Track superstar Allyson Felix ’08 showed the world what it means to “fight on” in the Rio Olympics.
Only a few days after losing a gold medal in the 400 meters to Bahamian runner Shaunae Miller—who memorably dove headlong across the finish line—Felix resolutely laced up her shoes for the 4×100-meter relay semifinals. During Felix’s race leg, a Brazilian runner bumped her arm and Felix lost her baton—but not her cool. She rallied her teammates to finish the race.
On appeal, the Americans were allowed to try again, and they earned a place in the relay finals. But there were more bumps to come, as teammate English Gardner discovered minutes before the final that she was missing a shoe. Felix reached into her bag. “I always have an extra pair,” she told NBC Sports. “I’m kind of the mama of the group.”
The foursome went on to win gold medals.
With another gold in the 4×400-meter relay, Felix’s career medal count soared to nine, making her America’s most decorated female track and field Olympian ever, and USC’s most decorated Olympian of any gender in any sport.
The world got another taste of Trojan spirit with Katinka Hosszú ’12. After missing out on Olympic medals in Athens, Beijing and London, the Hungarian swimmer came back to capture three golds and a silver in Rio. Coached by husband and fellow Trojan Shane Tusup ’11, she now holds the USC record for most individual event medals in a single Olympics.
If USC was a country, it would rank 14th in the world for Olympic medals.
In all, 451 Trojan athletes have competed under 64 flags and taken home 144 gold, 93 silver and 72 bronze medals since 1904. USC sent 44 athletes to Rio in August, more than any other American university, and they brought home 21 medallions.
Being a part of this Trojan Olympic tradition creates its own special bond. Four years ago at the London Games, swimmer Rebecca Soni ’09 experienced it firsthand. After a photo session for athletes grouped by country, Trojans of all nationalities spontaneously came together and demanded their own separate group shot. It wasn’t a completely fanciful request: If USC were a country, it would rank 14th in the world in medals. Soni, a six-time Olympic medalist, remembers feeling immense pride as she stood among fellow Trojans who were the best athletes in the world. “My medals are not just for Team USA, but I’m also bringing them home for USC,” Soni told the Daily Trojan upon her return.
Steve Johnson, who took bronze in doubles tennis in August, relished the Trojan camaraderie. It was exhilarating, he says, “to catch up with USC athletes and friends I hadn’t seen for years. And to see how our paths had taken such different turns, but we all ended up at the same place. The Trojan Family is a bond that we’ll never not have.”
That bond was palpable to USC men’s water polo goalie McQuin Baron, today a junior at USC. He and freshman Thomas Dunstan were both on the American water polo team in Rio. They finished 10th, which Baron describes as “heartbreaking.” When he walked into his first USC practice in September, Trojan teammates and coaches greeted him with hugs and back slaps on the pool deck.
Being a student isn’t quite the same after achieving Olympic fame. Upon his return from Rio, Canadian sprinter Andre De Grasse would be stopped by fellow Trojans on his way to class. “I didn’t win any gold medals, but some people recognize me,” says the sociology major. “They come up and congratulate me, ask for a picture, ask about my experience.” De Grasse, who took a silver and two bronze medals in Brazil, cheerfully obliged.
As legendary swimmer John Naber ’77 sees it, being in the Olympics means “you’ve climbed Mt. Olympus. You may not be the best in your event that day, but you’re among the top five.” The U.S. Olympics Hall of Famer claimed five medals at the 1976 Montreal Games, including four golds. “When we look at each other at the starting blocks, there’s this nod of recognition. When you win and I lose, or vice versa, there’s the willingness to say, ‘Congratulations, man. I know what it took. Well done.’”