Cavalier Corner

August 2021

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10 CAVALIER CORNER Melanie Valerio Thomas was the first U.S. female Olympic gold medalist from the University of Virginia. Her 4x100 freestyle relay in the 1996 Atlanta games brought home the gold, following an impres- sive UVA career during which she was a 1990-91 team captain on full scholarship, nine-time NCAA All-American, 1990 ACC Swimmer of the Year and team MVP. Thomas credits her success to the sacrifices made by her parents who supported her swim passions since she was 5 years old and instilled in her the meaning of hard work and humility. She was also mentored by UVA head coach Mark Bernardino, who she called the best coach she ever had. "He taught me how to compete and be tough on a much larger stage," she explained. "It was as though I made it up to the big leagues, and he taught me how to handle my newfound success." She participated in Olympic Trials in 1988, 1992, 1996 and 2000, and was a U.S. Swimming National Team member from 1993-2000. Thomas was the first female swimmer to represent Nike as a spokesperson and model, and was also involved in the creation, design and product testing of Nike's first-ever competitive swim- wear line. She personally designed training suits that featured the trademark "swoosh" on the center chest area of the suit, allowing for instant brand recognition. Additionally, as a Timex multi-sport team member, she was an IRONMAN top-20, age-group finisher numerous times and was the first-ever fitness director to represent Timex in fashion and athletic media forums. Thomas secured the first-ever tri-bike sponsorship by a rock band (Cheap Trick) and personally designed and created all graphics for the custom-made bike. Through all of Thomas' achievements, she feels that making the Olympics was the absolute best memory. "The experience of representing the United States in the Olympics means the world to me," she said. "It is the ultimate honor, especially these days, and I will always cherish the honor." BY JESS ARMISTEAD T he University of Virginia has been remark- ably well represented in the Olympic Games over the years. We are proud of the many Virginia student-athlete alumni who have contributed to the long history of Team USA Virginia graduates. This summer another generation of student-athletes became Olympians and traveled to Tokyo for the 2021 Games. Three members of UVA's 2020-21 women's swimming and diving team — Paige Madden, Alex Walsh and Kate Douglass — plus incoming first-year Emma Weyant all earned spots on Team USA, while current men's basketball player Francisco Caffaro earned a spot on the Argentinian national team. Additionally, Virginia men's and women's swimming and diving head coach Todd DeSorbo was named a 2021 U.S. Olympic Swimming assistant coach, giving him the opportunity to help coach his own cur- rent athletes. Several UVA student-athlete alumni were selected to represent the United States and other countries this summer including Meghan O'Leary '17 (USA/rowing), Kristine O'Brien '13 (USA/rowing), Chris- tine Roper '13 (Canada/rowing), Susanne Grainger '13 (Canada/rowing), Hannah Osborne '14 (New Zealand/rowing), Inge Janssen '10 (Netherlands/rowing), Dawn Staley '92 (USA/women's basketball head coach), Mike Tobey '16 (Slovenia/men's basketball), Becky Sauerbrunn '07 (USA/women's soc- cer), Emily Sonnett '16 (USA/women's soccer), Joe Bell '19 (New Zealand/men's soccer), Aisha Mo- hammed '09 (Nigeria/women's basketball) and Filip Mihaljevic '17 (Croatia/track and field). As we reflect on the experiences of past UVA Olympians, there are many noteworthy highlights that spark incredible memories. CONTINUED SUCCESS: OLYMPIANS Valerio Thomas was the first U.S. female Olympic gold medalist from the University of Virginia, when her 4x100 freestyle relay team won in 1996 at Atlanta. * Tokyo participants as of July 29, 2021. MELANIE VALERIO THOMAS | SWIMMING

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