Gamecocks Compete at Rio Summer Olympics
Aug. 4, 2016
COLUMBIA, S.C. — Two members of the University of South Carolina swimming & diving program will compete on the world’s biggest stage as Akaram Mahmoud and Julia Vincent take part in the Games of the XXXI Olympiad, which will be held Aug. 5-21 in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Mahmoud will represent his native Egypt in swimming, while Vincent, from South Africa, will compete in diving.
Also, South Carolina head diving coach Todd Sherritt will serve as the head coach of South Africa diving team. This will be Sherritt’s fourth trip to the Summer Olympic Games.
The Summer Olympics begin Friday, Aug. 5, with the Opening Ceremonies, and Mahmoud will be in the pool the very next day as part of the 400m freestyle competition. His second and final event, the 1500m freestyle, begins with prelims on Friday, Aug. 12, the same day that Vincent will participate in the prelims of the 3-meter springboard dive.
GAMECOCK HISTORY AT THE SUMMER OLYMPICS
Counting Mahmoud and Vincent, the Gamecock swimming & diving program has sent 25 competitors to the Summer Olympics, beginning with Australian swimmer Alex Alexander, who swam in the 1964 Tokyo games. Vincent is the fourth diver, joining Puerto Rico’s Vivian Alberty (Atlanta 1996), USA’s Michelle Davison (Sydney 2000) and Great Britain’s Tracey Richardson (Athens 2004). Mahmoud is the 15th different Gamecock swimmer to make the Olympics, including three-time qualifiers Istvan Bathazi (Hungary) and Shelly Cramer (Virgin Islands) and two-time Olympians Isabelle Arnould (Belgium) and Zsolt Gaspar (Hungary).
Mahmoud and Vincent will be the first members of the Gamecock swimming & diving program to compete at the Olympics since Beijing 2008, when Sharntelle McLean swam for Trinidad & Tobago. They are each aiming to become the first Olympic medalist in the history of South Carolina aquatics.
In swimming, South Carolina’s best individual performances have come from Arnould, who finished sixth in the 400m freestyle in both 1988 and 1992, and she also made the finals of the 800m freestyle in both Seoul and Barcelona. Bathazi placed 10th in the 400m IM in 2000, and Gaspar finished 11th in the 100m butterfly that year. The Sydney games also marked the closest a Gamecock swimmer has come to medaling at the Olympics, with Gaspar swimming on the Hungarian team that came in fifth in the 4x100m medley relay.
South Carolina’s top diving performance came from Davison, who made the finals and placed 12th overall in the 3-meter in Sydney.
A rising junior from Cairo, Egypt, Mahmoud will swim the 400m freestyle on Saturday, Aug. 6, with prelims beginning at 12:48 pm ET and the top eight advancing to finals at 9:30 pm ET that evening. Mahmoud enters the event with a qualifying time of 3:48.06, 25th-best in the field.
His second and strongest event in Rio is the 1500m freestyle, which begins with prelims at 12:40 pm ET on Friday, Aug. 12. The top eight will race for a medal on Saturday, Aug. 13, with the race starting at 9:11 pm ET. Mahmoud’s qualifying time of 14:53.66 ranks eighth among the competitors in Rio.
Mahmoud earned both of his qualifying swims in May of 2015 at the Arena Pro Swim Series stop in Charlotte. Later that summer, he finished fourth in the 1500 at the FINA World Championships in Kazan, Russia, trailing only Gregorio Paltrinieri of Italy, Connor Jaegar from the United States, and Ryan Cochrane of Canada. All three of the medalists in Kazan will join Mahmoud in Rio.
Collegiately, Mahmoud posted one of the finest seasons in South Carolina history in 2016. He won the SEC Championship in the 1650-yard freestyle and later finished second in the event at the NCAA Championships. The five-time All-American holds the Gamecock program records in the 500-, 1000- and 1650-yard freestyle and the 800-yard freestyle relay.
“Going to the Olympics means the world to me,” Mahmoud said. “Every athlete dreams of making the Olympic Games and being an Olympian one day, and I’ve been dreaming about that for couple years. It’s a dream come true now! It’s a great honor to represent Egypt and the University of South Carolina.”
Vincent punched her ticket to Rio on April 12, when she won the 3-meter springboard 2016 South African National Championship, which also doubled as the nation’s Olympic Trials. That performance came on the heels of the FINA Diving World Cup on Feb. 22, where Vincent’s 3-meter score of 259.80 was high enough to earn a spot for South Africa on the Olympic docket.
“It’s exciting; it’s something I’ve been looking forward to for so long,” Vincent said. “With (Rio) right around the corner, it’s sort of surreal. I’m nervous, definitely, but excited — really just ready to compete.”
The rising junior finished 28th at the 2016 World Cup alongside the top divers in the world. Prelims for the 3-meter will be held on Friday, Aug. 12 beginning at 2:30 pm ET. The top 18 go on to semifinals, held Aug. 13 at 3 pm ET, and the finals will be held on Aug. 14 at 3 pm ET.
Vincent is a four-time South African national champion across three different disciplines, and she is already leaving her mark as one of the top Gamecock divers in school history. The Gauteng, South Africa, native earned All-America honors in the 1-meter springboard last season and holds program records in both springboard events.
Quoting Head Swimming Coach McGee Moody
“Initially, when Akaram got (to South Carolina), our goal for 2016 was just to try and get in the top eight (at the Olympics). Try to get a championship final swim, which would be a huge accomplishment that some people swim their whole career to try to achieve. I think that changed a little bit we he got fourth at the World Championships and second at NCAAs. It definitely changes our focus and how we’re approaching the Olympics this year. I think if Akaram swims the way he’s capable of racing, I think he can go 14:42, 14:43 — that’s going to push a top-three spot. Anything under 14:45 is going to compete for a medal. That’s definitely a higher level than anything we thought we’d be looking at for 2016.” – On his expectations for Akaram Mahmoud in Rio
“I think he’s in a very good place, and the input that I’m getting from Egypt head coach Sherif Habib is that he’s faster than he’s ever seen Akaram be. That’s good. Right now, we’re just standing back and riding the wave on into Rio.” – On his anticipation to see Akaram in action
Quoting Head Diving Coach Todd Sherritt
“I think the thing that is most special to me about the Olympics is the journey of the kid that got there. Being with Julia when she made the Olympic team, when she won the Trials, was a huge thing for me. To see a dream unfold right in front of you for somebody and to have a part in painting that picture is an honor. I consider it more of a high honor than anything to have this opportunity to be down there, and to have the ability to work with somebody as special as Julia.” – On the honor of serving as the head coach of Julia Vincent and the South African team
“I really think when Julia enters into that realm, I know that we’re going to see something special out of her. She’s due; that’s all I can say. She is absolutely due for her 3-meter performance to connect. And when it does, it’s going to be good. From what I’ve seen in the pool, if I took all of her dives, and I put them out there, I’d put her against the best in the world, any day.” – On his expectations for Julia at the Summer Olympics and how she stacks up against the best divers in the world
HOW TO WATCH
Fans should note that NBC’s television coverage of both swimming and diving, especially for preliminary rounds, is likely to show a selection of heats and competitors and may not include the Gamecocks in action. Fans are encouraged to watch live, unedited streams of both swimming and diving at NBCOlympics.com to guarantee that they will see Mahmoud and Vincent compete on the world’s biggest stage.
NBC is scheduled to televise live coverage of swimming prelims as part of its afternoon windows on Aug. 6 and 12, and the network will also televise the finals of both of Mahmoud’s races in primetime on Aug. 6 and 13. Tape-delayed coverage of the 3-meter dive is scheduled for the primetime windows on Aug. 12, 13 and 14.