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Gopher Sports Olympic Preview

Nine current or former Gophers will compete in Tokyo

NCAA Wrestling: NCAA Division I Wrestling Championships Jeff Curry-USA TODAY Sports

The 2020 2021 Tokyo Summer Olympics are finally here...well hopefully unless the allready really bad COVID situation in the Olympic Village gets even worse. It was a delay of a year, and some athletes didn’t know whether their Olympic dreams would be realized or not. But, at the end of the day, after all the trials and competitions there will be nine athletes competing in the Toyko games who have a connections to the U—either current Minnesota Gophers, U of M grads, or spent at least one season in Dinkytown. Four will be wearing the red, white and blue of the United States, a pair will be sporting the red and white of our neighbor to the north in Canada, and three others will represent their home countries not on the North American mainland. We profile all eight below and tell you when you can catch them in action and on what platform over the next couple of weeks. All game times below will be in CDT.

Sarah Groenewegen—Softball—Canada

Sarah Groenewegan was an ace for the Gopher softball team from 2014 through 2017. A three-time All-American, Groenewegen was named the Big Ten Pitcher of the Year and Big Ten Freshman of the Year in 2014. She followed that with Big Ten Player of the Year accolades in 2015. Named the 2017 Big Ten Pitcher of the Year her senior season, Groenewegen was a four-time First Team All-Big Ten selection. She finished her career with a 107-21 record, a program best 1,214 career strikeouts, a 1.58 career earned run average and 82 complete games in 797 innings pitched.

She will be one of two pitchers for the Canadian softball team who come into the games as the third ranked team out of six who will compete in Tokyo. Softball is back in the 2020 games after having been removed from the competition slate since 2008. The six teams in the competition will play once another once each in a full round-robin schedule. The top two teams after the round robin will play for the gold medal, and the third and fourth place teams will play for the bronze medal.

Softball will kick off the competition at the games three days before the opening ceremony with the first games happening late Tuesday night/early Wednesday morning. The Canadian team opened play at 1:00 AM Wednesday morning against Mexico. The full Canadian softball schedule is below:

Wednesday July 21st: Canada vs Mexico. 1:00 AM NBCSN

Wednesday July 21st: Canada vs USA 7:00 PM NBCSN

Friday July 23rd: Canada vs Australia 8:00 PM

Sunday July 25th: Canada vs Japan 12:30 AM

Monday July 26th: Canada vs Italy 12:30 AM

Monday July 26th Bronze Medal Game 11:00 PM CNBC

Tuesday July 27th Gold Medal Game 6:00 AM

James Freeman—Swimming—Botswana

Freeman is a sophomore for the Gophers and will be making his first appearance at the Olympics. Freeman is a very longshot to win a medal on Tokyo as in his freshman season with the Gophers his best performance in the 200 meter freestyle was 25th place in a time of (1:37.22) at the 2021 Big Ten Championships. Freeman holds multiple Botswanan national records. Currently, he holds every individual freestyle, butterfly and medley record for his home country, as well as having swam the anchor leg of the record-setting 4x100 freestyle relay at the CANA ZONE IV Championships. He will be swimming in the 200 and 400 freestyle events in Tokyo. His schedule is below:

Saturday July 24th 400 free Prelims 5:48 AM

Saturday July 24th 8:52 PM 400 Free Finals (if qualify) NBC

Sunday July 25th 200 Free Prelims 5:22 AM

Sunday July 25th 200 Free Semifinals (if qualify) 8:27 PM NBC

Monday July 26th 200 Free Finals (If qualify) 8:43 PM NBC

Kierra Smith—Swimming—Canada

The lone Gopher veteran returning to her second Olympics, Smith represented Canada in the 2016 games in Rio. Smith Competed for the Gophers from 2012-2017 taking off a season to train for the Olympics. She won the 2015 Big Ten Swimmer of the Year and won a pair of NCAA Championships in the 100 and 200 meter breaststroke events at the 2015 NCAA Championships. Smith won four Big Ten titles in her career and at the 2016 Olympics she finished in 19th place in the 100 meter breaststroke and 7th in the 200 meter breaststroke. She will compete in just the 100 meter race in Tokyo. Her schedule is below:

Sunday July 25th 100 breast prelims 5:59 AM

Sunday July 25th 100 breast semis (if qualify) 8:50 PM NBC

Monday July 26th 100 breast finals (if qualify) 9:41 PM NBC

Bowe Becker—Swimming—USA

Bowe Becker qualified for his first Olympic games and will participate in at least the prelims for the US in the men’s 4x100 free relay. Becker was a seven time All-American and three time Big Ten Champion in the pool for the Gophers between 2015 and 2019. He finished second at the NCAA Championships in the 100 freestyle in his senior season in 2019. At the US trials this spring Becker finished in fifth place overall in the 100 freestyle with a personal best time of 48.22, just missing the automatic qualifying bid for both the individual and relay events. He would need to wait a few days to determine if there would be a free spot for an additional relay swimmer for the US team, and on the final day of the trials it would be announced that he would be on the team heading to Tokyo. Becker will most likely swim in the relay prelims and then give way to his four faster teammates in the finals, but he will still win whatever medal the US team will earn even if he does not swim in the finals. Becker’s schedule is below:

Sunday July 25th 4x100 Free Relay Prelims 7:10 AM

Sunday July 25th 4x100 Free Relay Finals (if he particpipates) 10:05 PM NBC

Shane Wiskus—Men’s Gymnastics—USA

Shane Wiskus was one of the best gymnasts for the Gopher men’s gymnastics team over the past four seasons (RIP). He got his chance to show he belonged on a national stage when he competed for the US at the World Championships in 2019, and then again at the US trials this spring where he finished third overall and qualified for the US team in Tokyo. Wiskus will compete in the team event for the US, but also in the all-around and all six event finals. Wiskus is the US champ on the parallel bars and could win a medal in that event. Additionally the US team is a medal contender in the team event. His schedule is below:

Saturday July 24th Men’s Team Qualification 5:30 AM Peacock (replay on NBC in prime time)

Monday July 26th Men’s Team Final 5:00 AM Peacock (replay on NBC in prime time)

Wednesday July 28th Men’s All-Around Final 5:15 AM Peacock (replay on NBC in prime time)

Sunday August 1st Floor exercise and pommel horse finals 3:00 AM Peacock (replay in NBC in prime time)

Monday August 2nd rings and vault finals 3:00 AM peacock (replay on NBC in prime time)

Tuesday August 3rd parallel bars and high bar finals 3:00 AM Peacock (replay on NBC in prime time)

Barbora Spotakova—Javelin—Czech Republic

Spotakova competed at Minnesota for one season in 2002, earning All-America honors in the javelin and also competing at the NCAA Championships in the heptathlon. The 2002 Big Ten heptathlon champion, Spotakova decided to give up training for the heptathlon and specialize in the javelin shortly after leaving Minnesota.It seems to have worked as Spotakova won the gold medal at both the 2008 and 2012 Olympics and added a bronze medal in 2016! She still is the current world record holder in the event and at the age of 40 will try and make one more run at Olympic glory. Her schedule is below:

Monday August 2nd, Javelin Qualification 7:20 PM

Friday August 6th, Javelin Final 6:50 AM Peacock

Kyra Condie—Women’s Climbing—USA

Kyra Condie will be competing for the US as climbing is competed in the Olympics for the very first time in 2021. Condie is a 2018 U of M grad in animal science and qualified for the games way back in 2019 when she placed seventh in a qualifier in France. Condie will compete in the women’s combined event which featuring three disciplines: speed, bouldering and lead.

In speed, two athletes compete against each other on a 15-meter wall. In bouldering, the athletes are given four minutes to scale a number of fixed routes on a 4.5-meter wall. No safety ropes are used, and climbers can try again if they fall until time runs out. In lead, the athletes attempt to climb as high as possible over six minutes on a wall that’s at least 15 meters tall (the climbers use safety ropes, and if they fall their final height is their score; they are not allowed to begin another climb). Each climber will compete in all three disciplines, and the final rankings will be determined by multiplying the climber’s placement in each discipline. The athletes who achieve the lowest scores win medals.

Condie is one of two US women in the competition. Her schedule is below:

Wednesday August 4th Women’s Combined Qualification 3:00 AM

Friday August 6th Women’s Combined Final 3:30 AM

Gable Steveson—Wrestling—USA

Gable Steveson got his NCAA Championship last March and now is ready to make some noise on the international stage. The Gopher rising senior dominated the US trials in the 125 kilogram weight class outscoring his opponents 42-2 on his way to earning a spot in Tokyo. He won the Pan Am Championships in an even more laughable fashion in May, but will face much stiffer competition in Tokyo. Steveson most likely will get a relatively tough task right away in the 16-man field as only the top four wrestlers are seeded, and those are: #1 Geno PETRIASHVILI Georgia #2 Yusup BATIRMURZAEV Kazakhstan #3 Taha AKGUL Turkey #4 Oleksandr KHOTSIANIVSKYI Ukraine. Steveson’s schedule is below:

Wednesday August 4th 125 KG Freestyle wrestling Round of 16/quarterfinals 9:00 PM The Olympic Channel

Thursday August 5th 125 KG semifinals/repechage 9:00 PM The Olympic Channel

Friday August 6th 125 KG medal matches 4:15 AM The Olympic Channel.

Kion Benjamin—Track and Field—Trinidad & Tobago

The final Gopher to compete will be Gopher sophomore sprinter Kion Benjamin. The 2021 Big Ten Champion in the 100 meters and the Gopher school record holder in both the 100 and 200 meters will compete in the 4x100 meter relay for his home country. His schedule is below:

Thursday August 5th 4x100 meter prelims 9:30 PM NBC

Friday August 6th 4x100 meter final (if qualify) 8:50 AM Peacock

Good luck to all eight Gophers in Tokyo. We will keep you updated on how they are fairing as the games go on over the next two weeks.