LONDON, ENGLAND – As the 2012 Summer Olympics continue to draw widespread interest across the globe, prominent figures from Seton Hall’s proud athletics history remain on display, sharing the grandest stage in sport with the best athletes the planet has to offer.
Rimas Kaukenas, a former member of the Pirates’ men’s basketball program who helped lead SHU to a “Sweet 16” appearance in 2000, has helped his native Lithuania capture a berth in the medal round for the second time in his Olympic career.
Kaukenas and his compatriots advance to the elimination round after posting a 2-3 record during round-robin play in Group A.
After earning a split over their first two contests, a loss to Argentina followed by a win over Nigeria; Lithuania faced two tough tests against an emergent French squad and a deep United States team.
Against the French, a team featuring five players who played in the NBA in 2011-12, Kaukenas earned the start but was hampered by foul-trouble in a hard-fought 82-74 defeat. Lithuania bounced back against a USA team loaded with superstars, making international headlines despite a loss, pushing the Americans to the limit in a 99-94 affair. Kaukenas, who has carved out a lengthy career as one of the most respected guards in European basketball came off the bench to add two points in the valiant effort.
Earlier today, in a must-win matchup with Tunisia, Kaukenas returned to the Lithuania starting lineup. Facing adversity early in the game, the former Pirate great provided needed offensive spark, helping his team overcome an 11-point deficit after managing just seven points as a team in the first quarter. Kaukenas poured in 10 points on an impressive 4-for-5 shooting from the field including two conversions on three attempts from downtown. Behind a 26-9 effort in the final quarter, Lithuania sealed the win, and with it, clinched the final quarterfinal spot from Group A.
The team, seeking its fourth men’s basketball medal all-time and its first other than bronze, will return to action on Wednesday, August 8 against the top qualifier from Group B.
Currently, Russia sits atop Group B with nine points through five games but the group winner will not be decided until after the conclusion of a showdown between a pair of 3-1 medal contenders, Brazil and Spain, who will meet later today.
Elsewhere at the Summer Games, track & field competition kicked off on Friday, August 3. Always a marquee event at the Summer Olympics, the stadium has been packed over the first three full days of competition to watch the world’s best as they vie for gold.
A star-studded American squad has jumped out to an early lead in the track & field medal count under the direction of two-time Olympic gold medalist and former Seton Hall All-American Andrew Valmon, who is in London as the head coach of the men's team.
The United States has earned seven track & field medals so far, two more then their closest competitors, Kenya. Valmon’s men’s squad is responsible for four of the medal-winning performances thus far, highlighted by historic performances from Galen Rupp in the men’s 10,000 meters race and Justin Gatlin in the 100 meters sprint.
Rupp, a native of Oregon, utilized an impressive finish in his distance race to capture a silver medal, becoming the first American to medal in the event in 48 years. On the sprint side, former gold medalist Justin Gatlin posted the fastest time ever recorded by an American in the 100m race at the Olympic games, taking home bronze after crossing the line in 9.79 seconds.
The race was won by defending Olympic champion and world-record holder Usain Bolt of Jamaica. Bolt took gold in an Olympic record time of 9.63 seconds, the second fastest time in history, and was followed to the line by fellow Jamaican Yohan Blake.
Gatlin headed a strong United States contingent in the 100m final as teammates Tyson Gay and Ryan Bailey finished fourth and fifth respectively in what was the fastest race in Olympic history. First through seventh all were the best marks for place in Olympic history, and Gatlin, Gay and Bailey had the best third-, fourth, and fifth-place times in any competition.
The two other medals earned men’s team to this point came by way of Will Claye (long jump) and Reese Hoffa (shot put), who each took bronze.
Kelly Smith, representing hosts Great Britain in women’s soccer, saw her Olympics come to an end in the quarterfinal round.
One of the most dominant forces in collegiate soccer history, Smith was the NCAA statistical champion in goals and points per game in 1998 and 1999 and is the only player in SHU history to earn All-American honors.
A three-time recipient of the BIG EAST Offensive Player of the Year Award during her time in South Orange, Smith was at the forefront of a newly-formed unified British squad making its Olympic debut. The team ran through the preliminary stage without surrendering a goal, winning all three of its contests. Smith was in the starting lineup on all three occasions, including a matchup with established world power Brazil that decided the group winner.
Due to an injury sustained in the triumph over Brazil, Smith was unable to take the field in Team GB’s quarterfinal match with Canada, the seventh-ranked team in the world. The British fell behind early and ultimately fell to a surging Canadian squad by a final tally of 2-0.
Smith, a Watford, England native, has achieved iconic status through her goal-scoring exploits for her professional clubs and especially her country. Smith stands alone in English history, having scored 45 goals in 111 appearances for the national team.
Amid the disappointment, the SHU Athletics Hall of Famer did not lose sight of the potential impact of the team’s Olympic experience may have on women’s soccer across the pond.
“We've broken these records, inspired a lot of people, which is absolutely great and will hopefully take the game to another level,” Smith told local press after the match.
Track & field competition continues daily through the end of the Games on Sunday, August 12.
Be sure to keep an eye out for Rimas Kaukenas as he leads Lithuania into the men’s basketball elimination round on Wednesday, August 8 and check back soon on SHUPirates.com for another update on the Pirates in London.