TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – Adding his name to an elite group of former Florida State track & field athletes, Alonzo Russell was smiling with pride from the podium of Olympic Stadium, where he and his Bahamas 4×400 relay teammates were admiring their bronze medals. Celebrating at the conclusion of the final event on the track at the Rio Olympic Games, Russell became the first Seminole medal winner on the track since Walter Dix won a pair of bronze medals at the 2008 Games in Beijing, China.
“The experience was very fulfilling,” said Russell. “It really was a dream come through for me. To shock myself this season at the [Bahamas] Olympic Trials and qualify for the Games for an individual spot, I couldn’t be more proud of myself. Leaving the Games with some hardware was the icing on the cake.”
Russell, and fellow Bahamian and former Seminole Stephen Newbold, were responsible for half the medal haul by Seminoles at the conclusion of the 21-day Games. Newbold was also awarded bronze after anchoring the Bahamas to a spot in the finals from the preliminary rounds, though he did not compete in the final.
Spain’s Leticia Romero and Leonor Rodriguez – current and former Seminoles, respectively – won women’s basketball silver; their country’s first in Olympic history. They were also the first basketball medals – men or women – claimed by Florida State athletes.
These were the crowning moments for the 21 Seminole Olympians – including a school-record 16 track & field athletes – competing over the course of 19 days.
Qualifying for the Olympic Games is no small feat, and a host of Seminoles followed up with outstanding performances in their specialties.
Distance runners Colleen Quigley (USA) and Susan Kuijken (Netherlands) advanced to the finals in the steeplechase and 5000-meter run, respectively, where they parlayed lifetime-best performances into eighth-place finishes. Kuijken was also 14th in the 10,000-meter run final, missing a personal-best by just over one second in the field of 37.
Linden Hall (Australia) and Violah Lagat (Kenya), who like Quigley and Kuijken were making their first Olympic appearances, advanced to the semifinals in the 1500-meter run and came within one position of moving on to the final in their respective heats. Their semifinal times ranked 12th and 14th fastest overall in the field of 24.
Kimberly Williams (Jamaica) qualified sixth overall in the deepest pool of triple jump finalists in recent Olympic history, then reached the final eight before finishing seventh overall in her second appearance at the Games.
Fellow Jamaican and 2006 NCAA discus runner-up Kellion Knibb’s first trip to the Games ended in the qualifying round.
South African Stefan Brits’ Olympic debut in the men’s long jump concluded in the preliminary round, his first competitive effort since suffering a May injury at the NCAA East Preliminary, yet he came within 14 centimeters of advancing to the final.
Marvin Bracy (USA) and Kemar Hyman (Cayman Islands) competed in the men’s 100-meter dash. While Hyman did not advance from the preliminary round, Bracy did make the semifinal, where he finished 14th overall in his Olympic debut. Team USA opted not to call on Bracy for duty in the 4×100 relay.
Among the busiest former Seminoles in Rio were Belgium twins Jonathan and Kevin Borlee, who competed in both the 400 and 4×400 relay. Jonathan Borlee was lined up in the preliminary round of the 200-meter dash. While neither advanced beyond the first rounds in individual events, they teamed up to set the Belgium national record in the finals of the 4×400, finishing fourth overall and just three one-hundredths of a second off the medal stand.
FSU school record-holder Anne Zagre’s second trip to the Olympics ended in the semifinal round of the 100-meter hurdles as the Belgium national champion advanced from the qualifying heat which also included 2016 Seminole Meme Jean (Haiti), whose debut was shortened when she crashed into a hurdle.
Shaquania Dorsett (Bahamas), a freshman for the Noles in 2016, had her Olympic experience short-circuited by injury as she was unable to represent her nation in the 4×400 relay.
While Russell ultimately left Rio with hardware, his Games did not get off to a great start, as he was disqualified in the preliminary round of the 400-meter dash. Still, the 2014 Florida State graduate used that experience to his benefit in the semifinals and finals of the 4×400.
“I made some rookie mistakes in the 400 – blasting out the first 300; stepping on the inner lane – that mentally prepared me for the leadoff [relay] leg,” Russell said. “I went back and watch some recordings of my 400 prelims and critiqued my race to better myself in the 4×400 and I think I did a great job at doing so.”
It’s hard to argue otherwise. Russell handed off the baton to in a very close third behind Botswana and eventual champion USA, positioning the Bahamas for a medal performance.
The medal puts him in elite company, joining Dix and Walter McCoy (1984 gold) as the only Seminole men to collect Olympic hardware. That’s an impressive ascent for the two-year Nole, who was a three-time junior college All-American and earned four All-American honors as a relays contributor at FSU.
“Alonzo is one of the hardest working athletes we’ve ever had,” Florida State coach Bob Braman said. “He’s gone from junior college start to NCAA All-American to Olympic medalist. That’s an amazing transformation. And he earned an Academic All-American honor along the way. I couldn’t be more proud of that young man.”
Braman said he hopes to have Russell back involved in the program in the near future, as he plans to return to Tallahassee to pursue a master’s degree, continue to train with an eye toward Tokyo in 2020 and perhaps assist the next batch of Seminoles reaching the Olympics.
“It felt really special to me to come all the way to Brazil and being able to connect myself with my fellow Seminole family,” said Russell, whose social media posts featured photos from Rio with other Noles competing at the Games. “It’s always special to see them away from school and across the world. It makes me proud to know that I came from a very prestigious university that also produces elite athletes.”