UNIVERSITY PARK - A school-record 19 Penn Staters - including Everett Area High School product Natalie Dell - are gearing up to represent their school and countries in London at the 2012 Olympic Games, whose opening ceremonies take place on Friday.
The contingent consists of competitors from seven sports, including both male and female competitors in fencing, track and field and volleyball. Dell will make history for the school as the first Nittany Lion to compete in Olympic rowing.
Four competitors are current student-athletes at Penn State, while an additional 14 alumni and one Nittany Lion coach will also compete. Eight individuals will represent seven countries other than the U.S., including Canada, Great Britain, Israel, Jamaica, Mexico, Puerto Rico, and Suriname.
Penn State will be well represented in track and field with five athletes. Dominique Blake, a 2008 graduate, earned a spot in the Jamaican relay pool on the heels of a sixth-place finish in the women's 400 final. Shana Cox, another 2008 graduate, will represent Great Britain in the 400-meter event. Kirsten Nieuwendam who owns sophomore eligibility indoors and freshman eligibility outdoors at Penn State, is set to compete in the 200 meters for her home country of Suriname.
Bridget Franek, a 2010 graduate, and Ryan Whiting, a volunteer head coach for the Nittany Lions, will compete for the United States. Franek qualified for her first career Olympic berth, placing second in the 3,000-meter steeplechase at the U.S. Olympic Trials, thanks to a finishing time of 9:35.62. Franek clinched a spot on her third U.S. squad, having traveled to the IAAF World Championships in 2009, and 2011. Whiting - the defending World Indoor Champion in the shot put - also earned his first Olympic spot, via a second-place finish in his signature event; he recorded a toss of 71-0.75 (21.66) to finish second to only Reese Hoffa's 72-2.25 (22.00).
Four women's volleyball players will be a part of the U.S. squad, including two 2009 graduates, Nicole Fawcett and Christa Harmotto, and 2010 graduates Alisha Glass and Megan Hodge. The four Nittany Lions were all a part of Penn State's historic run to four straight NCAA titles between 2007-10.
Two-time AVCA All-American Matt Anderson will help lead the U.S. men's volleyball team.
A trio of fencers also compete at the London Games with Miles Chamley-Watson and Doris Willette representing the U.S. and Daniel Gomez-Tanamachi donning Mexico's colors.
Soccer alumnae Erin McLeod and Carmelina Moscato, both 2006 graduates, will take to the pitch for Canada this summer. McLeod is making her second appearance after competing at the Beijing Games.
A pair of Nittany Lions will also be active in men's gymnastics. Alumnus Tommy Ramos and junior Felix Aronovich will represent Puerto Rico and Israel, respectively. The duo gives Penn State two Olympic gymnasts at the same Games for the first time since 1992 when Terry Bartlett and Ian Shelley represented Great Britain in Barcelona.
Dell, a 2007 graduate, is a third-year member of the U.S. Rowing team after competing for the club-level Penn State squad, where she went undefeated in 2006. She offers strong international experience, winning bronze in the quadruple sculls at the 2012 Samsung World Rowing Cup II and silver in the same event at the 2011 World Rowing Championships.
Cyclist Bobby Lea, a 2006 graduate, will travel to his second Olympics this summer after competing in Beijing in 2008. The endurance cyclist will look to improve upon his 16th-place showing in the Madison event in 2008, this time competing in the Omnium.
Not including the 1980 Olympics in Moscow, where 65 countries did not participate, Penn State has sent athletes to each Olympic Games since 1948, a streak of 15-consecutive Games. Nittany Lion athletes also competed at the 1908 and 1948 Games in London.
In all, Penn State competitors have won 23 medals, including five golds from 78 Olympians.