A University-record nine athletes who have Notre Dame connections earned medals at the Tokyo Olympics and Paralympics this past summer, more than doubling the previous best of four set at the Athens games in 2004 and repeated at Beijing in 2008 and London in 2012. . . . Her reputation preceded her as the world No. 1 in women’s foil, and fencer Lee Kiefer ’17 lived up to the ranking. Instead of retiring after the 2016 Rio de Janeiro games as planned, she decided to try to make the U.S. Olympic team for a third time — training while attending medical school at the University of Kentucky. It turned out to be the right decision. In the final, Kiefer defeated Russian Inna Deriglazova to become the first American ever to win gold in individual foil. . . . Kiefer had company in the whirlwind of training to be a doctor and an Olympic fencer at the same time. Her husband, Gerek Meinhardt ’13, ’15MBA, combined medical school with an effort to make his fourth U.S. Olympic team. Meinhardt returned home with a bronze in men’s team foil, a repeat of his achievement at Rio. This time, Notre Dame senior Nick Itkin ’22, competing in his first Olympics, joined Meinhardt on the medal stand as part of the bronze-winning team. . . . Another aspiring doctor who also happens to be a world-class athlete, Sam Grewe ’21, enrolled at the University of Michigan Medical School while preparing for the Paralympic Games. In a magazine profile two years ago, Grewe said, “I don’t want to set a goal of gold. Rather, I’d set a goal of height, and if I jump my height, I achieve that goal.” At the Games in August, the high jumper, who lost his right leg above the knee after the cancer diagnosis he received as a teenager, leaped 1.88 meters (about 6 feet, 2 inches). Whatever his goal, that was good enough to win gold. . . . Former Notre Dame women’s basketball teammates Skylar Diggins-Smith ’13 and Jewell Loyd, the No. 1 pick in the 2015 WNBA draft after her junior season, reunited on the gold-winning U.S. women’s national team. Even before the Olympics, it had been a productive summer for Diggins-Smith. On July 3, the Phoenix Mercury star became the fastest player in WNBA history to reach 3,000 career points, 1,000 assists and 200 steals. . . . Jackie Young, another former WNBA No. 1 pick from Notre Dame, added Olympic gold to her list of athletic accomplishments, helping the U.S. to a championship in the 3-on-3 basketball competition. . . .
For a fourth-grade assignment in 2004, Molly Seidel ’16 wrote, “I wish I will make it into the Olympics and win a gold medal.” Her childhood wish didn’t quite come true, but she came within 26 seconds of gold — and her path to a bronze medal in the marathon makes the distinction even more amazing. A four-time national cross-country and track champion at Notre Dame, Seidel had never run a marathon until the 2020 Olympic Trials, finishing second to qualify for the U.S. team in her first-ever 26.2-mile race. After COVID-19 postponed the Games until 2021, she ran a second marathon in the interim and then, in her third, won an Olympic medal. . . . Adriana Leon played just two seasons at Notre Dame before transferring to the University of Florida, but she made an indelible impact on the Fighting Irish women’s soccer program. As a freshman, Leon scored the only goal in the 2010 national title game. She’s now an Olympic gold medalist with the Canadian national team. Leon scored the team’s only goal in a 1-1 tie with Great Britain that Canada won on penalty kicks to advance to the knockout stage, where it defeated Brazil, the United States and Sweden to take the gold. . . . Coaches don’t get medals, but Angie Akers ’98, whose Notre Dame volleyball record of 239 service aces has stood for more than two decades, gilded her resume in Tokyo, coaching the U.S. beach volleyball team of April Ross and Alix Klineman to Olympic gold. A former pro beach volleyball player herself, Akers mentored the American duo known as “The A-Team,” whose success in Tokyo drew social-media applause from a member of a fictional A-Team, Mr. T, who tweeted support such as “I Pity the Competition . . . Grrrr!” while cheering the duo on. . . .
Baltimore Orioles first baseman Trey Mancini ’16 missed the 2020 season while undergoing treatment for colon cancer. He recovered and returned in 2021, competing in July’s Home Run Derby as part of Major League Baseball’s All-Star Game. With his appearance, Mancini honored former Notre Dame teammate Ricky Palmer ’13, who died of brain cancer in October 2020. Mancini finished second in the slugging contest with Notre Dame assistant coach Chuck Ristano pitching to him as part of a deal they had made years earlier. The coach had pitched when Mancini won the Big East Conference home-run competition in 2012 and they agreed that, if Mancini ever competed in the big-league derby, Ristano would be on the mound again. The MLB event also offered Mancini a platform to raise money for Blessings in a Backpack, a nonprofit led by CEO Erin Kerr ’01 that provides weekend meals for schoolchildren who might otherwise go hungry. . . .
The Notre Dame men’s basketball team was guaranteed to add an NBA champion to its alumni ranks as the 2021 finals tipped off between the Phoenix Suns and the Milwaukee Bucks. The only question was whether Phoenix head coach Monty Williams ’93 or Milwau-kee shooting guard Pat Connaughton ’15 would win his first ring. Connaughton and the Bucks won in six games, with the former Fighting Irish star finishing the series as Milwaukee’s fifth-leading scorer and fourth-leading rebounder, averaging 9.2 points and 5.8 boards per game.