From the pandemic to mental health, the 2020 Tokyo Olympic Games, which officially closed on Aug. 8, had just as many storylines away from the competition as there were in it.
The same can be said for the four UCF Knights who competed in the Games.
Competing in his 4th Summer Olympics, Beijing 2008 gold medalist Phil Dalhausser was joined by Florida State alumnus Nick Lucena in pursuit of another gold medal.
His Olympics started with a bit of a stumble in Pool Play, losing to The Netherlands, 2-0 (21-17, 21-18). However, thanks to wins against Brazil, 2-1 (24-22, 21-19, 15-13), and Argentina, 2-1 (21-19, 21-18, 15-6), Dalhausser was able to advance to his 4th Knockout Round in his Olympic career.
However, in shades of London 2012, Dalhausser’s Olympic Journey would meet its end in the Round of 16 at the hands of a younger team.
Initially, Dalhausser and Lucena had the upper hand on Qatari duo Cherif Younousse and Ahmed Tijan, winning the first set, 21-14. However, the two 26-year old Qataris battled back to win a close second set, 21-19, and take control of the third set, 15-11, outlasting the Americans, 2-1.
If that was the final match of Phil Dalhausser's international career a short while ago, what a sensational career he had. While volleyball is not my number one sport of choice, I know talent when I see it and Phil is one of the top guys to ever do it by far. Beast of a blocker!— James Francuz (@FrancuzJames824) August 1, 2021
While Younousse and Tijan, who are ranked No. 1 in the International Volleyball Federation rankings, would go on to win the bronze medal, their matchup with Dalhausser ended up being the last for the American.
Dalhausser announced on Aug. 1 that he was retiring from competitive beach volleyball to spend more time with his kids.
“I’ve missed, like, a year and a half of my kids’ life. That’s time I’ll never get back,” he said to ESPN. “I love the sport and everything. It’s given so much to me, but I think it’s time to move on, try to spend more time with my family.”
Dalhausser will continue to coach youth volleyball in retirement, alongside his wife, Jen, at the Orlando-based Phil Dalhausser Beach Volleyball Academy.
Kristen Thomas missed out on Rugby Sevens’ debut at the Olympics in Rio in 2016 due to an injury, but she immediately set the tone for the USA Woman’s Rugby Sevens team in Tokyo.
Thomas scored the first try of the Olympics for Team USA against China in its first pool play match, which it would go on to win, 28-14.
“Scoring quickly in a sevens match can definitely affects the momentum of the match,” Thomas said. “The challenge is to keep that momentum for the entire game. It’s a short game, but a lot can happen in 14 minutes.”
Tokyo has OFFICIALLY been introduced to #UCFast ✌️— UCF Alumni (@UCFALUMNI) July 29, 2021
Kristen Thomas '16 and @USARugby have arrived as they clinch their spot in the quarterfinals by beating both China and Japan in group play pic.twitter.com/AA37ph8vFj
However, despite an undefeated Pool Play, the USA would be eliminated from medal contention after a 21-12 loss in the quarterfinals to Great Britain.
The loss put the team into the 5th-8th placement bracket. In a rematch with China, Thomas once again scored early, getting two tries for the USA in the match’s first 4:42 seconds before being subbed out. The team would go on to beat China, 33-14.
“It’s nice to be responsible for exposing and showcasing the sport of rugby to new U.S. fans,” Thomas said. “We play this sport because we love it and think it’s amazing. It’s an honor to be an example of the sport to new fans.”
Mattie Rogers was not just competing in her first Olympics, but she was also competing in her first international competition in the 87-kilogram weight class. For a weightlifter that’s normally competed in the 69 or 71-kilogram weight classes in prior events, that can sound like quite the task on paper. For perspective, the average mass of the women that competed in Rogers’ Group was 84.83 kilograms. Rogers was 78.55 kilograms.
However, this is not to say Rogers was not prepared for competing in this weight class. Back in April, Rogers earned the gold medal at the Pan-American Championships in the 81-kilogram weight class. Plus, according to an Instagram post by Rogers on Aug. 2, she said she had “never been in better shape” and was “never been more confident going into an event.”
Her first lift, a snatch lift of 108 kilograms, was executed with no issue. However, she would go on to fail her second and third snatch lifts, which were 111 and 112 kilograms respectively. She then failed on her first two clean and jerk lifts, which were both 138 kilograms.
“I never expected to be fighting just to make a single attempt,” Rogers said in her Instagram post.
Rogers’ chances for a medal were over by that point. However, she still had one more chance to lift the 138-kilogram barbell to get the best finish she could. In the end, she did just that.
“I had every intention of proving myself on that stage today & showing that no matter what gets thrown at me, I can overcome,” Rogers said in her Instagram post.
Rogers’ only two successful lifts of the night netted her a 6thplace finish, 1 kilogram away from the 5thplace finisher, 33-year old Frenchwoman Gaëlle Nayo-Ketchanke.
In an Olympics where gymnast Simone Biles made headlines by withdrawing from her events to address her mental health, Rogers provided another example of just what an athlete on that level goes through mentally, for better or for worse.
“I put EVERYTHING into being here today. I just wish my brain had been on the same page,” Rogers said in her Instagram post.
With that said, Rogers is still young (25-years old) and if she can finish 1 kilogram away from the Top 5 in a weight class that is not her own, she will be one to watch once the Olympics return in Paris in 2024.
“For me, this was the push I needed to take the next steps of my mental health journey to get things a little more under control & for that I am grateful,” Rogers said in her Instagram post. “Unfortunate timing, but I know this experience will only help me in the long run.”
Goalkeeper Aline Reis was not originally slated to travel to Tokyo as part of the 18-player roster of the Brazilian women’s soccer team when it was first announced on June 18th. However, when the roster size expanded from 18 to 22 players on July 1st, Reis was one of the players that received one of those spots.
However, the roster expansion stipulated that a team only could have 18 players be available to play in the game at any one time. This rule sidelined Reis from the team’s first two Group Play matches, a 5-0 win against China and a 3-3 draw with the Netherlands. She was listed as one of the substitutes for the final Group Play match against Zambia but did not see the pitch.
Suplentes— Seleção Feminina de Futebol (@SelecaoFeminina) July 27, 2021
22 - Aline
5 - Julia
7 - Duda
9 - Debinha
13 - Bruna Benites
15 - Geyse
20 - Gio#GuerreirasDoBrasil
Brazil would end up being eliminated by eventual gold medal winner Canada by penalty kicks in the quarterfinals.
Up Next: Kyle Coon in the Paratriathlon
Paratriathlon runner Kyle Coon is the lone UCF alumnus in the 2020 Tokyo Paralympic Games, which begin on Aug. 24.
Just like how the Olympics have different classifications for men’s and women’s sports, the Paralympics have additional classifications for different types of paratriathlon runners based on their disability. Coon competes in the PTVI Paratriathlon, a classification for visually impaired athletes because he lost his vision at 7 years old due to a rare form of eye cancer.
Leading up to the Paralympics, Coon finished 1st in the PTVI classification of the 2021 World Triathlon Championship Series in Yokohama, Japan on May 15 with a 00:59.45 time and finished 2nd in the 2021 Americas Triathlon Para Championships in Wisconsin on June 27, with a 1:02.35 time.
The PTVI Men’s Paratriathlon starts at 7:30 p.m. Eastern time on Aug. 27 (8:30 a.m. local time on Aug. 28) and will be streamed live on nbcolympics.com.