Even though it’s just starting, 2016 is shaping up to be a special year. It’s a leap year, an election year and time again for the summer Olympics. This year the games will be held in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.
Unfortunately, it’s unlikely that Pittsburgh will ever get to host the summer games. Although I would love to see water polo at the Dormont pool, beach volleyball in Homestead and table tennis at Games N’At. Instead, we will have to live vicariously through our local Olympic athletes. This week we look at the best six Olympians with Pittsburgh connections. These superstars have combined for 12 gold medals. Up first, our best female Olympians.
Lauryn Williams. Rochester’s own is one of only six people in the history of the world to win medals in the winter and summer games. Williams is the first American woman to do it. She struck gold in track in Athens in 2004, and again in London in 2012. In 2014, she added a silver in Sochi as part of a bobsled team. Williams used to run with The Wings of Moon Track Club, which wasn’t nearly as popular as The Beatles of Moon Track Club.
Swin Cash. Besides two NCAA Division I titles in basketball at UConn and three WNBA titles, this McKeesport native won two gold medals for basketball, in Athens and London. She currently plays for the New York Liberty, but besides that, she really hasn’t done much.
Suzie McConnell-Serio. Being the current head coach of the Pitt Panthers women’s basketball team is perhaps the sixth-most impressive entry on this lady’s list of accomplishments. The Seton-LaSalle grad is in the Women’s Basketball Hall of Fame, and she coached and played in the WNBA and has two Olympic medals. The bronze in Barcelona in 1992 is a nice complement to the gold medal she won in Seoul in 1988. Her legend continues to grow.
Now, onto the gentlemen.
Johnny Weissmuller. Admittedly, I took some liberties with this one, but how often can you claim Tarzan? Weissmuller was born in Romania and spent his late-teen years in Chicago. In between, however, he lived in Windber, just outside of Johnstown. That same town also gave us Alan Freed, the man credited with coining the phrase “rock ’n’ roll.” In 1924, Weissmuller won three golds in Paris for swimming, two more in Amsterdam four years later, and added a bronze in 1924 for water polo. He even once name-dropped himself in an encounter with Castro-led Cuban rebels in 1958. Weissmuller let out a Tarzan yell, was recognized and let go unharmed. It’s good to be the king of the jungle.
Roger Kingdom. The original plan for Kingdom was to play football at Pitt and be the main target for the great Danny Marino. Instead, it turned out he was better at the 110-meter hurdles — much better. In 1984, he won gold in Los Angeles — the year the Soviet Union and other Eastern Bloc countries boycotted. In 1988, he won it again in Seoul, even in a field full of commies. Until recently, Kingdom was head coach of the women’s track team at California University of Pennsylvania. He now works for the Arizona Cardinals, a place where a lot of ex-Pittsburgh athletes wind up.
Kurt Angle. Winning a gold medal is an astounding feat when you’re healthy. Winning a gold medal in wrestling with four pulled muscles and two herniated discs is, well, heroic. That’s what Mount Lebanon’s own did in 1996, in Atlanta. In his gold-medal match, he proved American superiority over Iran by defeating Abbas Jaddidi. It was the amateur equivalent of Hulk Hogan besting the Iron Sheik at Madison Square Garden in 1984. Angle turned pro and wound up being a 13-time pro-wrestling world champion. Pro wrestling is obviously not a real sport, but in Pittsburgh it sure counts.