COVER- Seven wonders: Charlottesville athletes go from Rt. 29 to the 29th Olympiad
Though they may look like ordinary Charlottesville citizens and UVA students, seven of the world's greatest athletes are either presently or currently walking among us. Soon, like Clark Kent emerging from the telephone booth, they will leave our little town to stand before the world as the supermen and superwomen they are at the 2008 Summer Olympics in Beijing.
Since all have UVA ties, athletic director Craig Littlepage couldn't be more pleased.
"The fact that we do have a number of competitors in different sports as well as from different countries demonstrates the diversity of our successful and broad-based athletic program," says Littlepage. "It's an affirmation that UVA attracts persons with athletic as well as academic prowess not only from all over the country, but from all over the world."
Get to know our seven wonders of the athletic world a little better before this year's opening ceremonies, and get ready to cheer for Team USA and for a crew of Canucks, for Las Venezolanas, for Sprega Hrvatski, and for the possibility that one of our own might be successful in the grab for the gold.
Country: United States
Sport: Track and field
Event: Shot Put
Weight: 255 lbs.
Olympic experience: Won the silver medal in shot put at both the 2000 games in Sydney and at the 2004 games in Athens.
Tie to Charlottesville: Currently a student at UVA's Darden School of Business, he's also an assistant coach with the Cavalier track and field team.
Biography: Born and raised in the Atlanta area, Nelson first discovered the shot put when his football coach recruited the eighth-grade linebacker to go out for the track and field team, which he also happened to coach. Through high school and college at Dartmouth, he was a two-sport star, playing defensive-end for the Big Green in the fall while throwing the shot in the winter and spring.
Known as "Mr. Intensity" for his signature roar following his throws, Nelson arrived on the international stage in a big way when he threw 21.99 meters on his final attempt at the U.S. Olympic Trials, the longest any shot putter anywhere had thrown in a decade. Months later, he fell just nine centimeters short of the gold medal.
Gold eluded Nelson by an even smaller margin in 2004. After a first-round throw of 21.16m put him in first place, he committed foot fouls on each of his remaining five attempts, leaving the door open for Ukraine's Yurily Bilonog to edge out his toss by less than a centimeter on his final attempt.
Chances for gold: He's a longer shot this time around than he was when he won two consecutive silver medals. Two other throwers bested his tally at last month's trials, including reigning world champion Reese Hoffa who's also from Georgia. Still, if Nelson finally earns the one prize that has eluded him for his entire career, he will be the first American shot putter to take the gold since Randy Barnes at the 1996 Atlanta games.
What you may not know: In addition to pursuing his MBA, Nelson has prepared for life after athletics by taking acting lessons during his sojourn in New York following the 2004 games.
When you can see Adam: NBC will broadcast the men's shot put final live as part of its Olympic coverage Friday, August 15, starting at 8pm.
Country: United States
Height: 5' 7"
Olympic experience: She won gold with the rest of the U.S. team at the 2004 games in Athens.
Tie to Charlottesville: She played soccer for the UVA women's team from 1996 through 1999, before graduating in 2000 with a degree in anthropology.
Biography: After growing up in Virginia Beach and putting on a clinic in every game while playing for Norfolk Academy, Hucles (pronounced HUE-clees) caught the attention of then-UVA head women's soccer coach April Heinrichs, who convinced Hucles to step onto the Klockner Stadium pitch to play midfield for the Cavaliers. Four years later, Hucles had earned all-ACC honors all four seasons, and left UVA as the school's all-time leading scorer with 59 goals– a record still unbroken nine years later.
Heinrichs again recruited Hucles, fresh from three professional seasons with the Boston Breakers in the now-defunct Women's United Soccer Association– only this time Heinrichs was asking Hucles to don red, white, and blue. Hucles made her international debut with the U.S. National team in 2002 and remained a role player through the Athens games in 2004, earning a gold medal along with her Team USA footballers, and through two third-place finishes in the World Cup in 2003 and 2007.
This year, Hucles appears poised to play a more prominent role than in 2004. As a starter, she's a second in goals and assists among all U.S. midfielders in 2008, and the seventh-leading all-time goal scorer among her teammates.
Chances for gold: The Americans haven't lost a game this year, going 19-0-1 in international competition. However, Team USA suffered a severe setback earlier this month when forward and leading scorer Amy Wambach broke her leg in the team's final game before the Olympics. The chances of the red, white, and blue defending the gold are still good, but they'll face stiff competition from Germany, Sweden, South Korea, and reigning World Cup champ Brazil.
What you may not know: While playing for the Boston Breakers, Hucles wrote a sports column for Boston Metro, a free Beantown daily.
When you can see Angela: MSNBC will carry the Americans' first group play match against Norway live at 7:30am on Wednesday, August 6.
Country: United States
Event: Men's eight
Height: 6' 4"
Weight: 210 lbs.
Olympic experience: Won a gold medal in this same event at the Athens games in 2004.
Tie to Charlottesville: Graduated from UVA in 2001 with a degree in economics. Rowed for the club rowing team.
Biography: While at Mr. Jefferson's University, Allen led UVA's club rowing team to its first-ever East Coast Athletic Conference title in 2000, and a spot in the prestigious Henley Royal Regatta in England.
Following his collegiate career, Allen quietly ascended the ranks of American rowing, finally earning a spot on the top men's eight team in 2002. Two years later, he and his seven teammates set a new world record, covering 2000 meters of Greek waters in 5 minutes, 19.85 seconds during the semifinal round of the 2004 Olympics on their way to defeating the Netherlands and Australia in the finals. The gold ended a 40-year gold medal drought for the Americans in the eights.
In 2007, USRowing named Allen the Male Athlete of the Year.
Chances for gold: Allen and company will have their hands full this year, with teams from Australia, France, and the Netherlands having shown well at this year's World Championships.
What you may not know: Before trying out for the UVA squad, Allen had never picked up an oar.
When you can see Wyatt: NBC will broadcast the men's eight finals in primetime on Sunday, August 17.
Olympic experience: The Beijing games will be her first Olympics.
Tie to Charlottesville: She played for the UVA softball team from 2001 through 2003 before graduating with a double major in sociology and women's studies.
Biography: Rojas is arguably one of the best hitters to step on the diamond for the Cavaliers. Playing third base, she earned ACC Rookie of the Year honors in 2001 with a conference-leading batting average of .401. She earned all-ACC honors that season, as well as in 2002 and 2003. Twice she led the 'Hoos to the ACC Championship game– in 2000 and 2003– only to fall short in the finals.
Before she graduated, ACC officials voted the fourth-year third baseman onto the the ACC 50th Anniversary Softball Team as one of the greatest in the history of the conference.
By the end of her career she'd notched 25 home runs (third in school history), 141 runs (third in school history), 50 doubles (fourth in school history), 241 hits (fifth in school history), and a batting average of .332 (sixth in school history).
When she wasn't minding the hot corner for the Cavaliers, Rojas was doing the same for the Venezuelan National team. In her first season in 2002, the Venezuelans took first place at the Central American & Caribbean Games, and just last year they won the silver medal at the Pan American Games in Rio de Janeiro.
Presently, she's the head softball coach at Orange Coast College in California.
Chances for gold: Three times softball has been an Olympic sport, and three times the United States has taken the gold. But Venezuela could be a dark horse this year, coming off an impressive performance in Rio.
What you may not know: Rojas will be making history along with her teammates. This is the first time a country from South America has competed in Olympic softball, and only the third time there has been a team from Latin America. Puerto Rico competed at the inaugural competition at the 1996 games in Atlanta, and Cuba played in the 2000 games in Sydney.
When you can see Ruby: CNBC will carry the game between the United States and Venezuela live on Tuesday, August 12 at midnight.
Event: Women's double sculls
Height: 5' 6"
Weight: 124 lbs.
Olympic experience: This is Kok's first Olympics.
Tie to Charlottesville: Kok graduated from UVA last year with a degree in psychology, after rowing for UVA all four years.
Biography: Having discovered rowing as a high schooler in Ontario, Kok chose UVA over Princeton to pursue her varsity dreams in 2003. Upon graduation last year, she left Charlottesville as one of the most decorated rowers in school history, having won an ACC Championship with her Cavalier teammates all four seasons in which she competed.
After dividing her time between competing for the Wahoos and for the Canadians, she also had to constantly shift from being one of eight for the Cavaliers as part of the heavyweight crew to one of two in double sculls. Now, for a year, she's had her sights squarely focused on Olympic gold in the two-woman event and seems to be hitting her stride– er, stroke– at just the right moment. She and teammate Tracy Cameron took gold at a World Cup event last year in Ponzan, Poland.
Chances for gold: Kok and Cameron are favored to take this event after finishing last year's season atop the World Cup standings. However, they'll likely face an upstream battle against the tandems from China, Great Britain, Germany, and Denmark.
What you may not know: Kok and Cameron are trying to follow in the wake of two giants in their sport: Kathleen Heddie and Marnie McBean won the gold in women's double sculls at both the 1992 and 1996 games.
When you can see Melanie: If Kok does make it to the finals, NBC will tape-delay the broadcast and air it during its daytime block on Saturday, August 16, sometime between 10am and 6pm.
Events: 100m breaststroke, 4 x 100m medley relay
Height: 6' 1"
Weight: 161 lbs.
Olympic experience: This is Rogulj's third Olympics; he swam for his native Croatia at both the 2000 and 2004 games.
Tie to Charlottesville: He attended UVA from 2004 through 2007.
Biography: Vanja Rogulj is arguably the greatest breaststroker his country has produced. From an early age, it was clear that Rogulj was destined to swim in the world's biggest events; he was only 17 when he first took to the Olympic waters for Croatia at the 2000 games in Sydney. Since then, he's gone on to set the Croatian record for the 100m breaststroke, and in 2007 he took the silver medal along with his three teammates in the 4 x 100 medley relay at the European Championships.
Rogulj was an 11-time All-American for the Cavaliers from 2004 to 2007, winning four consecutive ACC championships in the 200m breaststroke, three consecutive ACC titles in the 100m breaststroke, and he helped lead UVA's men's team to three consecutive overall championships from 2004 through 2006.
Chances for gold: In the 100m breaststroke, Rogulj is a dark horse with American Brendan Hansen holding the world record and Japan's Kosuke Kitajima, and France's Hugues Duboscq also looking strong heading to Beijing. The Croatian 4 x 100 medley team is also an underdog, with the United States, Australia, Russia, Japan, and Great Britain teams among the most likely to step onto the medal stand.
What you may not know: Rogulj's hometown of Split has produced some of Croatia's best athletes including Wimbledon champion Goran Ivanisevic and former Chicago Bull and NBA champ Toni Kukoc.
When you can see Vanja: If he makes it to the final, you can catch the gold medal race for the 100m breaststroke will air live on NBC on the night of Saturday, August 10. The 4 x 100m medley relay final will be tape-delayed and broadcast the night of Saturday, August 16.
Country: United States
Event: Women's eights
Olympic experience: This will be Shoop's first Olympic Games.
Tie to Charlottesville: Born and raised in our fair city, she attended the Covenant School and the University of Virginia, earning both her bachelor's and her master's in education from Mr. Jefferson's University.
Biography: While volleyball was more her sport when she was a Covenant Eagle, there was no turning back for Lindsay Shoop when she picked up an oar for the first time while trying out for UVA's women's rowing team during her first-year fall in 2002. It didn't take long for Shoop to show her prowess in the Wahoo boat, as she helped push the varsity eight team to an ACC Championship and a fifth-place finish in the NCAA championships in her very first season. She twice earned first-team All-American honors during her UVA career, in both 2003 and 2004.
Shoop went on to win three more ACC Championships wearing orange and blue, and she has rowed for the red, white, and blue as a member of the U.S. National team ever since she made the crew only two years after first taking to the water.
In the last two years, Shoop and her seven teammates have won gold in numerous World Cup events, including first-place overall in the 2007 World Cup standings, and they look to be a tough team to beat going into Beijing.
Chances for gold: The Americans are the odds-on favorites in this event: they won the gold at the last World Cup event in Lucerne, Switzerland earlier this year.
What you may not know: Despite her decorated rowing career, Shoop states in her official U.S. Rowing biography that her most memorable sports moment was winning a state quarterfinals match as a member of Covenant's volleyball team.
When you can see Lindsay: The gold medal final for the women's eights will be broadcast on NBC on tape-delay during the network's primetime coverage from 7pm to midnight on Sunday, August 17.