Category Archives: Olympics

Watching Olympics will serve as fuel for near-Olympian Brendan McHugh C’12

After much anticipation, the 2012 Summer Olympics officially commences tonight with the opening ceremonies in London.  

The United States will have over 500 athletes take part in the ceremony, including former Penn rower Susan Francia C’04 G’04, who will look to defend her gold medal in the women’s eight. Also representing Penn in the 2012 Games is Koko Archibong C’03, who qualified with Nigeria’s basketball team.

In all, Penn has had an Olympic representative in every Olympics since 1900, a streak I documented in the Gazette’s cover story this past issue. But there have also been many over star Penn athletes who have just missed out on the Games.

One of those athletes is Brendan McHugh C’12 (pictured above), who had an incredible performance at the U.S. Swimming Trials earlier this month, making the semifinals in the 100 breaststroke and the 200 breaststroke. It marked the first time a Penn swimmer made the semifinals at the U.S. trials in one event, let alone two.

With swimming at the Olympics set to begin tomorrow, the Gazette caught up with the recent Penn graduate to discuss watching the Olympics on TV, the meet of his life and what he’ll do next:

What’s it going to be like for you watching the Olympics after you were pretty close to getting there yourself?

It’s probably going to be – I wouldn’t say hard – but I’ll watch it and say, ‘Oh, I was pretty close.’ It will probably fuel my desire to keep swimming.

Looking back at the Olympic Trials when you made two semifinals, did you perform better than you thought?

McHugh

Not really. I kind of wanted to make top eight. In the back of my mind, I was thinking about making the [Olympic] team. It’s a weird psychology. You want to win and go but you also need a backup goal in case you don’t because you can’t really control what other people do. I didn’t expect to go much faster than I did. Other people just swam faster.

So you went into the meet thinking you could make the Olympics?

Yeah, I’d say so. I mean, it was a little bit of a long-shot but as an athlete you have to think like that or, you know, why are you even there?

What are some of your favorite memories from the meet?

I definitely enjoyed the 100 breaststroke semifinal. That was the first one. That was when I came out at night and it was packed. I never swam in front of that many people. And then I had my best time. It all worked out well. It was a pretty good memory.

Do you feel like you really opened some eyes? Did a lot of swimmers come up to you and talk to you about your performance?

Yeah, I had tons of people I knew, who were sort of like acquaintances. I was getting text messages from numbers I didn’t even know. I assumed they were swimmers. I got a lot of support from the Ivy League, from smaller schools and even from friends at bigger schools. And then I had some big-time coaches come up to me and ask, ‘Are you going to keep swimming? Do you want to come swim for me?’ It was a pretty cool experience.

Are you going to keep swimming competitively?

I’m going to try my best. I’m definitely going to be at the next trials. I’m going to law school [at Washington and Lee] in about a month. I know law school is hard so we’ll see. If I don’t train that hard this year, I’ll definitely pick it up the next two years. I might take a year to get in shape and get through the first year of law school. After that, I’ll get back on the grind.

So you’re really hoping to make the 2016 Olympics?

As of right now, yeah. I have a broken arm right now. I broke my arm two weeks after trials. I was playing basketball with a couple of my friends. So when that comes off, I’ll get back in the pool. I definitely will try to make the team.

I’m sure you are going to play close attention to swimming at the Olympics?

Oh yeah, for sure. I’ll probably watch every night.

Do you have high hopes for the American swimmers in London?

Yeah, a couple of my friends made the team. So especially the Americans, especially the guys that I know, guys I swam with when I was 10 years old, some of them who are going to the Olympics. I’ve got to root for my friends and I’ve got to root for my country.

Because you think that could have been you out there, will there be mixed emotions when you watch?

Yeah but not too much. I’m not disappointed with how I swam. I’m actually pretty happy. I mean, there is going to be that thought – like if I keep training that could be me next time. But I’m not going to really harp on the fact that I was really close. I’ll for sure let it fuel my desire to keep swimming, though.

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Filed under Olympics, Swimming

Koko Archibong C’03 headed to the 2012 Olympics for basketball

Archibong celebrating after Nigeria’s upset win over Greece on July 6.

In the most recent issue of the Gazette, I wrote a feature on Penn’s long and distinguished history in the Olympics, along with an accompanying sidebar on the hopefuls for the 2012 Summer Games in London.

Because the sidebar was due almost two months before the Olympics begin on July 27, I knew I wouldn’t be able to accurately write which Penn students and alums would qualify. I also figured there might be some late surprises along the way.

Here’s one: Koko Archibong C’03 is going to the Olympics.

Archibong was part of the Nigerian national basketball team that earned the final spot in the men’s tournament in London by beating the Dominican Republic, 88-73, on Sunday.

Based on this comprehensive list compiled by the University Archives & Record Center (which I used heavily in my research and found to be very reliable), Archibong will be the first Penn athlete to go to the Olympics for basketball and also the first to represent an African country.

This is a pretty cool story – and is especially cool for me because I graduated the same year as Archibong (my sister still fondly recalls saying, “Hi, Koko” before our 2003 commencement ceremony).

I covered some terrific basketball teams during my time as a student journalist, and Archibong was one of the main reasons why. Teaming with Ugonna Onyekwe W’03 to form one of the most athletic frontcourt combos in recent Ivy League memory, Archibong helped lead the Quakers to Ivy League titles in 2000, 2002 and 2003, while scoring over 1,000 career points.

In a 2006 Gazette alumni profile, Archibong spoke of his dreams of catching on with an NBA team but settled for a successful career playing in Europe, mostly in Germany.

Now, he’s on the Nigerian national team that upset Greece in the quarterfinals of the FIBA Olympics Qualifers, before knocking off the Dominican Republic in the third-place game to book their ticket to London, where they will join the mighty United States in Group A.

And he joins rowing phenom Susan Francia C’04 G’04 as the Penn alums who will continue the University’s remarkable streak of sending an athlete to every Summer Olympics since 1900.

Will there be more?

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Filed under Men's Basketball, Olympics