Nine Quakers, six countries, six sports. Here’s a look at the athletes who repped the Red and Blue in addition to their countries’ colors at the Tokyo 2020 Olympics.
At just 24 years old, Regina Salmons was the youngest member of the United State’s women’s eight boat this year in Tokyo. Salmons graduated in 2018 from Penn, where she served as senior captain of the women’s rowing team. In her final season with the Quakers, she was named first team All-Ivy and helped the women’s varsity eight capture third place at the Ivy League Championship.
En route to Tokyo 2020, Salmons won gold in the four and eight at the 2016 World Rowing Under-23 Championships, and she also won the pair at the 2018 World Rowing Under-23 Championships. At the 2019 World Rowing Championships, she rowed as an alternate, and she qualified for the Olympic team a year later.
Salmons’ boat won their preliminary heat on July 23 to advance to the final, where they finished fourth with a time of 6:02.78, more than three seconds behind the Canadian gold medalists. While their final placement might have been disappointing — this marks the first time since 2000 that the United States has missed the podium in the women’s eight event at the Olympics — just making the squad was the culmination of a decades-long journey for Salmons.
“Had I gone to any other school, I don't know if I would have made it,” Salmons told The Daily Pennsylvanian before the Olympic final. “Being at Penn — being a part of a program that is building — you have this hunger to keep biting the heels of whoever's faster than you. If you just keep chasing down the person in front of you, eventually there's not so many people left in the race.”
Dara Alizadeh, who graduated from Penn in 2015, also made his Olympic rowing debut this year. Alizadeh, rowing in the men’s single sculls competition, is just the third-ever Olympic rower to represent Bermuda. He was also given the honor of holding the Bermudian flag during the Opening Ceremonies.
Alizadeh finished 18th overall in the finals with a time of 7:09.91.
At Penn, Alizadeh had been a member of Penn’s heavyweight varsity eight crew. He also rowed at Cambridge, winning two Boat Races in 2018 and 2019 while pursuing a master’s degree. In the 2021 World Cup, he finished 23rd in the single sculls.
Sam Mattis, a 2016 Wharton graduate, was the only American to make the discus final this year in Tokyo. His throw of 63.88 meters landed him an eighth-place finish.
Mattis was the first Penn track and field athlete to compete at the games since 2004, when Michael Aguilar ran the 400m hurdles for Belize. He was also the first Penn track and field athlete to represent the United States at the Olympics since decathlete Fred Samara in 1976.
At Penn, Mattis was the NCAA National Champion in discus his junior year, and was a three-time recipient of first team All-Ivy honors. He still holds the school record for the discus throw.
Mattis turned down a job offer at JPMorgan Chase after graduation to dedicate himself fully to his discus career. To make ends meet, he has worked odd jobs, ranging from tutoring to marketing for a local pharmacist.
“I did all this to try to make an Olympic team, and I made one, so that’s great,” Mattis told CNBC. “But even if I didn’t make it, I think the journey and all the obstacles I had to go through along the way have been invaluable.”
And after achieving his goal, Mattis, an outspoken advocate for racial justice, used his platform to send a message to all watching him. When it was his turn to take the field for the discus final, he stared into the camera, took a bow, and raised his fist in the air. Also, on his arm he had drawn an “X” in a circle, a symbol that he explained was intended to represent injustice.
“During the Olympics, I marked my arm with an X in a circle,” Mattis wrote on Instagram. “The X represents the intersection of the injustices all oppressed people face. There is no one single problem that affects us all more than others, nor do the problems that face us exist in a vacuum. The X carries different meanings for different people, and allows us each to speak to our own experiences of injustice, or to stand in solidarity with those who have such stories.”
Another member of Penn’s class of 2016, and one of three Red and Blue fencers at the Games this year, Shaul Gordon competed for Canada in the men’s sabre individual tournament. The tournament was held in a single elimination format, and Gordon fell in the Round of 32 to Mojtaba Abedini of Iran, by a score of 15-10.
Gordon had previously represented Canada at the 2015 and 2019 Pan American Games, winning second in team sabre in both years and third in the individual sabre event in 2019. At the 2019 World Fencing Championships, Gordon’s eighth-place finish in individual sabre was the highest ever for a Canadian. At Penn, Gordon earned first team All-Ivy and All-America honors, and helped the Red and Blue to their first-ever No. 1 ranking in his senior season.
Blake Broszus, a member of Penn’s Class of 2024, arrived in Tokyo as an alternate for Team Canada’s foil group but wound up seeing time on the strip. In the men’s foil team tournament, Broszus and his teammates Alex Cai and Maximilien Van Haaster fell to Germany by a score of 45-31.
Broszus previously earned a bronze medal at the 2019 Pan American Championships in the junior men’s foil, and came 12th at the 2020 World Cup in the same event.
Rounding out the Red and Blue fencers at the Games, Katina Proestakis of Penn’s Class of 2025 represented Chile in the women’s individual foil event. In the Round of 64, Proestakis lost to Martyna Jelińska of Poland by a score of 15-12.
Proestakis has been competing internationally since 2017. At the most recent World Junior Championship held in Cairo in 2021, Proestakis finished ninth in the women’s individual foil event.
Keanan Dols, a rising senior at Penn, swam representing Jamaica in the 200m butterfly and the 200m individual medley. Dols finished 34th and 43rd in the qualifying rounds of each event, respectively, shy of the cutoff to advance to the semifinals.
Dols was selected for one of Jamaican's two Olympic universality spots after an impressive finish at the 2021 Pro Swim Series earlier this year in Mission Viejo, Calif. Dols' time of 2:02.15 in the 200m individual medley was not only better than the Olympic “B” qualifying standard, but it also set a new national record for Jamaica.
“I think it’s more excitement and anticipation than nerves because I’ve swam at two World Championships [and] at decently large meets, so I’ve swam against world-level competition before,” Dols told the DP before the Games. “But the Olympics is obviously the pinnacle of sports for something like swimming, but I mean there’s no expectations. It’s just go out there, compete, and enjoy the moment.”
Chieh-Yu Hsu, a member of Penn’s Class of 2014, represented Chinese Taipei in the women’s doubles tennis event. Hsu and her partner, Yu-Chieh Hsieh, fell to the pair from the Czech Republic in the first round.
Hsu only played for Penn for one season in 2010-11 before turning professional. Playing at the No. 1 seed that entire year, Hsu compiled a record of 44-3 in singles competition. In the spring season, she went on a 20-0 run, winning all in straight sets. Hsu was both the Ivy League Player of the Year and the Ivy League Rookie of the Year, and she also notched first team All-Ivy nods in both singles and doubles.
Since turning professional, Hsu has won six singles and 24 doubles titles on the International Tennis Federation’s Women's Circuit.
Jasmine Chen, a 2011 College graduate, represented Chinese Taipei's equestrian team in the jumping individual division. The first woman with a Penn affiliation to compete in Olympic equestrian, Chen finished short of the top-30 mark necessary to move onto the finals from the qualifying round.
Since equestrian is not a varsity sport at Penn, Chen trained at Kevin Babington's stables in Blue Bell, Pa. while she was a student.
The Tokyo 2020 Games marked the Olympic debuts for all nine Quakers. For the three that are still undergraduates at Penn, they’ll be able to bring their Olympic experience to the Tse Center and to Sheerr Pool.