The long-awaited 2020 Olympic Games, featuring 12 past, present and future NC State athletes, has officially come to a close. Out of these Games, one Wolfpack commit clinched a medal in a surprise third-place finish: Noe Ponti, the bronze medalist in the 100-meter butterfly.
Touching the wall in 50.74, a mere 0.14 ahead of the fourth-place finisher, Ponti kept NC State’s medal streak alive. The Wolfpack now boasts three medalists across the last four Olympic Games, all in swimming: Cullen Jones took silver in both 2008 and 2012, and Ryan Held was a leg of 2016’s iconic 4x100 freestyle relay.
Although Ponti’s swim may have been NC State’s only top-three finish of the Games, several athletes exceeded expectations and broke national records during their competitions. Senior Sophie Hansson, arguably a medal favorite in the 100-meter breaststroke heading into the Games, may have left Tokyo empty-handed but swam some phenomenal races.
In the preliminary heats of the 100-meter breaststroke alone, Hansson re-broke her Swedish national record, placing fourth overall heading into semifinals. Although her prelim swim would end up as her best 100 breaststroke performance of the meet, Hansson finished sixth overall in 1:06.07, a strong showing for the two-time Olympian.
Her fellow teammate, senior Andrea Podmanikova, also competed in the 100- and 200-meter breaststroke events in Tokyo. Podmanikova lowered her personal best in the 100-meter breaststroke from 1:09.15 to 1:08.36, good enough for a 28th-place finish overall. Hansson also broke her personal best in the 200-meter breaststroke in the prelims. She ultimately placed 10th overall in that event.
Senior Nyls Korstanje, another swimmer, placed first in his heat of the 100-meter butterfly, lowering his already impressive personal best by nearly two-tenths of a second to 51.54. Although he gained a little bit of time in semifinals, his 12th-place finish was an impressive one alongside the likes of international swimming stars Caeleb Dressel and Kristof Milak.
Although Ponti’s swim was undoubtedly one of the highlights of the Games for any Wolfpack fan, another star swimmer to join NC State this fall, Alexander Norgaard, swam both the 800- and 1500-meter freestyle events for Denmark in his Olympic debut. Between him, Ponti, and several other promising recruits for the swim team, the Wolfpack could be looking at a groundbreaking season.
Alumnus Tatyana Forbes, who competed for Mexico’s softball team in Tokyo, primarily served as an outfielder across days of competition. Unfortunately, Mexico fell short in the bronze medal match against Canada — but, if there’s anything this iconic picture suggests, it’s that she had a lot of fun in the process.
Gabriele Cunnigham, former NC State track star, made it all the way to finals in the 100-meter hurdles event alongside teammate Kendra Harrison. Cunningham, a last-minute addition to Team USA after Olympic 100-meter hurdles champ Brianna McNeal lost her appeal to a five-year drug ban, ran an impressive race for her Olympic debut, finishing seventh overall in 13.01.
Ponti wasn’t the only past, present or future NC State athlete to notch a medal in Tokyo: alumnus Lucas Kozeniesky finished second place overall as a member of the 10m air rifle mixed team event. Despite an individual sixth-place finish, the two-time Olympian vastly improved upon his 2016 performance in the 10m air rifle.
Finally, the 2020 Olympic Games ended on a sweet note for Wolfpack fans: Luka Slabe, head coach of the women’s volleyball team at NC State, helped lead Team USA to its first gold medal in women’s volleyball after a 3-0 victory over Brazil.