The start of a new school year in Kentucky causes sports fans to start dreaming about ball games in the bluegrass.
But the end of the summer was nothing short of spectacular for the Kentucky Wildcats who represented the USA in the Olympics in Tokyo. Eleven Wildcat athletes earned medals, and eight of those medals were pure gold.
The eight gold medals earned under the banner of the Big Blue Nation ranked above the other nations of Cuba, New Zealand, Canada, and Brazil that earned a respective seven apiece for their national totals.
One of the favorite Olympians of the summer was none other than UK track star Sydney McLaughlin, who was the first ever Kentucky Wildcat to win two gold medals by taking the 400-meter hurdles and running an impressive leg of the 4x400 meter relay. Jasmine Camacho-Quinn added gold in the 100-meter hurdles making Kentucky the epicenter of the hurdling elite.
While the other names may not be as familiar, the performances were fantastic. Lee Keifer won the gold in Individual Foil and never trailed in the championship. Will Shaner used the air rifle to win gold and set an Olympic record in the process.
Then of course there were the Olympic basketball gold medalists.
The history of Kentucky Basketball is loaded with Olympians on the hardwood and the Cats have been one of the reasons for Team USA’s success through the pages of Olympic history. Some long time fans will remember these names, younger fans will not, but each of these Wildcats hold a chunk of Olympic gold.
The 1948 Summer Olympics in London featured the Fabulous Five. Cliff Barker, Ralph Beard, Alex Groza, Wah Wah Jones and Kenny Rollins and Adolph Rupp added gold medals to the first ever Kentucky NCAA basketball championship.
The 1956 Olympics in Melbourne found a member of UK’s undefeated 1953-54 season, Billy Evans on the court for Team USA. One of Rupp’s Fiddlin’ Five ran up and down the floor in 1960 for the USA, helping to bring home another gold for the Cat history books. Adrian Smith was a part of what has been called the greatest collection of amateurs to ever play together on the same team.
It would be a long pause for the Wildcats until another UK legend would be a part of the Olympics. In 1980,
Sam Bowie was a part of the 1980 Moscow Olympic team that never played in the Olympics. Due to global tensions, the USA did not travel to Moscow. Instead, the American team played a five-game series of exhibitions against NBA talent in various stops around the country. No gold medal officially for this team, although it is believed that they would have won easily.
In the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games, Tayshaun Prince became the next Wildcat to win Olympic basketball gold as a member of the “Redeem Team.” In 2012 at the London Olympic Games, Anthony Davis played for the USA. The 19-year-old averaged 3.7 points, 2.7 rebounds and shot 64.7 percent from the field. Now while those numbers don’t seem too overwhelming for Davis, keep in mind, he was sharing minutes as a teenager with Kobe Bryant, LeBron James, Kevin Durant and Carmelo Anthony, and Tyson Chandler of the NBA. Rio in 2016 added another Wildcat, DeMarcus Cousins.
The golden era of Kentucky basketball added some new chapters this year in Tokyo as well. Bam Adebayo, Keldon Johnson, and Devin Booker all added their name to the record books by winning gold for Team USA and representing the Big Blue Nation in an Olympic Summer. Someone once said, “shoot for the moon, if you miss you land among the stars.”
This past summer, we once again had some Wildcats shoot for the moon. They didn’t merely land among the stars, they became Olympic stars. And for basketball fans it was a reminder that was badly needed after last season, that in Kentucky we don’t just play basketball – we are basketball.
And the new season is about to begin!