Posts tagged ‘2016 Olympics’

Across the Pond and Into the Pool

Photo via Cardoni

Photo via Cardoni

Shane Ryan is not from Ireland. His dad is originally from the Emerald Isle — he’s been here for 30 years and still has a thick accent — but the redshirt senior member of Penn State’s swimming team is a native Pennsylvanian, born and raised just outside Philadelphia.

And yet when Ryan approached the blocks for the semifinals of the men’s 100-meter backstroke at the Rio Olympics, he wasn’t wearing red, white, and blue. Instead, Ryan was there representing Ireland, his adopted homeland and the country where he spent the past year of his life.

The idea of swimming for Ireland has been in Ryan’s head for some time. He’d competed for the U.S. in the past, and was 0.01 seconds away from qualifying for the national team in 2015. But Ryan started thinking about his future. “If I stay here, they only take top-2,” Ryan explains. “I could get top-2, but I could also get dead last, something could happen. So for my best interest, I decided… that I was gonna go to Ireland.”

He made this decision just before finals week of Penn State’s 2015 spring semester. Ryan was a junior at the time — he ended up redshirting what would have been his senior year — and said that he made this decision in three days.

The process of becoming Irish started on May 13, 2015. He flew over to Europe, went to the pool, met his coaches, dropped his things off at the house where he stayed, went to meet with a lawyer, and got his name on a lease to prove he was living in Ireland. He needed to do a few other things to establish residency, like get Ireland’s version of a social security card, but once he signed his lease, the clock began counting down.

Photo via Cardoni

Photo via Cardoni

Ryan had to live in Ireland for a year to become a resident. He ended up staying over there for 16 months, living with extended family while training in the pool and working for the Football Association of Ireland. Because he wasn’t a resident yet, he wasn’t able to swim for Ireland and instead competed for a club team.

Fast forward a year and Ryan officially “turned Irish” on the day before he left to go to European Championships in London.

But getting to that point was a challenge for Ryan due to his performance in the pool. His training was more intensive than ever before – Ryan swam five days a week, where he would begin practice early in the morning and accrue about 70,000 meters. He calls swimming that much “absurd” because as a sprinter, his training has never been about distance.

Having trained in the States his entire life, the European style of training was new to him. He cites the emphasis on nutrition and training being more technically and aerobic-based as major differences. “I needed that reality check,” Ryan says. “If I want to go for (the Olympics in) 2020 and if I want to go pro – which that’s the plan, to become pro once my NCAA eligibility ends – that’s what I need to do.”

He also remembers experiencing his lowest point in December of 2015 after a meet in Amsterdam. His performance wasn’t up to par and it led to him and his coaches sitting down and discussing his training regimen. “I tried doing what the coaches told me to do and it did not work out,” he says. “And I had to sit down with them and say ‘Listen, this is not gonna work.’ I swam like a 55.2 (in the 100-meter backstroke). I’ve done that without swimming for two weeks.

“We changed the training,” Ryan continues. “We changed to more speed, more power, more lifting, more static rope work, and it turned out to be great.”

Ryan qualified for the Olympics in March. He eventually made it to Rio, where he swam the 50 and 100-meter freestyle and the 100-meter backstroke. His performance in the 100 back got him to the semifinals, where he came in 16th — he wasn’t happy with his time of 54.50, but coming in 16th was the best-ever finish for a Nittany Lion in an Olympic pool, while his time of 53.85 seconds in the prelims was an Irish record in the event.

Prior to stepping onto the block for the semifinals, he heard “Let’s Go Shane” spontaneously break out. As it turns out, his mother — along with some friends who made the trip down and brought a Penn State flag — convinced all of the Brazilian natives in their section to chant for her son. It was so loud that the chant could be heard on the other side of the natatorium.

Now, he’s back in State College with a different perspective on what he needs to do to be the best swimmer and teammate possible. His goal is for Penn State to be one of the top programs in America, and he’s willing to do whatever it takes to get there.

Photo via Cardoni

Photo via Cardoni

“The coaches can only do so much and that’s where the teammates come into play,” Ryan says. “If I don’t see something that’s right, I’m gonna call them out on it — on the coaches’ side, even on the men’s and women’s sides. We need to do what’s best for the team and what’s best for this university, and I’m here to do that.”

This is something that Ryan says he learned during his time abroad. He needed to figure out what worked for him, and now that he knows what works (and, more importantly, what doesn’t), he can go up to his coaches and teammates and offer advice, support, and when necessary, constructive criticism.

To celebrate his biggest achievement to date, Ryan decided to get the Olympic rings tattooed on his ribs. One day after he came back to campus, someone asked him whether he got them because he went to the Olympics or if he got them because he felt like it.

As Ryan said, people don’t just get the Olympic rings tattooed onto their bodies. No matter which country they represent, an Olympian is an Olympian.

Bill DiFilippo, online editor

October 31, 2016 at 12:51 pm 1 comment

Joe Kovacs’ Sterling Performance Earns Him a Silver Medal

Photo via @JoeKovacsUSA

Photo via @JoeKovacsUSA

Joe Kovacs ’11 is an Olympic medalist. Kovacs, the reigning world champion in the shot put and one of two Nittany Lions to compete in the event in Rio, took home a silver medal on Thursday night thanks to a throw that went 21.78 meters. This is Kovacs’ first-career Olympic medal.

Kovacs’ medal is the first individual silver medal that any Penn Stater has won since 1976, when Michael Shine took home the silver in the men’s 400 meter hurdles.

Speaking to Frank Gogola of after the event, Kovacs called winning a silver “bittersweet,” but remarked that the feeling is “settling in” and applauded the gold medal winner, who set the Olympic record in the event and also hails from the United States.

Penn State’s other representative in the men’s shot put, Darrell Hill ’15, came in 23rd overall and did not advance past the qualifying round.

Bill DiFilippo, online editor

August 19, 2016 at 10:00 am Leave a comment

Miles Chamley-Watson and Monica Aksamit Earn Bronze Medals

A pair of Penn State fencing alumni picked up medals at the 2016 Olympic Games over the weekend. Miles Chamley-Watson ’13 and Monica Aksamit ’12 won bronze medals as members of the men’s foil team and the women’s sabre team.

Chamley-Watson earned his bronze on Friday when the U.S. took down Italy, 45-31, and the squad earned its first medal in the event since 1932. This was a rematch of the semifinals at the 2012 Olympics; all four American fencers who competed on Friday were on the 2012 team.

Aksamit won her medal on Saturday. The women’s sabre team also beat Italy, 45-30, and it marked the second bronze in a row for the United States in this event.

Both of these medals were significant for Penn State’s fencing program, as Chamley-Watson became the first American alumnus and Aksamit became the first female alumnus to medal.

Bill DiFilippo, online editor

August 15, 2016 at 12:06 pm Leave a comment

Do the Champley-Watson

Photo via USA Fencing

Photo via USA Fencing

Miles Chamley-Watson will compete Friday at the Rio Olympics for the U.S. fencing team in the quarterfinals of the men’s foil. If you watch, pay close attention, because Chamley-Watson may pull off a move that has the fencing community buzzing.


GIF via GoPro

As the former standout for Penn State’s fencing team told The New York Times, the move is called “The Champley-Watson.” The move requires putting your sword behind your head and making contact with your opponent, and it stems from Chamley-Watson’s desire to add some excitement to the sport – he told
the Times that he enjoys hearing the crowd go “ooooooh” when he does this because, “It’s really nice to bring that different type of feeling, a new phase to a sport that’s one of the oldest.” (He’s not all style over substance, of course: In 2013, he became the first American male to win a individual senior world championship.)

His favorite part, though, is how his opponents react to the move: “They’d rather get a yellow card than get embarrassed on live television. I don’t blame them.”

Bill DiFilippo, online editor

August 10, 2016 at 10:01 am Leave a comment

NASCAR on Two Wheels

Photo via Steve Boyle

Photo via Steve Boyle

His older brother loved to race bikes, and so, as a boy of only 5 or 6, Matt Baranoski found himself dragged along to the track. He was technically too young to join in, but he knew how to ride, and it hardly seemed fair to make a kid that age sit and watch while the older boys had all the fun. So his parents asked, and the folks in charge at the Lehigh Valley Velodrome said sure, and an exception was made.

Fifteen years and a cabinet-full of trophies later, the exception seems to have worked out pretty well.

It’s late April as Baranoski tells the story by phone from suburban Toronto, where he’s part of a select group of cyclists training at a sparkling new Canadian cycling center. It’s among the best facilities of its kind in the world, and the elite competition is exactly what he needs as he works to peak in time for Rio. “It’s always good to be pushed,” he says.

Photo via Steve Boyle

Photo via Steve Boyle

In truth, Baranoski doesn’t seem like the type to struggle for motivation. A junior national champion by the time he was 12, able to hold his own against top international competition just a few years later, he quite literally never slowed down. His ambitions on the track informed his college choice: The Perkasie, Pa., native chose Penn State Lehigh Valley because of the proximity of the world-class velodrome and the campus’s cycling program, led by longtime coach Jim Young, whom Baranoski calls “a legend in the collegiate cycling world.” (Baranoski will be joined in Rio by Bobby Lea ’06 Berks, a fellow Lehigh Valley alum making his third Olympic appearance.)

Baranoski rides in an event called the keirin, which he calls “the most fun race on the track.” It’s an eight-lap sprint around the 250-meter banked track, paced by a motorcycle, that leads Baranoski to compare it to NASCAR; world-class cyclists will approach 50 miles per hour down the stretch, occasionally bumping each other to protect their position. “For the last two and a half laps,” he says, “it’s all-out war.”

Six days after his final race in Rio, Baranoski will be back at University Park for his final semester in the Schreyer Honors College; the electrical engineering major is set to graduate in December. It’s a quick turnaround, but if anyone can handle that sort of pace, he’s probably the guy.

This story appears in the July/August 2016 issue of The Penn Stater, the official publication of the Penn State Alumni Association. Not a member? Click here to join.

Ryan Jones, deputy editor

August 4, 2016 at 11:07 am 2 comments

Ali Krieger’s Long-Awaited Olympic Debut

via @alikrieger

via @alikrieger

The Washington Post takes a look at Ali Krieger ’07, who will make her Olympic debut for the United States women’s national soccer team on Wednesday night. While Krieger has been one of the USWNT’s top right backs for years, she missed out on going to 2012 Olympics – where she likely would have started – after tearing her right ACL and MCL during a qualifying match.

Four years later, Krieger is in Brazil as one of the fullbacks for the best women’s soccer team on the planet. She’s also making history: at 32, Krieger is the oldest first-time Olympian in the history of the national team.

Krieger, backup goalkeeper Alyssa Naeher ’10, and the rest of the American squad will try to become the first women’s soccer team to successfully defend a gold medal at the Olympics. Their quest for another gold will start at 6 p.m. EST tonight against New Zealand. You can watch the match on NBC Sports.

Bill DiFilippo, online editor

August 3, 2016 at 11:22 am 1 comment

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