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Going For The Gold: Career Highlights From Penn State’s Olympic Athletes

Penn State sure can create elite athletes. We’ve seen that in more recent years, such as with Saquon Barkley winning Offensive Rookie of the Year in his NFL debut with the New York Giants and in Ali Krieger and Alyssa Naeher earning their way to their second FIFA Women’s Soccer World Cup title.

Beyond these individual titles, though, as we saw during halftime of the White Out this weekend, Penn State alums also have a history of performing on the world’s biggest stage: the Olympics. With 54 medals won and more than 100 Penn Staters able to proudly call themselves Olympians, let’s take a look back on the highlight reel from some of our best athletes.

Nate Cartmell (1883-1967)

Photo Courtesy of Penn State

Oddly nicknamed “Bloody Neck,” Cartmell was the first Penn Stater to win a gold medal in the 1600m medley relay in track and field, which he did in the 1908 Olympic Games in London. After retiring in 1912, Cartmell went on to coach for programs such as West Virginia, Lafayette, and Penn State, among others.

He’s also known for being the first coach of the North Carolina men’s basketball program, which has nothing to do with track and field. The reason behind his weird nickname can’t be confirmed but has been attributed to being either due to his time living in England or from an accident with an ax when he was a kid.

Katsutoshi Naito (1895-1969)

Photo Courtesy of Penn State

Naito was the first Penn State Olympian to represent a country other than the United States. As a freestyle wrestler, he won the bronze for featherweight male wrestling for Japan at the 1924 Paris Games. Naito was born and raised in Hiroshima competing in judo, which was popular in Japan at the time and translated well when he came to State College to join the university’s wrestling team and study horticulture.

Nicknamed “Tiger Naito,” he quickly became the team’s captain, but when it came time to participate in the Olympics, he was unable to compete for the U.S. because of the Asian Exclusion Act.

Barney Ewell (1918-1996)

Photo Courtesy of Penn State

Barney Ewell was a Pennsylvanian through and through. He was born in Harrisburg in 1918 and died in Lancaster in 1996 at age 78. A track star during his time at Penn State, Ewell competed for the U.S. in the 1948 Olympic Games in London, where he won three medals, including one gold. Pictured to the far right above, this made him the most decorated Olympic alum in Penn State history, which is a record he still holds today.

Jane Barkman

Barkman toes the line when it comes to “Penn State Olympic alums,” because although she did compete for Penn State, she ultimately dropped out of college in order to train full-time for the Olympic trials. However, we’re going to count her because we think she’s pretty cool.

As a freestyle swimmer, Jane Barkman’s first Olympics came in 1968 in Mexico City when she was only 17 years old. Before she was even old enough to vote, she won a gold medal in the 4x100m freestyle relay and a bronze in the 200m freestyle. After she quit swimming for Penn State, she went on to win another gold medal in the 4x100m freestyle relay in the 1972 Games in Munich.

Also, she was the first Penn State woman to medal in the Olympics, all of which she did as a teenager. Pretty damn impressive, I’d say.

Suzie McConnell

Photo Courtesy of Penn State

McConnell won gold with the women’s basketball team at the 1988 Games in Seoul, but before that, she was leading the Lady Lions in a way that Penn State basketball fans can only dream of these days. Along with four consecutive NCAA tournament appearances, McConnell was also Penn State’s first First Team All-American. During her four years at Penn State, she also held the NCAA Division I records for career assists, assists in a season, and season assist average.

Maggie Redden

Photo Courtesy of Penn State Athletics

Although she didn’t medal, Redden competed in the 2008 Beijing Paralympics for the 100m and 200m. Stricken with polio at the age of one in India before she was adopted in New Jersey, Maggie Redden has been using her a wheelchair for her entire life. While she was a student, Redden was a member of the Penn State Ability Athletics, which is now coached by former Penn State Olympic swimmer Jane Barkman.

Shawn Morelli

Photo Courtesy of Penn State

Shawn Morelli, a graduate of Penn State Behrend, competed in the 2016 Paralympics in Rio, where she won two gold medals in cycling. During her time at Penn State, Morelli played soccer and softball for Behrend before she was deployed to Afghanistan with the U.S. Army. She was permanently injured when a bomb exploded during her deployment as an engineer officer, which is when she decided to take upcycling. What’s impressive about her performance in Rio was that not only did she win two gold medals, but she also earned the United States’ first gold in the Paralympics and beat the runners-up by four seconds and 30 seconds, respectively.


For the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, Penn State had a school-record of 22 alums competing, which led to a record-setting eight medals. With the 2020 Olympic Games less than a year away, more Penn Staters are sure to be added to this list, which isn’t even complete because there are just so many to choose from. Clearly, Penn State does a lot of things well, and molding and shaping athletes to compete on the world’s biggest stage is just one of them.

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About the Author

Katie Moats

Katie Moats is a senior majoring in English, and her goal this year is to get a big girl job. Seriously, though, if you're looking for someone who can write and edit like nobody's business, she's Katelyn Moats on LinkedIn and will literally interview with you tomorrow. You can follow her @k_moats24 on Twitter for stupid content, but if it's something serious, feel free to shoot her an email (preferably in the form of a poem) to [email protected]

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