ROAD TO RIO | Olympic journey nears completion for ASN athletes

Jermaine Seoposenwe South Africa

The 2016 Summer Olympic Games in Rio don’t start until Friday, but Samford University’s Jermaine Seoposenwe isn’t waiting for the flame to be lit.

Seoposenwe, about to enter her senior year at Samford this fall, will lead South Africa’s women’s soccer team against powerhouse Sweden Wednesday afternoon in the first competition of the 2016 Summer Games.

Seoposenwe is one of about three dozen ASN athletes taking part in the Olympics, which run from Friday to Aug. 21. We’ll be giving regular updates during the Games.

ASN competitors range from athletics (track & field) to rowing to water polo. Here’s a rundown of what to expect over the next three weeks:

Early kickoff in the Maracana

SoccerSouth Africa and sixth-ranked Sweden will play in the famed Maracana Stadium, which seats 79,000.

If South Africa wins, it will be a shocker. South Africa, ranked No. 52 in the world, is competing in just its second Olympics after going winless in 2012. The Banyana Banyana (the women’s team nickname) went 0-2 in pre-Olympic games last month.

Seoposenwe, a striker from Cape Town, scored the Banyana Banyana’s lone goal in a 4-1 loss to No. 17 New Zealand July 28 at Rio’s Estadiu Luso Brasileiro. In early July, South Africa impressed by holding world No. 1 and three-time Olympic defending champion U.S. to just one goal in a 1-0 loss.

It was Seoposenwe’s goal against Equatorial Guinea that earned South Africa’s Olympic qualification. She led the team with five goals in the qualification tournament.

Others in South Africa’s Group E are No. 8 Brazil, led by Marta, and No. 12 China.

Boys, girls in the boat

oly-rowing-logoThe U.S. qualified both the men’s and women’s eight and both are favored for medals. The women’s boat, with Brown’s Tessa Gobbo and Ithaca’s Meghan Musnicki aboard, begin heats on Monday. Finals are Aug. 13. The boat has won 10 consecutive world or Olympic titles, last losing in 2006. Their biggest competition is expected to be New Zealand and Great Britain.

Fast, first rugby

rugbyEastern Illinois University’s Lauren Doyle and the women’s rugby team make their Olympic debut Saturday, playing Fiji and then Colombia. The U.S. men, led by Madison Hughes, the former captain at Dartmouth, see their first action Aug. 9 as rugby returns to the Olympics for the first time in 92 years.

Don’t blink — rugby sevens’ games feature seven players and two seven-minute halves. Doyle, a four-year national team member, has been struggling with injury. The U.S. plays Australia on Sunday before elimination play starts later that day. Medal matches are Monday.

Huskies everywhere

oly-basketball-logoThe U.S. women’s basketball, peppered with University of Connecticut alumni and UConn’s coach, Geno Auriemma, is favored for its fifth consecutive gold. Breanna Stewart, the WNBA’s first-round draft (Seattle Storm) and leading contender for the WNBA’s Rookie of the Year, will make her Olympic debut and likely see some minutes. Other ex-Huskies: Maya Moore, Diana Taurasi, Sue Bird and Tina Charles. The team will open against Senegal on Sunday.

Hear her roar

Swimming-Rio-2016Columbia University Lion Katie Meili, the rare Ivy Leaguer to make the Olympic team in swimming, makes her first Olympic splash Sunday in the 100-meter breaststroke prelims. Finals are Monday. Meili, unspectacular in high school or college, found another gear soon after graduation. Florida International’s Naomi Ruele will also be swimming the 50 free Aug. 12 for Botswana.

Water polo keeper

WaterPoloAnother Ivy Leaguer, Princeton’s Ashleigh Johnson, will backstop the defending Olympic champion women’s water polo team. The long-armed Johnson, who has Jamaican roots, is the first player of color in the history of the team, which is the first in women’s water polo history to hold all four major international titles at once (Olympics, World Cup, World League, world championship).

Next week

Rio-2016-100x100Look for track and field in the Games’ second half, as ASN Olympians like sprinter Tori Bowie (Southern Miss.), 5,000-meter runner Abbey D’Agostino (Dartmouth); 800-meter runners Kate Grace (Yale), Ajee Wilson (Temple) and Clayton Murphy (Akron); East Carolina and Old Dominion’s sprinter LaShawn Merritt; hurdler Tobi Amusan (UTEP, racing for Nigeria); hammer throwers Rudy Winkler (Cornell) and Conor McCullough (Princeton); along with javelin thrower John Ampomah (Middle Tennesse State for Ghana), get rolling.


• Ready or not, Rio, here come the 2016 Summer Games

What can U.S. Olympic hopefuls expect to see?

Above: Samford’s Jermaine Seoposenwe will be representing South Africa when the women’s soccer tournament gets underway on Wednesday at the 2016 Rio Summer Olympics. (Photo courtesy Samford University athletics)

Meri-Jo Borzilleri

Meri-Jo Borzilleri is a freelance writer based in Bellingham, Wash.