Best moments of the Calympics

Cal athletes have been winning Olympic medals since 1920. Though this is far from a complete list of every notable Olympic event, we look back on some of the biggest moments for Cal’s Olympians in the last few years.

nathan adrian swim.simone anne lang
Simone Anne Lang/File

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Nathan Adrian: Aug. 10, 2008

Nathan Adrian won a gold medal as a 19-year-old. This year, he’s on the cusp of winning two more.

Few Cal athletes can top the accolades of Nathan Ghar-jun Adrian. A member of the Cal swim program through last year, Adrian capped off a storied career by winning a team title with the Bears in March 2011. From 2009-11, he won 11 individual and relay national championships, including three straight championships in the 100 free. But those accolades were all preceded by a gold medal in the Olympics four years ago.

Adrian’s fourth-place finish in the 100 free in the U.S. Olympic Trials in 2008 was nothing special, but it was good enough for him to qualify for the 400 free relay. Together with Cullen Jones, Benjamin Wildman-Tobriner and Matt Grevers, Adrian’s team set a world record, only to see it broken in the final by four American teammates. The former Cal standout received a gold medal for his contribution.

This year, Adrian’s chances have improved. After winning the 100 free at the Olympic Trials this year, he will have his first opportunity to win an individual race. And the prospect of another gold in the 400 free relay looms.

Adrian hasn’t yet reached the uppermost echelon of Cal’s Olympic contingent. But Adrian has the best chance of any Cal men’s swimmer to win multiple medals — this year, and for many years to come.

— Chris Yoder

Joy Fawcett, then known as Joy Biefield, pictured on the Cal women's soccer team in 1986.

Brandi Chastain, Joy Fawcett, Mary Harvey: Aug. 1, 1996

In 1996, women’s soccer debuted at the Olympic Games in Atlanta, Ga. Less than two weeks later, the U.S. team became the first squad to go for gold.

On that team were former Cal stars Brandi Chastain, Joy Fawcett and Mary Harvey.

The road to the finals was a road to redemption of sorts. At the previous year’s FIFA World Cup, the team took a disappointing third place, and reigning champion Norway came to Atlanta in 1996 as the clear favorite.

Prior to the final match, the United States had battled through tilts with Denmark, Sweden and China before toppling Norway in sudden death in the semifinals.

From there, the team marched onward to face China once more.

On the first night in August, nearly 77,000 fans packed Sanford Stadium, making it the seventh-largest city in Georgia.

Chastain and Fawcett battled alongside their teammates for the full 90 minutes with a determination that would have made Oski proud. The United States took the first goal 19 minutes in, but China answered soon after. However, after Fawcett broke open from her right-back position and set up a scoring chance for Shannon MacMillan, who came through with the decisive goal. The United States won the first gold medal ever awarded in the event on its home ground.

— Annie Gerlach

Anthony Ervin: Sep. 12, 2000

A race isn’t the type of event that ought to end in a tie. When sprinters Allyson Felix and Jeneba Tarmoh ran the same 22.30 in the women’s 100 meters final on June 30, Tarmoh withdrew from the event in protest rather than take part in a runoff.

But for former Cal swimming great Anthony Ervin, a tie earned him the only gold medal he’s ever earned.

On Sept. 22, 2000 in Sydney, a fresh-faced 19-year-old Ervin coming off his freshman year at Cal, squared off with four-time gold medalist Gary Hall, Jr. to race the 50 meters from one end of the pool to another. Hall, an American known for trash talking in a sport normally defined by mutual respect, had finished ahead of Ervin in both the heats and the semifinals. Ervin finished six-hundredths of a second behind Hall in their semifinal, a race where less than half a second separated first place from last.

The final was even closer.

The shortest race in swimming was over in about 22 seconds. Ervin and Hall touched the wall within a hundredth of a second of each other, a virtual tie that would remain unbroken. Both Ervin and Hall received gold medals for their effort, but with a long career supposedly in front of him, Ervin left the sport three years later, auctioning off his gold medal on eBay.

After a 12-year hiatus, Ervin will return to the Olympics this year. His time at this year’s Olympic Trials was a personal best. A career once defined by one moment now stands on the brink of resurrection.

— Chris Yoder

Jason Kidd: Aug. 1, 2000 and Aug. 24, 2008

Kidd, pictured here in 1994, earned All-American honors his sophomore year at Cal

Jason Kidd, arguably the greatest Cal basketball player of all time, is one of three Cal basketball players with a jersey number hung up in the Haas Pavilion rafters.

The NCAA Freshman of the Year in his first season and a first team All-American the second, Kidd enjoyed an impressively prolific, albeit brief, college career at Cal. After moving on to the NBA, he compiled a multitude of honors, including Rookie of the Year, 10 All-Star Games, and five First-Team All-NBA’s. Before his career is done, Kidd will go down as one of the best point guards in NBA history.

But Kidd’s greatest career achievements might be his two gold medals.

In the 2000 Sydney Olympics, Kidd co-captained the Americans to an undefeated run, winning all eight games in rather convincing fashion, save a close game with Lithuania in the semis. After missing the 2004 Olympics due to injury — the only one in the last two decades wherein Team USA didn’t win the gold — he returned with a vengeance in the 2008 Games in Beijing. Kidd and the Redeem Team once again blew through the competition, breezing through the group stage undefeated and winning by double digits in the quarters and semis. In the final against Spain, Ricky Rubio and the Gasol brothers offered a fair challenge, but the Americans once again pulled away and won, solidifying the Redeem Team as the world’s best.

Forever tied to that legacy is the play of former Cal great Jason Kidd.

— Michael Rosen

Coughlin took the world by storm in 2004 with five Olympic medals, including two golds.

Natalie Coughlin: Aug. 10, 2008

In over a half-century of history before the 2004 Athens Olympics, Cal women’s swimmers won 13 medals: six gold, five silver and two bronze.

In just two Olympiads thereafter, former Cal swimmer Natalie Coughlin nabbed 11 for herself.

Coughlin isn’t just one of the best swimmers in Cal history, she’s one of the best swimmers in world history, and one of the best athletes in any sport, ever.

In 2004 and 2008, Coughlin nabbed five and six medals, respectively. Want a better idea of how hard that is to do? Only 13 athletes in the world have topped Coughlin’s 11 medals, as many as legendary swimmer Mark Spitz. Even Carl Lewis only had 10. Only four women have ever won more Olympic medals than Coughlin. And not a single American woman has ever equaled what she did in Beijing, where she nabbed two silver medals and three bronzes.

It’s hard to top Coughlin’s 100 back final in Beijing.

Coughlin stepped up to the podium bleeding from her lips, having bit them during the race to distract from the pain in her legs. The first female swimmer to ever break the one-minute barrier in the event, she bested her gold medal time from Athens by over a second, coming in two-tenths of a second ahead of Zimbabwe’s Kirsty Coventry.

Coughlin has begun to cede her position as America’s best swimmer. But she will always be remembered as one of the best athletes of her time — and possibly the best Olympian Cal has ever produced.

— Chris Yoder

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