The University of Virginia is well represented in the 2016 Rio Olympics, with athletes participating in field hockey (1), rowing (5), soccer (2), tennis (1), track and field (3), and swimming (2). Since the Opening Ceremony on Friday, Wahoo fans have been sitting anxiously in front of their TV screens, hoping to see one of their own win an Olympic medal.
Last night Cavalier-faithful went wild when swimmer Leah Smith, a rising-Fourth Year at UVA, earned a bronze medal in the 400-meter freestyle.
Watching Smith compete on the World’s largest stage was an honor in itself, but seeing her beaming white smile on the Olympic podium, standing slightly beneath fellow American and gold medalist, Katie Ledecky, brought a whole new meaning to UVA pride.
Smith explained that participating in the Olympics is different than any other competition she has ever taken part in. The skill level is among the best in the world and the global audience adds a whole new sense of pressure.
Smith qualified for Sunday night’s race in a preliminary round earlier that day. Admittedly she was nervous, but excited to participate in such a highly competitive event. Smith raced in lane 3, right next to USA teammate Katie Ledecky, who was in lane 4. While Ledecky got off to a great start and maintained her lead throughout, eventually breaking the World Record which she previously held, Smith got off to a slower start, but kept a steady pace, keeping up with Great Britain’s silver medalist, Jazmin Carlin for the entirety of the race.
Smith peeled away from the other competitors on her 300-meter turn, creating a comfortable distance between Canadian fifth place swimmer, Brittany MacLean.
Smith finished at an incredible time of 4:01.92. Her parents, three siblings, Virginia coach and two Virginia teammates were all watching from the stands.
Seeing Leah Smith compete as a fellow Cavalier was unbelievable, and watching her earn an Olympic medal brought about a whole new sense of American and Virginia pride.
Smith will forever be recognized as an amazing athlete for her country, but for the UVA community, she is the first Hoo to earn an Olympic medal in the 2016 Olympics and that is, for lack of better words, pretty darn cool.