Rising Longhorn Track Athletes Carry on Olympic Legacy
Richards-Ross announced earlier this year she would hang up the spikes after Rio, and after dropping out of the Trials last month due to injury, she joined NBC as a commentator in retirement. Hardee hasn't set a definitive end to his career, but hinted he'd be back for Worlds in 2017 after an injury led him to also scratch during the Trials. The silver lining was him joining Richards-Ross on the mic, where he provided great Trials commentary that made him a fan favorite.
The absence of these Longhorn legends from the Olympics might seem devastating, but plenty of former and current Texas athletes punched tickets to Rio last month. Texas will be represented by nine Olympians who will (metaphorically) carry the torch at this year's Games. Rather than the end of an era, it's merely a changing of the guard.
Spencer, a two-time NCAA champion and 2016 Texas graduate, leads the Longhorns making their way to Rio in August. Spencer was most successful in the open 400m in college, but she declared in both the open 400m and 400m hurdles at the Trials this summer. After qualifying through six rounds to reach both the 400m and 400m hurdles finals, she "only" made the team in the latter, but said she doesn't regret the decision to run both. Her most important goal was to get to Rio--in whatever event possible.
In 2012, Spencer passed up the opportunity to compete in the Trials in favor of World Juniors, where she won titles in the 400m and 4x400m relay. This year's world-lead list ranks her as the third-fastest 400m hurdler racing in Rio, so she has serious potential to earn a medal.
Like Spencer, Robinson is a 400m and 400m hurdle specialist who qualified for Rio in the hurdles. The 2015 Big 12 champion in the 400m hurdles, Robinson missed NCAAs this year due to a hamstring injury, so his runner-up finish in Eugene came as a bit of a surprise. After barely making it out of the semifinals, Robinson ran a personal best of 48.79 in the final to qualify for Rio.
The program's field athletes are headlined by four-time NCAA shot put champion Ryan Crouser, who graduated this year. The Olympic Trials champion had the performance of his life in Eugene--he improved his personal best by almost a foot to establish a nation-leading mark of 22.11m and join his uncle on a list of Crouser throwers who have made it to the Olympics.
Another Texas graduate competing in the field events is 2015 World Championships bronze medalist and 2016 indoor world champion Michelle Carter, who will represent Team USA in her third Olympics when she throws the shot in Rio. The American shot put record-holder with a PR of 20.24m will look to reach the podium in Rio after finishing in fifth in the 2012 London Games.
The individual events aren't the only places to find Longhorn talent in Rio. Okolo, the NCAA 400m record-holder, placed sixth in the finals and came up short of qualifying, but will travel to Rio as a relay pool member. At the Longhorn Olympic press conference on Tuesday, Okolo said one small mistake was the difference between qualifying and missing the mark at the Trials. Her PR of 49.71, which she ran on April 23 to set the NCAA record, is still the third-fastest time in the world this year.
Also in the relay pool is 13-time Big 12 champion Morolake Akinosun, who will likely run a leg of the 4x100m relay. Team USA packs serious power in its Olympic 100m squad, and each one is a viable candidate for a relay spot: English Gardner, Tori Bowie, and Tianna Bartoletta. Akinosun, whose 200m PR matches Allyson Felix's and ranks top-20 in the world this year, said the Trials fueled her confidence for the relays.
Rounding out the list of Longhorn-bred U.S. Olympians heading to Rio is 2014 NCAA champion Marielle Hall, who took bronze in the 10K at the Trials. At the NCAA level, her crowning achievement was the 5000m title in 2014. She ran her 10K PR this year at Stanford in 31:37.45.
Jamal Wilson, Chrisann Gordon
Foreign athletes and Texas products Wilson (Team Bahamas: High Jump) and Gordon (Team Jamaica: 4x400m relay) also earned Olympic berths for their home countries. Gordon contributed a leg to the world championship 4x400m relay team in 2015, and Wilson boasts a PR of 2.31m in the high jump.
In addition to the athletes, Texas track and field will be represented by head coach Mario Sategna, who will serve as the men's assistant coach for throws in Rio. The 2014 Big 12 Indoor and Outdoor Coach of the Year has guided Crouser, Hardee, Marquise Goodwin and many other high-caliber athletes to NCAA titles, records and Olympic appearances and medals.
The change in roles for Richards-Ross and Hardee is bittersweet, but Spencer and the nine other current and former Longhorns who will represent Team USA, Jamaica, and the Bahamas at the 2016 Olympic Games have all of the potential to carry the Texas Olympic legacy forward.