a 22.52 meter throw, which was also an Olympic record. It’s safe to say Shane Buechele isn’t the only Longhorn who knows how to throw.
The Longhorns are always dominant in volleyball, so it’s no surprise they had a representative for this year’s women’s national team. Texas-Ex Rachael Adams competed for team U.S., and earned a bronze medal after defeating Netherlands three sets to one. Obviously, the American women would’ve wanted to win gold, but the 26-year old was still able to notch her first ever Olympic medal.
Last but certainly not least, how could one forget Kevin Durant when discussing Longhorns in Rio. Golden State’s newest star was the clear leader on team USA, and described the event as “therapy” after the stressful free agency period. Though the U.S. occasionally had close calls on the court, KD delivered with 30 points in America’s 96-66 gold medal win against Serbia. Durant finished with 155 points, only one point shy of a USA Olympic record for most points scored during the games.
Though the 40 Acres are not a sovereign country, and “The Eyes of Texas” is a fight song, not a national anthem, Longhorn fans should sense a sort of national pride for how well Texas fared in the games. Texas athletes competing in swimming and track and field may not receive widespread attention during their college events, but the Olympics offers a chance for their skills to be appreciated by Longhorn fans and the world alike.
Football season, you’re up next.