UC’s Olympic poetry in motion

Watch as former and current UC athletes shine at the 2021 Tokyo Olympics

As crowds tune in early on Friday morning from across the globe — cheering for the extraordinary athletes marching into Tokyo’s Olympic Stadium — the University of Cincinnati will proudly be represented by five exceptional athletic alumni in the 2021 Olympics, as well as a current UC student in the Paralympic swim competition.

Former and current UC athletes representing four nations in five athletic competitions include Annette Echikunwoke, Vanessa Gilles, Jordan Thompson, Lawrence Sapp and Nate Fish making their first Olympic appearance. 

NBC track and field broadcaster, UC alum and former Bearcat Lewis Johnson will be making his 11th Olympic appearance as a TV news reporter, this year broadcasting track and field events for NBC Sports.

As one of the first two male athletes with intellectual disabilities to qualify to swim at the Paralympics for Team USA, UC Bearcat Lawrence Sapp, a second-year Transition and Access Program (TAP) student, is ready to make waves at the Tokyo Paralympics in late August. 

Check out the 2021 Olympic Bearcat pride.

Annette Echikunwoke

Hammer throw (Nigeria)

Currently a volunteer coach for the UC Bearcats, Annette Echikunwoke, former UC track and field national champion with degrees in mathematics and marketing, will represent the Nigerian Olympic Team in the hammer throw competition. After posting a 75.49-meter personal best in Tucson, Arizona, in May, Echikunwoke broke her own record and secured her place in the 2021 Tokyo Olympics.

She went on to finish first in the hammer event at the Nigerian national trials, launching an even better 72.07-meter throw, winning her first national trials title.

As a Bearcat in 2017, Echikunwoke won the NCAA Indoor Track and Field title in the weight throw that same year earning her the spot as UC’s fifth individual national champion and the only track and field national champion in Bearcats history.

Follow Annette Echikunwoke on Instagram 

Hammer throw Olympic schedule

  • Qualifying Round A & B July 31 (Tokyo, Japan – 8:10 p.m. ET)

  • Finals Aug. 3 (Tokyo, Japan – 7:35 a.m. ET)


Vanessa Gilles

Soccer (Canada)

Making her Olympic debut in July, Vanessa Gilles — one of the most decorated athletes in UC’s women’s soccer history — is now one of 18 athletes nominated to represent Canada in Tokyo.

A center back with the Canadian national team and formerly the 2017 American Athletic Conference Co-Defensive Player of the Year, Gilles, a UC 2017 grad now plays professionally with Girondins de Bordeaux in France’s top division.

Follow Vanessa Gilles on Twitter and Instagram 

Canada’s soccer Olympic schedule

  • Japan July 21 (Sapporo, Japan – 6:30 a.m. ET)

  • Chile July 24 (Sapporo, Japan – 3:30 a.m. ET)

  • Great Britain July 27 (Kashima, Japan – 7 a.m. ET)


Jordan Thompson

Volleyball (United States)

UC 2021 Olympic women's volleyball competitor Jordan Thompson posing wearing UC soccer uniform.

Photo/Andrew Higley/UC Creative + Brand

As a member of the U.S. Women’s National Team since 2019, former UC women’s volleyball player Jordan Thompson, CECH ’18, M ’19, will represent the United States as part of the Olympic Women’s Indoor Volleyball Team in Tokyo. Thompson now becomes the first former UC student-athlete to compete in an Olympic volleyball event and the 10th for Team USA — the first since UC alum Mary Wineberg competed for track and field representing the U.S. in 2008.

During Thompson’s extraordinary career at UC, she became the American Volleyball Coaches Association Player of the Year and a First Team All-American in 2019. Thompson went on to set Cincinnati’s school record with 827 “kills” (or a spike by a player that is not returnable by a receiving player on the opposing team) during the 2018 season, eventually breaking the NCAA record with her 6.27 kills per set. 

After representing the U.S. on the Women’s Collegiate National Team in 2016-17, and setting the NCAA rally-scoring record with 50 kills in 2019 versus Connecticut, Thompson began her professional position in Turkey in 2020.

Also representing is former UC assistant coach Erin Virtue (2007-10) who currently serves as a coach of USA Volleyball, the U.S. national volleyball team.

Follow Jordan Thompson on Twitter and Instagram

USA volleyball Olympic schedule

  • Argentina July 25 (10:05 p.m. ET)

  • China July 26 (10:05 p.m. ET)

  • Turkey July 29 (8:45 a.m. ET)

  • Russia July 30 (10:05 p.m. ET)

  • Italy Aug. 1 (10:05 p.m. ET)

  • Quarterfinals Aug. 3-4 (TBA)

  • Semifinals Aug. 5-6 (TBA)

  • Medal Matches Aug. 7-8 (TBA)


Lawrence Sapp

Swimming (United States)

UC 2021 Paralympic swimmer Lawrence Sapp stands near Rec Center pool wearing swim cap.

Photo/Andrew Higley/UC Creative + Brand

Currently a second-year UC Transition and Access Program (TAP) student, Lawrence Sapp will represent Team USA as one of 34 swimmers in the Paralympic competition in Tokyo, which runs from Aug. 24 through Sept. 5.

Being diagnosed on the autism spectrum in 2017 didn’t stop Sapp, as he won a gold medal for the 100-meter backstroke in the 2017 World Para Swimming Championships in Mexico City, then later claimed a silver medal in the 2019 World Games in London.

“When Lawrence came across our radar early on, we were so glad he was looking at UC,” says Jan Goings, director of UC TAP where Sapp is enrolled.

“I want to win the gold,” said Sapp before spending the past five months at UC’s Rec Center pool, where he went back and forth for 25 yards at a time while alternating a routine of freestyle, board kicks and butterfly strokes.

Follow Lawrence Sapp on Twitter and Instagram

Nate Fish

Baseball (Israel)

As a former Bearcat playing baseball from 1999-2002, Nate Fish appeared in 181 games, batting .249 with 22 doubles, 13 home runs, and 71 RBIs. As a senior and captain of the Bearcats, he hit .287 with seven home runs and set the Conference USA record with six hits in a game.

After graduating UC in 2002, Fish went on to play and coach in more than 20 countries and will now serve as the third-base coach for the Israeli National Team in the Tokyo Olympics. 

Called by some as the “most interesting man in baseball,” Fish coached for Israel during its fifth-place finish in the 2017 World Baseball Classic. He later served as the director of the Israel National Baseball Program before becoming manager of the Savannah Bananas Premier Team.

Follow Nate Fish on Twitter and Instagram 

Lewis Johnson

Track and field (NBC Sports)

Having an All-American track and field career at UC, Lewis Johnson ranked in the top 10 in the U.S. in the 800-meter division. Johnson qualified for the U.S. Olympic trials in 1988 and 1992. The 6-foot-6-inch 1986 UC grad went on to compete professionally for seven years in Europe and was presented with an honorary UC doctorate in 2017.

Currently providing color commentary of track and field for NBC, Johnson will return as a broadcaster for his 11th Olympics. Between Olympic events, Johnson covers track and field for both NBC and ESPN, as well as college football for NBCSN. 

In the recent 2018 Olympic Winter Games in PyeongChang, South Korea, Johnson covered the bobsled and luge events for NBC Sports.

Follow Lewis Johnson on Twitter and Instagram

More about UC in the Olympics

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