The world witnessed 13 Olympians and one Paralympian with ties to the University of Arkansas compete in the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games this summer. The 14 athletes won a combined three gold medals, a bronze medal, three Olympic records and a world record in a games that was anything but ordinary.
Arkansas’ involvement in the 2020 Olympics began with Razorback Swimming and Diving alumna Anna Hopkin, who competed for Great Britain in the mixed 4x100 medley relay, 100-meter freestyle and the women’s 4x100 freestyle.
Hopkin was given the go-ahead to anchor Britain’s mixed 4x100 medley relay, where she recorded a 52.00 second freestyle split to earn Britain a gold medal and the world record in an event being held at the Olympics for the first time. With a time of 3:37.58, Britain beat China’s 2020 world record time of 3 minutes and 38.41 seconds.
Hopkin said she knew she had a lead, but she realized that she had to stop thinking and just swim.
“I was just trying not to think about how far ahead we were from there because it’s irrelevant when you’re in the water. You’ve just got to race,” Hopkin said in an interview published by Razorback Athletics. “When I turned, I saw I still had a good bit of water in front of me, and I just went for it. It’s an amazing feeling. I’m so privileged to be part of this team.”
Hopkin finished seventh in the 100-meter freestyle final with a time of 52.83 seconds. She competed as the lead-off leg in the women’s 4x100 freestyle, in which the British team finished in fifth with a time of 3:33.96.
UA master’s student and Razorback women’s basketball graduate assistant Kelsey Plum achieved a gold medal for Team USA in 3x3 women’s basketball. This was the event’s first time in the Olympics, and the former Washington Husky took advantage. Plum and the U.S. 3x3 team defeated France, Mongolia, Romania, Japan, Italy, China and finally Russia in the gold medal match to win gold with only a single loss the entire tournament.
Plum had been rehabilitating from a torn Achilles she suffered in June of 2020 and said she wasn’t sure if she could compete again.
“I thought this was not in the cards for me once I tore my Achilles,” Plum said after the game. “I just feel really grateful and blessed to have the opportunity. USA Basketball didn’t quit on me. They could have taken somebody else, and they didn’t. I’m just super grateful.”
Arkansas men’s track and field volunteer assistant coach Ryan Crouser arrived at the 2020 Olympics to defend his shot put gold medal from 2016, when he set the Olympic record with a throw of 22.52 meters.
He broke that record on his first finals throw at the 2020 games with a heave of 22.93 meters. On his final throw, knowing that he already had secured gold, Crouser broke the record again with a throw that reached 23.30 meters and became the first U.S. shot-putter to win back-to-back gold medals since 1956.
Razorback alumnus Hunter Woodhall earned a bronze medal in the T62 400-meter dash at the Tokyo Paralympics. Woodhall also placed eighth in the T64 100-meter dash finals. The bronze is his third Olympic medal, joining a silver and a bronze medal he earned in the 2016 Rio Paralympics.
“My body is tired and ready for a break, but this medal represents much more than that,” Woodhall said in an Instagram post-Saturday. “It represents the support from my girlfriend, family, friends, team, and others along the way. It represents an ability to pursue multiple of my passions at the same time regardless of how challenging it gets.”
Razorback alumna Tina Sutej looked to improve upon her previous two Olympic performances, in which she finished 18th in 2012 and 11th in 2016. Sutej geared up for Slovenia in the pole vault competition, in which she earned fifth overall, with an attempt clearing 14 feet, 9 inches.
Arkansas alumna Sandi Morris went to the Olympics to build off her 2016 pole vaulting silver medal, but the 2020 games were not so kind. Morris cleared the height on her first attempt with ease, but as she attempted her next height, Her pole broke as she planted it into the ground. Microphones near the athlete picked up on Morris discussing a slight pain in her hip, but she pushed onward.
Morris attempted to get over her selected height three more times, but each resulted in Morris stopping just before she could go all the way. Morris finished in 16th place and later assured fans she was okay on social media.
Razorback golf alumnae Gaby Lopez and Maria Fassi competed for Mexico in a four-round women’s individual golf tournament, in which both finished in the top 40. Fassi finished 5-under-par, landing her with a 23rd-place finish. Lopez shot 1-under for a 38th-place finish.
Arkansas athletes represented the red and white well during the 2020 Olympics, part of an ongoing trend witnessed every four years. With top-tier track and field squads and other skilled teams producing world-class talent each year, Arkansas is likely to remain relevant when 2024 comes around.