40+ Kentuckians take the stage at the 2021 Tokyo Olympics and win big

By Hayley Robb, Building Kentucky

Team USA in numbers. Photo courtesy of Team USA Twitter.

The Olympic Games are the top stage for any athlete to perform. This year 40+ athletes from Kentucky traveled to Tokyo, Japan to put their hard work to the test.

After more than two weeks of competition in 33 sports across 46 disciplines in 43 venues, 339 gold medals were awarded to athletes from all over the world. And Kentucky made the list!

From Team USA fencing to track & field, here’s a few of the bright spots from our fellow Kentuckians in Tokyo.


Former Hilltopper, Larissa Franklin, took home bronze for Team Canada, making her Western Kentucky University’s third ever Olympic medalist.

Team Canada defeated Mexico by 1 point on Tuesday, July 27, securing their first-ever medal in softball at the Olympics. Go Tops and go Larissa!

Track & Field

Kentucky’s female athletes dominated the track field in Tokyo.

Sydney McLaughlin, a former University of Kentucky Wildcat, shattered her own world record in the 400-meter hurdles to win the gold medal. She chased down U.S. teammate Dalilah Muhammad to take the heat and finishing the race at 51.47 seconds.

This a force to be reckon with as they took on the 4×400 meter relay and added another gold medal to the mix. Sydney McLaughlin led Team USA alongside Allyson Felix, Dalilah Muhammad and Athing Mu.

On the men’s side, former UK sprinter, Daniel Roberts missed qualifying for the final heat by one-hundredth of a second after impressive finishes earlier in the week.

You know what they say, once a Wildcat… always a Wildcat!


Team USA looked for vengeance and gold in men’s basketball after back-to-back losses. The team pulled out a win over France on Saturday morning finding themselves back on top of the podium alongside the Team USA women’s basketball team with veteran athletes like Sue Bird and Brittney Griner leading the charge.

Some familiar Kentucky stars starting for the men’s team included former UK Wildcat Devin Booker and Bam Adebayo. Also, on the bench for Team USA was former Wildcat Keldon Johnson.


Photo courtesy of Sports Illustrated

Sacred Heart Academy and Stanford swimmer Brook Forde anchored the 4×200 meter freestyle relay advancing Team USA into the finals. She followed teammates Bella Sims, Page Madden and Katie McLaughlin finishing the race in 1:57– the fastest time in her life.

The next morning Allison Schmidt subbed in for Sims and Katie Ledecky for Forde–two of the most decorated swimmers in U.S. history. Team USA took Silver giving Forde her first Olympic medal.

Forde is the daughter of Sports Illustrated sportswriter Pat Forde, who covered the Games.

“I had to attempt to objectively (and at times critically) cover the U.S. swimmers and their coaches while trying not to put my daughter in a difficult position. This was by far the best assignment of my life. It also was by far the strangest assignment of my life.”

– Pat Forde, Sports Illustrated, Senior Writer


The Team USA Rifle squad took home two medals this year.

Will Shaner won gold in the men’s 10-meter air rifle, and UK junior Mary Tucker took home silver in the mixed team 10-meter air rifle with U.S. teammate Lucas Kozeniesky.


Lee Keifer made history by winning gold in women’s individual foil fencing–the first medal of any color for the U.S. in the event. The University of Kentucky medical student and third-time Olympian defeated Inna Deriglazova of the Russian Olympic Committee 15-13 in the finale.

Kiefer ranked fifth in the world, according to the International Fencing Federation, placed 10th in the Rio Olympic Games in 2016 and fifth in the London Olympic Games in 2012.

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