How long have Illinois athletes been competing in the Olympics?
Well, the first appearances — by Wilbur Burroughs and William May — came in 1908. That was before the last global pandemic. Burroughs and May represented the United States in track and field at the original London Games (More, B-4). That started a successful run by Illinois alums that will continue at this year’s Tokyo Olympics.
There have been medal winners from Illinois. Most recently tennis player Rajeev Ram, who took the silver at Rio in 2016. Ram is back on the U.S. team in Tokyo, playing men’s and mixed doubles.
The last gold medalist with Illinois ties: basketball player Deron Williams, who won titles in 2008 in Beijing and again at London in 2012.
The Illinois campus has been blessed with more than its fair share of Olympians. Often, the athletes point to the support they received when they were in school. Not just on the sports side, but the academic and personal side, as well.
Illinois fans see the athletes for extended stretches, four or five years. But their Olympic windows are much shorter than that. Often, success or failure at the Games can be decided in a matter of moments.
There have been a lot of glorious victories. And some equally disheartening defeats. But when talking to the athletes, you realize it is the journey that matters most. No matter what the results, the experience of representing their countries becomes the lasting memory.
No surprise, a university with great diversity has been represented by athletes from near and far. The U.S., of course, but also our neighbor Canada in addition to Jamaica, Germany, Brazil, Puerto Rico, Sweden, Belgium, the Netherlands and others.
The world was their stage, and C-U played a role in them getting there.