Ex-Cats

From the Bluegrass to Brazil: Athletes with Kentucky ties pursue Olympic dreams

Former Wildcat DeMarcus Cousins and Louisville swimming sensation Kelsi Worrell might be the most recognizable athletes with Kentucky ties at this year’s Summer Olympics, but the commonwealth boasts 23 other athletes pursuing Olympic glory next month and three coaches trying to help.

One of those coaches, Kentucky track coach Edrick Floreal, goes to Rio mostly on his own accord as an unpaid personal coach to UK sophomore Jasmine Camacho-Quinn, the first-ever freshman winner of the NCAA 100 meter hurdles title, and former UK athletes Leah Nugent and Rondel Sorrillo.

The biggest issue Floreal might have at the games? What to wear. Camacho-Quinn races for Puerto Rico, Nugent runs for Jamaica and Sorrillo competes for Trinidad and Tobago.

“I think maybe I’ll get a T-shirt with Puerto Rico and maybe a hat with Jamaica and some socks with Trinidad to cover all three,” Floreal joked this month. “I’m going to look like some kind of a disco light. I don’t know what it’s going to look like, but I’m going to try to play it up.”

Kentucky blue might not be a bad alternative as UK has eight athletes competing at the games, including Andrew Evans (discus), Sean Gunn (swimming), Mikel Thomas (110m hurdles) and Luis Orta (marathon).

Floreal believes each of his athletes have a chance of reaching their Olympic dreams. And he’s proud to help. Puerto Rico offered him a chance to stay with their delegation and help Camacho-Quinn.

Puerto Rico is a U.S. territory whose athletes have the option of running for it or the United States. Camacho-Quinn had already locked up her Olympic spot there before she ran at this summer’s U.S. Olympic trials, where she got knocked out in the semifinals. Floreal believes the 19-year-old just needs to clean up a few things technically to have a shot at the Olympic finals.

“Her start is going to be the key right now,” he said. “We just need to get her to be a better starter because she’s pretty fast. You saw at the NCAA she came from dead last to win it. We’ve just got to get her to clean up her start and get her mentally focused.”

Sorrillo, 30, a two-time Olympian and former NCAA 200-meter champion, ran for UK long before Floreal took over the program, but he recently returned to finish his degree.

“If he agreed to come back to finish his degree, I said I would help him coaching,” Floreal said. “So, he thought that was a good deal. He’s sort of rejuvenated his career and had some really good PR, so hopefully, he’s on track to make it to the final at least.”

Leah Nugent graduated with the UK class that included Kendra Harrison, who has the world record in the 100-meter hurdles. A poor showing at the U.S. trials kept Harrison out of this year’s games. But Floreal believes Nugent is close to achieving a world-class level.

“She’s in fantastic shape. I think with Leah, it’s just a matter of connecting the dots,” he said.

Nugent, he said, can sometimes be overwhelmed by the moment and the thought she has to run a perfect race to compete.

“They say sometimes athletes get in their own way,” Floreal said. “Leah just needs to calm down and trust in her training and trust in her ability. I think she’s going to be fine.”

No wardrobe issues here

For Paul Laurence Dunbar alumna Lee Kiefer, who arrived in Rio last Sunday, what to wear is not going to be a problem. The No. 3 foil fencer in the world has been posting photos on Facebook modeling her new USA gear and some of the Ralph Lauren fashions the U.S. athletes will wear at the Opening Ceremony.

“I got fitted for the outfit, and I think it looks great,” Kiefer said via email last week. “I am excited to march with the other athletes and look forward to the seven hours of straight standing. Haha.”

Kiefer took a year off pre-med studies at Notre Dame to prepare for her Olympic bid. That extra time has seemed to pay off as the two-time Olympian finished the run-up to the games with four straight medals at world competitions, including her seventh straight gold medal at the Pan Am Championships this summer.

“I’m feeling very good right now,” she said. “I have two more weeks to train and am more excited than nervous for the competition. My focus is still to compete strong instead of thinking about results.”

Her longtime personal coach, Amgad Khazbak of Bluegrass Fencers Club, will be at her side again. At the beginning of July, the entire U.S. fencing team came to Lexington to train ahead of the games. Khazbak has been pleased with Kiefer’s progress.

“She looks good, he said. “She’s at the maximum level she can be.”

Homegrown rifle coach

Ashley MacAllister, a native of Eubank, Ky. and the head coach of the University of Nebraska rifle team, will be going to Rio as head coach of the Puerto Rico national rifle team.

MacAllister, at Nebraska since 2014, was a former assistant at Kentucky. She came to Kentucky after a lettering all four years in rifle at Murray State.

Kentucky Olympians

Marcelo Acosta

Event: 1500m Freestyle, 200m Free; 400m Free.

Nation: El Salvador

Kentucky tie: University of Louisville, 2014-2015

Hometown: San Salvador, El Salvador

Age: 20

Honors: First “A” cut qualifier from his nation in the Olympics. Youth Olympics silver medalist.

Quotable: I feel really grateful and proud to represent my country – a country that is going through so much difficulties: It shows that there are still some people, and not only me, that are trying to change things for the better. – via Fina.org.

Jasmine Camacho-Quinn

Event: 100-meter hurdles, Aug. 12-20

Nation: Puerto Rico

Kentucky tie: University of Kentucky sophomore

Hometown: North Charleston, S.C.

Age: 19

Honors: 2016 NCAA 100m hurdles champion; 2016 three-time First Team All-America (100H, 200m, 4x100m); 2016 SEC freshman of the year.

Numbers: 12.69, UK freshman record in the 100m hurdles.

Twitter: @JCamachoQuinn

Quotable: When I first got here (to UK), I was kind of like, you know, maybe with track I can just get through college, graduate and go on with my life. But now I see — track might actually be my job. – via Postandcourier.com

Nestor Colmenares

Event: Men’s basketball

Nation: Venezuela

Kentucky tie: Campbellsville University

Hometown: Caracas, Venezuela

Age: 28

Height: 6-8

Weight: 243

Team: Guaros de Lara

Honors: Part of 2016 FIBA Americas Leage champion.

Twitter: @bignestor44

Carlos Claverie

Event: 200-meter breaststroke; 100-meter breaststroke.

Nation: Venezuela

Hometown: Caracas, Venezuela

Kentucky tie: University of Louisville sophomore

Hometown: Caracas, Venezuela

Honors: National champion and record holder in 100m and 200m breastroke

Twitter: @carlosclaverie

DeMarcus Cousins

Event: Men’s basketball, Aug. 6-23

Nation: USA

Kentucky tie: Member of John Calipari’s first team at the University of Kentucky.

Hometown: Mobile, Ala.

Age: 25

Height: 6-11

Weight: 270

Team: Sacramento Kings.

Honors: NBA All-Star (2015, 2016); Fifth overall pick in the 2010 NBA Draft.

Numbers: Averaged 26.9 points, 11.5 rebounds last season for the Kings.

Twitter: @boogiecousins

Quotable: It’s already crazy that I’m one of the select few to be able to represent the country. So to come home with a gold medal is something I can tell my kids, grandkids. That’s a story I’ll always be able to share. — via Sacbee.com

Emmanuel Dasor

Event: Track: 200 meters, Aug. 12-20

Nation: Ghana

Kentucky tie: Western Kentucky University senior

Hometown: Accra, Ghana

Age: 20

Honors: 2016 All-American. 2016 Conference USA champion in 200m and 4x100m relay. 2015 Conference USA 200m champion.

Numbers: 20.49, personal best in the 200m set July 8.

Twitter: @EmmanuelDasor

Quotable: It means a lot to me because every athlete’s biggest dream in this sport is to be an Olympian. And I’m happy and proud to be called an Olympian. — via Eramus Kwaw on Youtube.com

Joao De Lucca

Event: 200-meter freestyle; 4x200-meter freestyle relay; 4x100-meter freestyle relay.

Nation: Brazil

Kentucky tie: University of Louisville, 2010-2014

Hometown: Rio De Janeiro, Brazil

Age: 26

Height: 6-4

Weight: 212

Honors: 100m and 200m (2-time) NCAA freestyle champion. Three-time gold medal winner at the 2015 Pan American Games.

Twitter: @j_lucca

Andrew Evans

Event: Discus, Aug. 12-20.

Kentucky tie: UK athlete, 2012-2014

Hometown: Portage, Mich.

Team: Chula Vista Elite Club

Age: 25

Height: 6-6

Weight: 250

Honors: 2013 NCAA bronze medalist and first team All-American (discus); 2012 and 2014 SEC champion (discus)

Numbers: Finished third at the U.S. Olympic Team Trials in Eugene, Ore. with a best throw of 61.22 meters in a driving rain on his first attempt. Personal best toss is 66.37 at the Tennessee Challenge in 2014. Threw 65.41 meters in April at Chula Vista, Calif., Olympic Training Center.

Twitter: @Mandrew__91

Michelle Finn

Event: 3000-meter steeplechase

Nation: Republic of Ireland

Kentucky tie: Western Kentucky University graduate

Hometown: Castlemagner, Republic of Ireland

Age: 26

Height: 5-0

Weight: 112

Numbers: 9:43.19, personal best in event in Amsterdam.

Twitter: @M_Finners

Tyson Gay

Event: Track, 4x100-meter relay, Aug. 12-20

Nation: USA

Kentucky tie: Lafayette High School, Class of 2001

Hometown: Lexington

Age: 33

Height: 5-11

Weight: 165

College: Arkansas

Honors: 2008 Olympian. Won world titles in the 100, 200 and 4x100 relay at the 2007 World Championships.

Numbers: 9.69 — American 100-meter record set by Gay in 2009.

Online: Tysongay.com

Quotable: There are a lot of ups and downs with track and field, but for me I had to bounce back. I’ve been working really hard. This is my last lap and I really want the world to see me in action. — via Tysongay.com

Sean Gunn

Event: Swimming, 100-meter Freestyle, Aug. 6-13

Nation: Zimbabwe

Kentucky tie: Senior at the University of Kentucky

Hometown: Harare, Zimbabwe

Age: 22

Height: 6-0

Honors: 2016 Zimbabwe national champion in all his events.

Numbers: 50.91 seconds, the Zimbabwe national record for the 100 meter freestyle; also holds 200-meter freestyle national record at 1:51:53.

Twitter: @SeanGunnnn

Quotable: I hope to just make my family proud and everyone at UK, and swim as fast as I can. — via UKathletics.com.

Ole Hesselbjerg

Event: 3,000-meter steeplechase, Aug. 12-20

Nation: Denmark

Kentucky tie: Eastern Kentucky University, 2012-2015

Hometown: Charlottenlund, Denmark

Age: 26

Honors: Three-time All-American at EKU; two-time NCAA bronze medalist in this event.

Numbers: 8:30.5, event time he ran at Stanford’s Payton Jordan Invitational in May, almost three seconds faster than his best time at EKU.

Quotable: I am extremely excited to stand on that starting line with the best runners in the world, on the biggest stage in my sport. – via EKU Athletics

Matt Hughes

Event: 3000-meter steeplechase, Aug. 12-20

Nation: Canada

Kentucky tie: University of Louisville, 2009-2011

Hometown: Oshawa, Ontario

Age: 26

Height: 5-11

Weight: 146

Honors: Two-time NCAA champion. 2015 Pan American Games gold medal. Three consecutive Canadian titles

Numbers: 8:11.64, personal best time and a Canadian national record.

Twitter: @HugheSteeple

Quotable: I’ve wanted to be an Olympian my entire life, since I started running track and field in Grade 3. To finally have it happen is awesome, but I’m not satisfied yet. I’ll be satisfied once I get there and I’m competing and hopefully achieve my goals. — via Durhamregion.com

Jessica Javelet

Event: Rugby sevens

Nation: USA

Kentucky tie: University of Louisville, 2003-2007 (field hockey)

Hometown: San Diego Calif.

Age: 31

Height: 5-6

Weight: 140

Honors: 2006 Honda Award finalist for field hockey. Multiple All-American in field hockey.

Numbers: 4.0 GPA at Louisville with a degree in marketing.

Twitter: @jjavelet

Quotable: Never in a million years did I think that I would get a second chance at going to the Olympics. I thought that my chance was in field hockey and when that didn't happen for me in 2008 and when I was cut in 2009. I never thought that it was possible to have a second chance. I'd kind of mourned the loss of my Olympic opportunity. Then I came back and had this chance. If anything, I would just say you've just got to believe in yourself. There are going to be ups and downs. – via Gocards.com.

Lee Kiefer

Event: Fencing (foil), Aug. 10-14

Nation: USA

Kentucky tie: Paul Laurence Dunbar grad, Bluegrass Fencing Club

Hometown: Lexington

Age: 22

Height: 5-4

Weight: 107

College: Notre Dame.

Honors: 2012 Olympian; three-time NCAA women’s foil champion, seven-time Pan American Championships gold medal winner. Senior World Championships (2011) bronze medal.

Numbers: Current world ranking: No. 3; current U.S. ranking: No. 1.

Twitter: @leetothekiefer

Facebook: Facebook.com/leekieferfencing

Quotable: I’m feeling very good right now. I have two more weeks to train and am more excited than nervous for the competition. My focus is still to compete strong instead of thinking about results.

Shadrack Kipchirchir

Event: Track, 10,000 meters, Aug. 12-20

Nation: USA

Kentucky tie: Western Kentucky University 2009-2011

Hometown: Beaverton, Ore. (born in Kenya)

Age: 27

Height: 5-6

Weight: 119

Honors: 2015 NCAA second place in 10,000m; 2016 Olympic trials, second place 10,000m. Enlisted in U.S. Army in 2014 and became part of its

Numbers: 27:36.79 personal best in 10,000m. U.S. Army World Class Athlete Program.

Twitter: @kipchirchir85

Wesley Korir

Event: Marathon

Nation: Kenya

Kentucky tie: Murray State University, 2004; University of Louisville, 2005-2007

Hometown: Eldoret, Kenya

Age: 33

Team: Sacremento Kings.

Honors: Winner of the Boston Marathon in 2012 and two Los Angeles Marathons in 2009 and 2010.

Numbers: 2:06:13, personal best in the marathon event, set in the Chicago Marathon in 2011. He finished second.

Twitter: @weskorir

Quotable: It all begun in chera, where I ran 10kms to school barefoot.Now I am leading teamkenya as captain. – via Twitter

Andrea Kneppers

Event: 4x200-meter freestyle relay

Nation: Netherlands

Kentucky tie: University of Louisville senior

Hometown: Schagen, Netherlands

Age: 23

Height: 5-9

Weight: 148

Honors: Bronze medal in 4x200 event at European Championship; All-ACC and All-American.

Twitter: @andreakneppers

Tanja Kylliainen

Event: 200-meter individual medley

Nation: Finland

Kentucky tie: University of Louisville, 2011-2015

Hometown: Towson, Md.

Age: 23

Height: 5-1

Weight: 126

Honors: Holds 400 IM national recored for long course in time of 4:47.07; 2012 Louisville Female Freshman Athlete of the Year.

Numbers: 2:14.20, time in the 200 IM that clinched her spot on the Olympic team last year.

Twitter: @TanjaKylliainen

Quotable: On the way to opening ceremonies!! Getting so excited. – via Twitter.

Angel McCoughtry

Event: Women’s basketball

Nation: USA

Kentucky tie: University of Louisville

Hometown: Baltimore, Md.

Age: 29

Height: 6-1

Weight: 155

Team: Atlanta Dream

Honors: 2012 Olympic gold medalist. 2010, 2014 World Championships gold medals; three-time All-American

Numbers: 2,779 points, 1,261 rebounds, both team records at Louisville

Twitter: @angel_35

Quotable: When I went to the 2012 Olympics, I was very young, I didn’t know what to expect. I was excited; I was in awe of everything. Now, I can be more of that player that really can just help the team; come in with my experience and help us win the gold. – via Pressboxonline.com

Leah Nugent

Event: 400-meter hurdles, Aug. 12-20

Nation: Jamaica

Kentucky tie: University of Kentucky, 2013-16; volunteer assistant at UK

Hometown: Abington, Pa. (father is Jamaican)

College: Kentucky, formerly Virginia Tech.

Honors: 2015 NCAA Bronze Medalist; three-time All-American”

Numbers: 55.44 — personal best time set at Jamaica Olympic trials, good for second place.

Twitter: @Hurd1eMiss

Quotable: I’m just so proud. I was born in the U.S., my dad is from Kingston. But I just love that I can represent that part of my family. — via Trackalerts.com.

Chinwe Okoro

Event: Discus

Nation: Nigeria

Kentucky tie: University of Louisville, 2007-2011, physical therapy student at Bellarmine University. Dual U.S. and Nigerian citizen

Hometown: Russell, Ky.

Age: 27

Height: 5-10

Weight: 225

Honors: 2011 All-American.

Numbers: 61.48m her personal best discus throw.

Quotable: Practice is getting better so, I’m hoping to improve. We do a lot drilling and weight lifting to pick up speed and power. I think with more repetition, more practice and more coaching I’ll be fine. — via WSAZ, Huntington, W.Va.

Luis Orta

Event: Marathon

Nation: Venezuela

Kentucky tie: University of Kentucky 2009-2013

Hometown: Caracas, Venezuela

Age: 27

Height: 5-4

Weight: 118

Honors: 2012 SEC Indoor Runner of the Year, four-time All-SEC. Set the UK 3,000-meter steeplechase record running 8:42.22. 2012 3,000m and 5,000m SEC Indoor champion.

Numbers: 2:18:53, marathon time at event in April.

Quotable: I’m doing everything possible to make a good role in Rio 2016. The idea is not to win, but give it your best and turn it into a good result that leave me to me and to all the Venezuelans satisfied and proud. – via Facebook.

Rondell Sorrillo

Event: Track, 100 meters and 200 meters

Nation: Trinidad and Tobago

Kentucky tie: University of Kentucky, 2009-2010

Hometown: Vessigny, Trinidad & Tobago

Age: 30

Height: 5-10

Weight: 137

Honors: Two time Olympian. 2010 NCAA 200-Meter Champion. Five-time T&T 200m national champion.

Numbers: 9.99 personal best in the 100m.

Twitter: @rsorrillo

Grigory Tarasevich

Event: 100-meter backstroke

Nation: Russia

Kentucky tie: University of Louisville junior

Hometown: Omsk, Russia

Age: 21

Height: 6-3

Weight: 165

Honors: 2016 European Championships silver medal in the 100m backstroke, bronze in the 50m backstronke

Quotable: To place and take home a medal would just be proof of the work I’ve done and put it. Basically like a stamp. Not only myself and work I’ve put in but the people who have helped me along the way. – via Louisvillecardinal.com.

Mikel Thomas

Event: 110-meter hurdles

Nation: Trinidad and Tobago

Kentucky tie: University of Kentucky, 2007-2009

Hometown: Brooklyn, N.Y., born in Port of Spain, Trinidad and Tobago

Age: 28

Height: 6-1

Weight: 174

Honors: Three-time Olympian for T&T. 2015 NACAC 110m gold medalist in time of 13.23

Numbers: 13.67 winning time for Thomas in the T&T national final that earned him an Olympic berth.

Twitter: @Mikel_Thomas

Quotable: I just want to be the best version of myself... Daily. — via Twitter.

David Verburg

Event: 400 meters and 4 x 400 meter relay

Nation: USA

Kentucky tie: Grew up in Fleming County

Hometown: Lynchburg, Va.

Age: 25

Height: 5-6

Weight: 154

College: Oklahoma.

Honors: 2013-2015 World Championships gold medal in 4x400 meter relay.

Online: Adiverb.com/

Quotable: Of course, I’m racing against these guys all year … but it’s going to be something special competing on that stage. – via Newsadvance.com

Kelsi Worrell

Event: Swimming, 100-meter butterfly

Nation: USA

Kentucky tie: University of Louisville

Hometown: Westampton, N.J..

Age: 22

Height: 5-11

Weight: 165

Honors: Finished first in the 100m butterfly at 2016 Olympic trials. 2016 NCAA champion in the 100y and 200y butterfly.

Numbers: 49.43, American record set by Worrell in the 100y butterfly at the NCAA Div. I Championships earlier this year.

Twitter: @kelsiwhirl

Quotable: It really was something I dreamed of my whole life, having “Worrell” on a USA cap. Just to wear that same cap as so many swimmers I look up to, to have that same piece of equipment was so, so special. And to be able to compete in it was even greater. — via USA Swimming.

Summer Olympics

Where: Rio de Janeiro, Brazil

When: Aug. 5-21

TV: NBC and affiliated cable networks, including (NBC Sports, USA, CNBC, MSNBC)

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