Nathan Adrian led all Washington state athletes with four Olympic medals, but as Bernard Lagat and Helena Scutt showed, the Rio Olympics were not just about podium finishes and glitzy hardware.
Nathan Adrian swam four events at the Rio de Janeiro Olympics and returned home to the U.S. last week with four Olympic medals – two relay golds and two individual bronzes from the 50-meter freestyle and 100 freestyle.
So even though he did not manage to defend the 100 freestyle gold he won at the London Olympics in 2012, the Bremerton native was nonetheless pleased with the way his third Olympic Games turned out.
“Expectations and goals are two different things,” Adrian, 27, said this week in a phone interview. “The goal was to come away with gold medals. I expected to go in there against tough competition and I wanted to compete well. To come away with four medals, it’s certainly not the same as four gold medals, but I also can’t say that it’s disappointing.”
With his four medals from this Olympic Games, Adrian is the most decorated athlete from the state of Washington who competed in Rio.
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More than 40 athletes with Washington state ties competed in Rio. In total, they earned a total of seven gold medals, three silver medals and four bronze medals.
Basketball proved to be particularly lucrative for Washington athletes. Breanna Stewart and Sue Bird of the Seattle Storm, and former Washington State Cougar Klay Thompson all won gold medals with the U.S. women’s and men’s basketball teams, respectively.
In rowing, the U.S. women’s eight won their third-straight Olympic gold medal with two former Huskies – Katelin Snyder and Kerry Simmonds in the boat.
Another former Husky, Patricia Obee, competed for Canada in the lightweight double sculls event and won a silver medal.
The state of Washington also got silver medals from Bellevue native judoka Travis Stevens and Indiana transplant and current Bremerton resident Chloe Dygert in track cycling. Spokane resident Kasey Perry-Glass was part of the U.S. equestrian dressage team that won a bronze medal.
Adrian personally accounted for four of the 14 medals won by athletes with Washington ties. In doing so, he doubled his collection of Olympic medals that, until this summer, included three golds and one silver from the 2008 and 2012 Olympics.
He also got to be part of one of the most memorable moments of this year’s Olympic Games — when the U.S. men’s 4X100 freestyle relay team reclaimed the gold medal they so badly wanted after losing out to France in the 2012 Olympics.
In Rio, Adrian swam the anchor leg of the 4X100 freestyle relay behind Caeleb Dressel, Michael Phelps and Ryan Held, and fended off a strong challenge from the French on the final lap to help the U.S. reclaim the gold.
“That relay was important for so many different reasons,” Adrian said. “It’s something Team USA takes a lot of pride in. It’s gotten closer and closer in competition – every year, the other team is nipping at our heels or beating us. We really feel like this is something that Team USA should be able to dominate.
“So to come back from the 2015 World Championships where we didn’t even make the final, and then to win an Olympic gold medal, that was phenomenal.”
Adrian was hoping to defend his Olympic title in the 100 freestyle, but had to settle for third behind Australia’s Kyle Chalmers and Belgium’s Pieter Timmers. In the 50 freestyle, 35-year-old American Anthony Ervin surprisingly took the gold, while Frenchman Florent Manaudou finished second just ahead of Adrian.
The performances of older swimmers like Ervin and Phelps, 31, were heartening to see, Adrian said.
“It was certainly inspiring for me to say, ‘Maybe one day I’ll be that guy, 35 years old and on the podium,’” Adrian said. “On top of that to see your friend win the medal and be on the podium with him, that was pretty cool.”
Adrian will be 31 by the time the next Olympics rolls around in 2020, and he’s definitely planning to try and make his fourth Olympic team.
“I have no intention of being done competing,” Adrian said.
The Olympics aren’t just about medals and podium finishes, however. The Rio Games served as a backdrop for a plethora of other compelling storylines.
Just four years after she began her weightlifting training, Redmond’s Morghan King finished sixth in the 48kg class in women’s weightlifting, and set a new American Record with an 83kg snatch.
At age 41, Washington State alum Bernard Lagat became the oldest American to ever run for the U.S. Olympic team when he finished fifth in the men’s 5,000.
Meanwhile, in women’s sailing, Kirkland native Helena Scutt, 24, and her Californian partner Paris Henken, 20, were the youngest sailors competing in the 49erFX event that was making its Olympic debut.
Scutt and Henken had a first place finish in one of the preliminary races and accomplished their goal of making it to the medal race and finished 10th overall in a fleet of 20 competitors.
“We are very happy with our performance because we rose to the occasion to sail our best and it was reflected in the results,” Scutt said in an email interview with the Seattle Times. “We sailed our best when we were under pressure. That has not always been the case, so it was gratifying to see that we have grown to be able to do that.
“Performing excellently and being able to win a race at the Olympics, but not having a medal, I am satisfied for now, given our circumstances, but it just makes me hungry for more.”
Scutt and Henken will likely train for the 2020 Olympics. But until then, they’re going back to school. Scutt will return to Stanford next month to finish her master’s in mechanical engineering, while Henken will continue undergraduate studies at the College of Charleston (S.C.).
Rio was their beginning, but it was former UW volleyball player Courtney Thompson’s swan song. The inspirational heart of the U.S. volleyball team announced her retirement shortly after Team USA beat the Netherlands to win a bronze medal.