With the Olympics starting in a few weeks, I thought it would be fun to take a look back at some of the greatest Ohio State athletes who also went for the gold for the USA. I’ll obviously address Jesse Owens (and him being the GOAT of track & field for so many reasons), but I’ll also jog your memory about a few Buckeye athletes who were — and some still are — some of the best in their fields and cannot be forgotten about. Let’s get into it!
I’m going to start off with a bang— you know who I’m talking about. Ding ding ding! Jesse Owens.
The only two acceptable reasons for not knowing who Jesse Owens is as an OSU fan is that you have been living under a rock your entire life, or you just came out of the womb. Owens is not only one of the greatest track stars in Ohio State history, he is one of the greatest athletes in school history PERIOD. Honestly, Owens is a name that will always be remembered in sports history. Additionally, all of the racism he endured to get to the top cannot be forgotten.
Owens’ storied career began at East Tech High School in Cleveland, where he set world records in the 220-yard dash and the broad jump, and tied a world record in the 100-yard dash.
According to Ohio State, “Owens rose to international prominence his sophomore season. He recorded world indoor records in both the 60-meter dash and 60-yard dash and compiled 45 first-place, five second-place and four third-place finishes that season.”
Also, at the Big Ten Championship that season, he set three world records in under 45 minutes! Not bad for a sophomore.
In 1936, Jesse Owens won all three of his events at the Olympic trials. He went on to win four gold medals in the Games, setting three new world records and tying a world record for a fourth event.
These statistics do not provide any context to what he had to endure. He had to go through the horrible effects of racism, and was not welcomed back to the U.S. with open arms, even with four gold medals around his neck.
Owens only ran at Ohio State for two seasons, as he became academically ineligible to compete following the Olympics. However, this was all the time he needed to etch his name into the history books forever in Columbus — literally and figuratively, as Jesse Owens Memorial Stadium is the home of the lacrosse, soccer, and track & field teams.
Jesse Owens = G.O.A.T.
Next is another name you might have heard of: Kyle Snyder!
He graduated from Ohio State in 2018, and has qualified again for the Olympics this year. His stats during his time at OSU are a mile long, but to highlight a few: Olympic gold medalist (97kg) at the 2016 Olympics, youngest Olympic and World champion in United States wrestling history, two-time Sr. World Team member, NCAA Champion (285 lbs. 2016, 2017, 2018), Big Ten Champion (285 lbs. 2016, 2017, 2018), Ohio State Male Athlete of the Year (2016, 2017), and U.S. Olympic Male Athlete of the Year (2017.
Whew! My fingers got tired just typing all of that! I am leaving out a ton of honors that he received, but I’ll sum it up for you: he’s REALLY good at wrestling.
Snyder pretty much became one of the greatest wrestlers of all time when he began his freshman year of HIGH SCHOOL. He went 179-0 his first three years, and was the overall No. 1 recruit. He went on to win all sorts of tournaments and defeated the supposed bests-of-the-best. While a collegiate athlete, he became the first active Buckeye student-athlete to win gold since Jerry Lucas in 1960. He also is the second Buckeye wrestler in history to medal at the Olympics and first in 92 years.
While he did graduate three years ago, his time wrestling is not done! He qualified for the Games this year, and I can’t wait to watch him compete (and most likely dominate).
Jerry Lucas was vital to the success of the Ohio State men’s basketball program during the early 1960s. He helped lead the team to their sole National Championship in 1960, and during that season he averaged 26.3 points per game and 16.4 rebounds per game — averaging a double-double during his first varsity season! At the same time, he helped lead the U.S. Olympic team to a gold medal. Imagine winning a Natty and a gold medal in the same season!
During his three seasons at OSU he averaged 24.3 points and 17.2 rebounds per game. The team went 78-6 during his tenure, and 40-2 in Big Ten play. Lucas actually became the first basketball player to win a championship at every major level of play: high school, collegiate, Olympic, and professional after he won with the New York Knicks.
Lucas was a highly touted prospect coming out of high school, and didn’t lose a game until the final game of his high school career. He was a three time All-American at Ohio State and received the National Player of the Year Award his junior and senior seasons. Lucas was drafted by the Cincinnati Royals (now the Sacramento Kings) and was named Rookie of the Year. He was an All-Star in each of his six seasons with the team, before being traded to Warriors and Knicks. He retired from pro basketball in 1974, and was inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in 1980.
Last but certainly not least is Katie Smith. She is no doubt one of the greatest female athletes to ever come out of Ohio State, and has numerous awards and accolades to support this.
In high school, she was the Gatorade National Player of the Year. Her freshman year at OSU in 1992, she helped lead the Buckeyes to the National Championship game, and was named Big Ten Freshman of the Year and Sports Illustrated National Freshman of the Year. During her four years, she averaged 20.8 PPG and 5.7 RPG. By the end of her Buckeye career in 1996, Smith was the leading scorer in Big Ten women’s basketball history. In 2001, Ohio State honored her as the first female Buckeye athlete to have her jersey number retired.
Smith went on to play in the American Basketball League for three years, until she joined the Minnesota Lynx in the WNBA in 1999. In 2006, she became the only player to win championships with both the ABL and WNBA. She would eventually win WNBA championships in 2006 and 2008 during her 15 year career, and was a seven-time All-Star. Internationally, she helped the United States earn gold medals in the 2000, 2004, and 2008 Olympics. She also led her team to gold at the 1998 and 2002 World Championships. Smith was inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in 2018.
Now, she is the lead assistant coach for the Lynx and loves to give back to the Ohio State community however she can!