Top 10 Bay Area Olympians to watch in Rio
August 8, 2016Much of the U.S. delegation of 555 athletes marched into Rio de Janeiro’s legendary Maracana Stadium on Friday for the Opening Ceremony of the 2016 Summer Olympics. Of that number, more than 80 have ties to Northern California. From returning medal favorites to first-timers, U.S. rosters are littered with alums of the region’s high schools and colleges — or, as in the case of swimming sensation Katie Ledecky, athletes who will be Bay Area college-bound in the fall.While such prominent names as the Warriors’ Klay Thompson, Draymond Green and Kevin Durant, or U.S. women’s soccer stars Megan Rapinoe and Alex Morgan, will headline teams favored to repeat as gold medalists, here are our top 10 Bay Area Olympians to keep your eye on over the next two weeks.
Katie Ledecky, swimmingName an Olympic swimming great and Katie Ledecky has already been compared to him or her. The incoming Stanford freshman burst onto the international swimming scene in London four years ago, when she won gold in the 800-meter freestyle by a 4-second margin. Ledecky has only added to her list of accolades since then and currently holds the world record in the 400, 800 and 1,500 free. Ledecky took a gap year to train for the Olympics and plans to enroll in the fall at Stanford, where she will compete for Olympics assistant coach Greg Meehan.
Maya DiRado, swimmingMaya DiRado has been pretty busy this year. The NCAA champion graduated from Stanford, found a job at McKinsey & Company, got married and qualified for the Olympics. Is it any wonder that the 23-year-old is good at multitasking? In a recent carpool karaoke video released by USA Swimming, DiRado can be seen singing, dancing and driving with a skill equal to that which she displays in the pool. Having improved her times dramatically over the past year, DiRado stunned everyone — including herself — when she qualified for three events at the Olympics trials in June. Despite the high profile of being an Olympian and the pressure that comes with competing on an international stage, the Santa Rosa swimmer has put the Olympics in perspective. Set to start work Sept. 9 after a European vacation, DiRado is fully prepared to leave the pool after Rio, win or lose.
Danny Barrett, rugbyThis marks the first year that rugby sevens is included in the Olympic lineup, and Pacifica native Danny Barrett is looking to take full advantage. After poor grades kept him off the Sacred Heart Cathedral baseball team, Barrett had to find another athletic outlet. He joined the San Francisco Golden Gate Rugby club and became so passionate about the sport he never returned to baseball. After a successful high school football career, Barrett turned down the option of playing football at San Jose State to join Cal’s rugby team. A friend convinced him to join the U.S. rugby sevens program in 2014, and the team qualified for Rio after winning the NACRA Sevens Championship in June 2015. While not expected to medal in Rio, Barrett and the rest of the rugby sevens squad are hoping to increase the sport’s visibility and popularity when the rugby tournament begins Tuesday.
Kerri Walsh Jennings, beach volleyballKerri Walsh Jennings is to beach volleyball what Michael Phelps is to swimming. Unparalleled. Set to compete in her fifth Olympics, Walsh Jennings arrives in Rio a very different player from the one who took her first gold in Athens in 2004. Since then, the 6-foot-2 Saratoga native has won two more gold medals, had three children and undergone five surgeries on her right shoulder. Walsh Jennings first became an Olympian in 2000, when she competed in Sydney with the U.S. women’s indoor volleyball team. The Stanford graduate transitioned to the beach after those games, combining with Misty May-Treanor to become the greatest beach volleyball team of all time with three consecutive golds. Walsh Jennings is seeking her fourth straight gold medal — the most of any Olympian in a team sport — with new partner April Ross. They hit the sand Saturday.
Kanak Jha, table tennisThe youngest member of the U.S. delegation first picked up a table tennis paddle seven years ago, when he was 9. Kanak Jha watched his sister, Prachi, compete in table tennis tournaments and wanted to try the sport out for himself. Just 16 years old and a rising junior at Milpitas High, Jha spent the past year living in Sweden with his sister and training at table tennis facility Halmstad BTK. Jha is the first member of the U.S. team born in the 2000s to compete in the Olympics and the youngest-ever table tennis player to qualify, but the teenager has already proved he can take the pressure. At the North American Olympic qualification tournament in April, Jha clinched the United States’ qualification by winning the tournament, ensuring that the American men would compete in their first Olympic team contest.
At the age of 23, Kristian Ipsen has been a national team member for the past decade. He was the youngest diver to win a junior national championship and has only improved from there, winning an Olympic bronze medal in synchronized diving four years ago. Born in Walnut Creek and raised in Clayton, Ipsen competed for Stanford until he graduated with a degree in science technology and society in 2015. This Olympics will be the first time Ipsen competes solo and not in synchro. Ipsen was a three-time NCAA champion while at Stanford and was named Pac-12 Diver of the Year twice. When he’s not training, Ipsen is working at his family’s popular East Bay restaurant chain, Skipolini’s. Ipsen and the rest of USA Diving open competition Monday, Aug. 15.
Marti Malloy, judoSan Jose State is sending two seasoned Olympians to Rio this year. One is 30-year-old Marti Malloy, a bronze medalist from London. The other is her coach, 96-year-old Yoshiro Uchida, under whom Malloy has trained since she was an 18-year-old college freshman. At her first senior judo competition when she was 16, Malloy defeated top athletes, including an Olympian, to claim gold. After high school, Malloy joined San Jose State’s renowned judo program and improved further, culminating in an Olympic bronze medal four years ago. Malloy trained overseas in the lead-up to this summer’s Games, honing her skills in France, Japan and Cuba against bigger, tougher competition. She’ll start to see whether it has paid off when competition opens Monday.