Aug. 5, 2012
NOTRE DAME, Ind. - A pair of current Notre Dame athletes were in action on Sunday at the 2012 Summer Olympics in London, as junior women's basketball forward Natalie Achonwa (Guelph, Ontario/St. Mary's Catholic) and senior fencer Gerek Meinhardt (San Francisco, Calif./Lick-Wilmerding) turned in strong performances while representing the Fighting Irish on the world's biggest stage.
Achonwa collected seven points, four rebounds and two steals as Canada nearly rallied from a 19-point deficit before losing to Australia, 72-63 on the final day of Group B action at the Olympic Basketball Arena in London. The Canadians spotted Australia the first 10 points of the game, then played the Opals almost evenly the rest of the way, getting as close as two points (55-53) with four minutes left, and remaining within 62-59 with 1:11 remaining. However, Australia (which features a lineup that includes 6-foot-8 WNBA center Liz Cambage and 6-foot-5 forward/three-time WNBA Most Valuable Player Lauren Jackson) made all 10 of its free throws down the stretch, including eight by Jackson, to hang on for the victory.
Canada (2-3) finished in fourth place in Group B, with its three preliminary-round losses all coming by single digits and all being one-possession games inside the final two minutes. Achonwa averaged 7.8 points and 4.2 rebounds in the five preliminary-round games, including 14 points and a game-high eight rebounds against group winner France on Aug. 1, and 11 points in Friday's win over Brazil that helped the Canadians clinch their first trip to the Olympic quarterfinals since 1984.
In the quarterfinal round, Canada will take on the United States at 9 a.m. (ET) Tuesday at the Olympic Basketball Arena in London, with the game to be televised live on the NBC Sports Network and the NBC Olympic Basketball Channel, on-line at nbcolympics.com and ctvolympics.ca, and through the NBC Live Extra mobile app. Team USA (5-0) won Group A by an average of 36.6 points per game (including a 114-66 victory over China on Sunday), and has registered 38 consecutive wins in Olympic play, dating back to a 1992 semifinal loss to the Unified Team.
Canada and the United States will be meeting in Olympic competition for the first time in almost exactly 28 years, dating back to a 92-61 American victory on Aug. 5, 1984, in Inglewood, Calif., at The Forum (then the home of the NBA's Los Angeles Lakers).
After having originally qualified as a replacement fencer for the United States men's foil team, Meinhardt was added to the lineup for the Olympic competition, helping the Americans to a fourth-place finish on Sunday at the Excel Exhibition Centre in London. It tied the best placement by the U.S. in the men's team foil event since 1932, when the Americans earned the most recent of their three team medals in that competition, a bronze in Los Angeles.
A two-time first-team All-American and the 2010 NCAA individual foil champion since coming to Notre Dame in 2009, Meinhardt did not need much time to make his mark for the United States -- in his second quarterfinal bout (and the Americans' seventh of nine) against France's Victor Sintes (a bronze medalist at the 2011 World Championships), Meinhardt registered a stunning 11-1 victory, as the Americans rallied from a six-touch deficit over the final three bouts to defeat France, 45-39.
The United States then met the world's top-ranked team, Italy, in the semifinals and came up on the short end of a 45-24 decision, sending the Americans in a bronze-medal match against Germany. Much like the semifinal against Italy, the U.S. ran into trouble early and could not manage to claw it way back, falling to the Germans, 45-27.
Meinhardt finished with a 2-6 record (25-37 aggregate scoring total) for his eight bouts, having coming on as the replacement fencer midway through the quarterfinal against France.
With his participation on Sunday, Meinhardt also became the 11th different Notre Dame athlete to compete (or be scheduled to compete) at the 2012 London Olympics, expanding the school record for the most representatives at one Olympiad (the previous high was nine athletes in Athens in 2004 and Beijing in 2008).
COMING UP MONDAY...
Three Notre Dame women's soccer alums will be in the spotlight, and a trip to the Olympic gold medal match will be at stake, when Shannon Boxx ('99) and the United States take on Melissa Tancredi ('04), Candace Chapman ('05) and Canada in a semifinal contest at 2:45 p.m. (ET) Monday in Manchester, England, at legendary Old Trafford, the home of famed English soccer club Manchester United. The match can be seen live on the NBC Sports Network and the NBC Olympic Soccer Channel, on-line at nbcolympics.com and ctvolympics.ca, and through the NBC Live Extra mobile app.
The Americans are 4-0-0 at this year's Olympics, including a 2-0 quarterfinal victory over New Zealand on Friday, and will be seeking to reach the title match for the fifth time in as many opportunities since women's soccer was first contested as an Olympic sport at the 1996 Atlanta Games. The United States has won three gold medals (1996, 2004, 2008) and a silver (2000), with Boxx and another former Fighting Irish soccer alum Kate (Sobrero) Markgraf ('98) helping the Americans to the past two championships (Markgraf also was part of the U.S. silver medal squad in 2000).
Boxx has not seen much action at this year's Olympics after being sidelined with a hamstring injury that she suffered in the Americans' 4-2 win over France on July 25. Boxx was back in uniform for the quarterfinal match against New Zealand, but did not play.
Meanwhile, Canada is making its first appearance in the Olympic semifinals, and just its second semifinal showing in a major international tournament following a fourth-place finish at the 2003 FIFA Women's World Cup. Canada is 2-1-1 at this year's Olympics, coming back from a 2-1 loss to reigning World Cup champion Japan in its opener with a 3-0 victory over South Africa and a 2-2 draw with Sweden to wrap up the group stage, then a 2-0 win over host Great Britain in the quarterfinals on Friday.
Tancredi has been one of the offensive stars, not only for Canada, but in the entire Olympic women's soccer tournament, having scored four goals to share top scoring honors (and the lead for the adidas Golden Boot award) with Abby Wambach of the United States. Chapman started the Canadians' opener against Japan, but went down with a calf injury in the closing minutes of that match and has been relegated to a spectator's role while she continues her rehabilitation. Chapman's status for Monday's semifinal against the United States is uncertain.
Regardless of Monday's result, Notre Dame is guaranteed to have an alumna earn a medal in women's soccer for the fourth consecutive Olympiad. Should the United States win, it would put Boxx in position to become the first Notre Dame athlete ever to earn three Olympic gold medals. If Canada prevails, it would assure that country of its first medal in a traditional team sport (other than rowing or equestrian) since 1936, when the Canadian men's basketball team earned a silver medal in Berlin, Germany.
For more information on Notre Dame participants at the 2012 London Olympics, visit the special Notre Dame Olympics microsite (und.com/olympics), the official London Olympics web site (london2012.com) or the official NBC Olympics web site (nbcolympics.com).