ATHENS — There were so many Olympians in the house, they couldn’t use one room to do interviews.
The University of Georgia on Thursday invited the press over to Butts-Mehre Heritage Hall for an opportunity to meet and interview the Bulldogs who have qualified to compete in the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, next month. To accommodate all the athletes and media coming there to see them, UGA sports communications had to use both floors of the spacious area in the athletic complex that normally houses the school’s sports museum.
You can blame the swimming & diving and track programs for the overcrowding. And if things continue to go well in Oregon at U.S. trials, they could add to their number.
So far there are 24 Bulldogs in total, including coaches, who will be representing the “G” as well as their respective countries in Rio. It’s expected to go up from that by the time trials and selection processes are complete.
That’s the most since, well, the last Olympics. Georgia has become quite steady and true when it comes to maintaining its reputation as one of the top Olympian-producing schools in the country. The Bulldogs had 32 athletes and coaches repping at the 2012 London Games and have averaged 22.4 in the previous five Olympics.
Twelve UGA swimmers and divers, past and present, will be competing — eight for the U.S. team, three for Canada and one for Finland. That’s 13 including coach Jack Bauerle. And first-year track coach Petros Kyprianou was chosen as an assistant coach for Estonia’s team on Thursday.
“It’s a real point of pride we have that many,” said Bauerle, who will be representing Team USA as a coach for the third time in his career. “It’s particularly fun around meal time. That’s when you see everybody. Everybody will get together at some point in time, we’ll probably get a couple of pictures together and see each other at the pool. It’s a neat thing.”
The UGA contingent consists of current Bulldogs making their first appearance and former student-athletes who have made multiple appearances.
High jumper Levern Spencer (Class of 2008) will be making her third appearance. She’ll be representing her country of St. Lucia, all 240 square miles of it. So far their are two other members of her country’s team.
“I always have both St. Lucia pride and Georgia pride,” said Spencer, who’s primary residence remains in Athens. “Georgia is where most of my friends came from, I still train here, my coach is still here and he’s going to be there, too. The other athletes I train with, most of them are going to be there as well. So we’ll all be there and it will be great!”
Gunnar Bentz, a rising junior from Atlanta, will be competing in his first Olympics as a member of the 800 freestyle relay team.
“It’s huge to have your teammates there,” Bentz said. “And having Jack as our coach, it just shows that we’re focused on the right things here at Georgia. It shows that we’re focused on our fullest potential being here and turning into Olympians.”
Bauerle said he believes there is definitely a peer pressure element to the UGA phenomena.
“I’m so proud of Gunnar,” Bauerle said. “When he saw one or two (teammates) make it, he said, ‘you know what, I’m going to do this.’ It definitely feeds on itself. When his cohort Jaybird (Jay Litherland of Alpharetta) made it, they’re buddies, and they wanted to be together. I think it was a gigantic motivation.”