By Sharon Robb
TOKYO, Japan, July 20, 2021—South Florida is a melting pot of athletes when it comes to training for the Olympics.
The ideal training ground for athletes, many from local high schools, colleges and clubs has produced 76 Olympians including 25 swimmers and medal hopefuls including South Florida Aquatic Club’s Alia Atkinson, Julio Horrego and Chris Anderson for the pandemic-delayed Summer Olympics that begin Tuesday night with three softball games and Friday morning with the Opening Ceremony (live in the morning and edited version in prime time).
A combination of weather, facilities, top-caliber coaching, history and sponsors has made South Florida a major player on the Olympic stage.
The lure of earning a college scholarship while training for an Olympic berth is another contributing factor.
Many of these Olympians trained full-time in South Florida while working part or full-time jobs through the pandemic and uncertainty that the Olympics would even be held after being rescheduled a year later.
The veteran of the group is five-time Jamaican Olympian Alia Atkinson, a Flanagan alum, who made her Olympic debut at 15 and is still seeking an Olympic medal of any color in her signature event 100-meter breaststroke to cap off her distinguished career. “Last swim, fast swim,” she said.
“You don’t have to look very far for role models or world-class athletes,” Atkinson said. “This is the greatest place in the world to train and compete. This is paradise for an athlete.
“The opportunity in this country is so much greater than anywhere else,” Atkinson said. “I started when I was 11 and just worked myself up to the Olympics. My path to the Olympics started here in South Florida.”
Foreign athletes have made a great impact in the South Florida amateur sports scene.
“Most people believe that the education and opportunities that are here are better than in their home country,” said Anderson, who is also appearing in his fifth Olympics with his two athletes. “We try to give everyone an equal chance. It’s what the American Dream is all about.”
The Games of the 32nd Olympiad were to have started last July 22 but were pushed back by the coronavirus pandemic. Despite many in Japan questioning whether it is wise with the virus still raging in the country, the International Olympic Committee is pushing ahead in front of near-empty venues.
The Olympics will features 11,313 athletes including 888 swimmers and 80,000 support staff, officials and media members.
In hopes of attracting a younger audience, six sports have been added to the Olympic program including four first-time Olympic sports skateboarding, sports climbing, surfing and karate. Baseball and softball will also return to the sports lineup.
The only sports that have been included in every Summer Olympics are swimming, track and field, cycling, fencing and gymnastics.
NBC and other broadcasters from around the world are working within an Olympic bubble. They are permitted to go between accommodations and work locations for the first two weeks in the country. They are testing often, wearing masks and following protocols while preparing to broadcast over 7,000 hours of action over 17 days.
“I really believe that people are craving a shared experience after all we’ve been through,” said Molly Solomon, executive producer of NBC’s Olympics coverage that will be offered on NBC, cable outlets like USA and NBCSN, on NBCOlympics.com and the Peacock streaming service on Twitch, Twitter and Snap.
NBC’s prime-time coverage will almost exclusively be devoted to swimming and diving, track and field, gymnastics and beach volleyball, as it has in the past. There will be some exceptions, like gold medal games in men’s and women’s basketball.
The time difference (Tokyo is 13 hours ahead of the eastern United States, 16 hours ahead of the west) means limited opportunity for live coverage in the evening.
All athletes had to provide two negative tests prior to flying to Tokyo and a negative test upon arrival. They were also required to download two apps on their phones: one that monitors location and another for daily reporting of their temperature and symptoms.
Masks are mandatory except when competing, tests will be readily available and once the Games officially begin, any athlete who tests positive will be disqualified from competition. When an athlete wins a medal, they will be required to award themselves by hanging it around their necks instead of Olympic dignitaries doing the honor. After finishing their competition schedule they are required to leave the country within 48 hours.
Despite all the controversy surrounding the Games including the slow vaccination rates in Japan, 60 reported COVID-19 cases as of Monday in the Olympic Village and banning of local and international spectators including athletes’ parents, family and friends, the Games’ main focus will always be the athletes, including South Florida’s talented contingent. Let the Games begin!!!
SOUTH FLORIDA 2020 OLYMPIC ATHLETES, COACHES
Eddy Alvarez, Miami, Columbus alum, Miami Marlins minor league, USA
Triston Casas, Pembroke Pines, USA
Jon Jay, Miami, Columbus High/University of Miami alum, USA
Nick Martinez, Miami, USA
Danny Valencia, University of Miami alum, Israel
Ben Wanger, University of Miami alum, Israel
Precious Achiuwa, Miami Heat, Nigeria
Bam Adebayo, Miami Heat, USA
Sylvia Fowles, Miami, Edison/Gulliver Prep, USA
KC Okpala, Miami Heat, Nigeria
Gabe Vincent, Miami Heat, Nigeria
BEACH VOLLEYBALL (1)
Nick Lucena, Cooper City, Western High/ FSU alum, USA
Maha Gouda, Miami, Florida International University, Egypt
Jordan Windle, Fort Lauderdale, USA
Kent Farrington, Wellington, USA
Laura Kraut, Royal Palm Beach, USA
Jessica Springsteen, Wellington, USA
McLain Ward, Wellington, USA
Daniela Darquea, University of Miami alum, Ecuador
Lexi Thompson, Coral Springs, USA
Angelica Delgado, Miami, FIU, USA
Johnny Prado, Miami, Coach, USA
Ariel Torres, Hialeah, Miami-Dade College, USA
Aisha Chow, University of Miami alum, Trinidad & Tobago
Nikki Barnes, U.S. Coast Guard, Miami, USA
Lara Dallman-Weis, Miami, USA
Riley Gibbs, Fort Lauderdale, USA
David Hughes, Miami, USA
Pedro Pascual, West Palm Beach, USA
Stephanie Roble, Miami, USA
Anna Weis, Fort Lauderdale, USA
Zion Wright, Jupiter, USA
Caroline Marks, Boca Raton, USA
Marcelo Acosta, Azura, El Salvador
Steven Aimable, Azura, Senegal
Gianluca Alberani, Coach, Azura, El Salvador
Chris Anderson, Coach, SOFLO, Jamaica
Alia Atkinson, Flanagan, SOFLO, Jamaica Flanagan
Julimar Avila, Azura, Honduras
Izaak Bastian, St. Andrew’s/FSU, Bahamas
Sid Cassidy, St. Andrew’s, Coach/Official, open water, USA
Dylan Carter, Plantation American Heritage, Trinidad & Tobago
Andrew Fowler, Azura, Guyana
Nicole Frank, Azura, Uruguay
Bruno Fratus, Coral Springs Swim Club, Brazil
Colleen Furgeson, Azura, Marshall Islands
Emma Gullstrand, University of Miami, Sweden
Julio Horrego, SOFLO, Honduras
Michelle Lenhardt, Coach, Brazil
Celina Marquez, Azura, El Salvador
Stefano Mitchell, Azura, Antigua & Barbuda
Elinah Phillip, Miami, Florida International, British Virgin Islands
Remedy Rule, University of Miami, Philippines
Mikel Schreuders, NSU University School/Pine Crest, Aruba
Cherelle Thompson, Performance Aquatics, Trinidad & Tobago
Renzo Tjon-A-Joe, Westlake Prep, Coral Springs Swim Club, Suriname
Joaquin Vargas, Azura, Peru
Davidson Vincent, Azura, Haiti
Paige McPherson, Miami, Miami-Dade College, USA
Aliyah Shipman, Plantation, University of Miami, Haiti
Tommy Paul, Delray Beach, USA
Sloane Stephens, Coral Springs, USA
Frances Tiafore, Boynton Beach, USA
TRACK AND FIELD (9)
Michelle Ahoure, University of Miami alum, Ivory Coast
Nadia Eke, University of Miami, Ghana
Kendall Ellis, Pembroke Pines, USA
Chantal Malone, Miami, Florida International University, British Virgin Islands
Kyron McMaster, Miami, Florida, USA International University, British Virgin Islands
Alysha Newman, University of Miami alum, Canada
Jessica Ramsey, Boynton Beach, USA
Damion Thomas, Boyd Anderson, Jamaica
Joey Scott, Miami, Coach, Haiti
Foluke Akinradewo Gunderson, Fort Lauderdale, St. Thomas Aquinas, USA
WATER POLO (2)
Ashleigh Johnson, Miami, Ransom-Everglades, USA
Michael Goldenberg, Coral Springs, official
Alejandro Sancho, Miami, USA
Sharon Robb can be reached at email@example.com