BY MIKE LEONARD, PHOTOGRAPHY BY MICHAEL D. DICKBERND
For athletes who compete in Summer Olympic sports, the quest to get better never ends. They train obsessively and compete in regional, national, and international events as well as collegiate competitions, most in relative anonymity compared with athletes in big money sports. Then every four years, the Olympic Games happen and the whole world is watching. Athletes who make it to the Olympics become household names. If they win medals, they morph overnight into national heroes. And if they win gold, they achieve worldwide fame and their likenesses appear on cereal boxes.
Over the years, Indiana University athletes have done their school and Bloomington proud, and there are high hopes they will do so again at the 2016 Summer Olympic Games starting on August 5 in Rio de Janeiro.
In 1964, IU had 13 athletes competing in the Summer Olympic Games, more than any other university in the U.S., and in 1968 the seven gold medals won by IU athletes would have ranked the Hoosier nation 11th among all nations in the world.
And that was before 1972, when IU swimmer Mark Spitz won a record seven gold medals at the Summer Olympic Games in Munich, Germany, and IU-affiliated athletes won 15 medals, including 11 gold.
Four years later, at the 1976 games in Montreal, Canada, IU swimming coach James “Doc” Counsilman coached the U.S. Swimming and Diving team that won 12 gold medals and 10 silver in 13 events — the most successful U.S. swimming team ever.
The connection between IU, Bloomington, and the Olympics has been consistent, reflecting IU’s emphasis on all athletics and not just the revenue sports of basketball and football. Since 1904, IU has sent 167 athletes to the Summer Games, representing the U.S. and 15 other countries, in sports as varied as track and field, swimming and diving, fencing, and field hockey.
There are many current and former IU representatives who hope to make it to the 2016 Summer Games. Herein we profile 14 of the most promising. Some are simply trying for the career-affirming prestige of being called an Olympian while others are seeking a podium performance and hope to find themselves on the famous tri-level stand where medals are awarded.
More than one IU athlete has a strong chance of winning it all, taking their spots on the podium, and hearing their national anthems played as they bow their heads and accept Olympic gold.