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Mailbag leftover: How many local athletes have won a Summer Olympic medal?

Kevin Jepsen
Bishop Manogue High graduate Kevin Jepsen, right, won a bronze medal in the 2008 Olympics. (File)

On occasion, a Monday Mailbag question requires too much research for me to include in the weekly feature, so I end up writing it separately as a "Mailbag leftover." I got such a question this week from Thomas Green, who asked what Wolf Pack athletes have won a Summer Olympic Games medal. Let's break it down.

At least three locals will compete in this year's Tokyo Games, including Douglas High and Wolf Pack alum Krysta Palmer (diving); Reed High graduate Perris Benegas (freestyle BMX rider); and Reno native Ben Stevenson (water polo). Each has an excellent chance of ending up atop the podium. Additionally, two more locals could make Olympic rosters in basketball with Nevada alum Nick Fazekas a favorite to make Japan's team (he recently became a citizen of the country) and Reed High product Gabby Williams attempting to make the French national team.

So how often has a local won an Olympic medal? If you include the Winter Games, it's happened fairly regularly. David Wise, Jamie Anderson, Maddie Bowman, Julia Mancuso, Brita Sigourney, Shannon Bahrke, Lane Spina, et al. have regularly returned from the Olympics with hardware. In the Summer Games, it's been decidedly more rare. Your question specifically asked about Wolf Pack alums. Only two Nevada athletes have won Summer Games medals. Here's the list.

* Limin Liu: The greatest swimmer in Nevada history, Liu had an Olympic medal before hitting the pool for the Wolf Pack. A native of China, Liu swam for Nevada from 1998-2000 and was the Wolf Pack's first NCAA swimming champ, winning the 200 butterfly in 1999 and 100 and 200 butterfly in 2000. Her three individual NCAA titles are tied for the most in school history. She was a 12-time All-American despite swimming just two seasons at Nevada. The 2000 Big West swimmer of the year, Liu competed in two Olympic Games, including the 1996 Atlanta Games where she won a silver medal in the 100 butterfly (American Amy Van Dyken beat her by 0.01 seconds) and was fifth in the 200 fly (0.79 seconds shy of a podium finish). Liu competed in three events in the 2000 Olympics, her highest finish being eighth in the 100 medley relay. Liu was inducted into the Wolf Pack Hall of Fame in 2010.

* Lisé Mackie: One of the top swimmers in Wolf Pack history, Mackie was the three-time Big West Swimmer of the Year and was a nine-time All-American. She won 18 Big West titles and was inducted into the Wolf Pack Hall of Fame in 2009. Born in Te Kuiti, New Zealand, Mackie is one of six Nevada swimmers to compete in the Olympics, doing so in 1992 at age 16 and in 1996 after her freshman season of college. In 1996, she competed on two relay teams for Australia, finishing sixth in the 100 free relay and earning a bronze medal in the 200 free relay. Mackie swam in the qualification heat of the 4x200 free relay but did not swim in the final, being subbed out for Nicole Stevenson. She still earned bronze for her qualification swim.

You also could include former Nevada volleyball coach Ruth Lawanson, a star for Fresno State from 1981-84 who won an Olympic bronze medal in the 1992 Barcelona Games with a win over Brazil, 3-0, in the third-place game. Lawanson was hired as Nevada's head coach in 2011 and went 21-94 in four seasons. Additionally, current Nevada men's basketball coach Steve Alford won gold in the 1984 Olympics, a team loaded with future NBA stars like Michael Jordan, Patrick Ewing and Chris Mullin. Alford averaged 10.3, the fourth most on the team, and went 8-0 in the tournament, beating Spain in the gold-medal game.

Additionally, two athletes with local ties who didn't play for the Wolf Pack have won Summer Games medals. They both played for the U.S.' 2008 baseball team.

* Kevin Jepsen: A 2002 Bishop Manogue High alum, Jepsen was a second-round draft pick as a hard-throwing right-hander out of high school. He was on the cusp of making the big leagues in 2008 when he was selected to play for Team USA in the Beijing Games. One of eight teams in the tournament, the U.S. went 5-2 in the preliminary round to advance to the medal round. Team USA lost to Cuba, 10-2, before beating Japan, 8-4, in the bronze-medal game (South Korea won gold). Jepsen pitched in high-leverage situations for the Americans, earning one save and closing out the last two innings of the bronze-medal win. He allowed zero runs in four Olympic innings. He made his big-league debut two weeks later, retiring Derek Jeter, Bobby Abreu and Alex Rodriguez in order in his first inning.

* Nate Schierholtz: Also on that 2008 bronze-medal-winning team was Schierholtz , who was born in Reno but raised Danville, Calif. Unlike Jepsen, Schierholtz had made his big-league debut before he was selected to play for Team USA as an outfielder. Schierholtz appeared in all nine of the team's Olympic games and hit .216 with four doubles, one home run and six RBIs. Schierholtz's homer came in the sixth inning of a preliminary-round game against South Korea, which would win gold (Team USA lost that contest, its Olympic opener, 8-7, after Jeff Stevens blew the save in the ninth inning). Schierholtz logged eight MLB seasons, winning World Series titles with the San Francisco Giants in 2010 and 2012. He was a career .253 hitter with 52 homers in 779 games.

I could be missing somebody, but I'm pretty sure those are the only four "locals" to win an Olympic Summer medal. Others such as Jake Dalton, Domingo Tibaduiza, Jalal Keshmiri, Katerina Hanusova Nash, Coleen Rienstra Sommer, Inga Thompson, Aarik Wilson and Becky Holliday have competed and gotten close, but it's a fearsome four who have accomplished that goal. Cyclist Greg LeMond probably would have won a medal in 1980 if not for the boycott as well. Palmer, Benegas and Williams all have a solid shot of winning a medal and joining the list above. In fact, I'd bet at least one local is coming home with hardware.

Columnist Chris Murray provides insight on Northern Nevada sports. Contact him at crmurray@sbgtv.com or follow him on Twitter @ByChrisMurray.

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