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Recounting UNC’s gold medal history

North Carolina athletes have won their fair share of Olympic gold medals over the years.

Olympics Day 13 - Women's Football Final - Match 26 - USA v Japan Photo by Michael Regan/Getty Images

North Carolina has had plenty of sporting success over the years. In addition to the many teams that have won national championships over the years, UNC has sent dozens of athletes to the Olympics. Several of them have came away with gold medals.

Tar Heels swimming is responsible for one gold medal. Thompson Mann swam the backstroke leg for the USA’s winning 4X100 medley relay team in 1964.

Gold medal-winning Tar Heel track and field alumni have had an interesting time over the years. Hurdler Allen Johnson was the first UNC alumnus to win gold, taking the 110 meter hurdles in Atlanta in 1996. After that, things got a bit strange, especially for one former Tar Heel.

The 2000 Olympics was a good one for UNC as two former Tar Heels, LaTasha Colander and Monique Hennagan, were both on 4X400 relay. Marion Jones also won that medal, along with the 100 meters gold, but she no longer has either medal. You may have heard something about that. The 4X400 team was originally stripped of that medal due to Jones, however, the rest of the team got their medals reinstated in 2010.

Four years later, Hennagan was also part of a gold-winning 4X400 winning team. Fellow Tar Heel Crystal Cox competed in the preliminary round for that team. Cox later admitted to steroid use during this period, and was stripped of her medal. However, Hennagan and the rest of the team were allowed to keep their medals.

Unsurprisingly, men’s basketball is responsible for a lot of UNC’s gold medals. A former Tar Heel appeared on every gold medal-winning USA team from 1964 through 2000. The 1976 team featured four UNC players: Walter Davis, Phil Ford, Mitch Kupchak, and Tommy LaGarde. Considering that Dean Smith was the head coach of that team, that fact shouldn’t come as a shock. Women’s basketball on the other hand, has had no players win gold. However, Sylvia Hatchell was an assistant coach for the 1988 team.

However, it should come as no shock that a majority of UNC’s gold medals come from women’s soccer. The US Women’s National team has won four of the five women’s soccer gold medals that have been awarded, and UNC has had players on all those teams.

The 1996 team featured seven former Tar Heels. In 2004, there were six. The 2008 team had four, and the 2012 team had two. In all UNC women’s soccer players are responsible for 25 gold medals, including alternates and coaches. Heather O’Reilly was on three of the medal winning teams: 2004, 2008, and 2012. Kristine Lilly, Mia Hamm, Cindy Parlow, Lindsay Tarpley, and Tobin Heath were all a part of two gold medal teams.

In all, Tar Heel athletes have won 35 gold medals. In 2016, 17 former UNC athletes have a chance to add to that total.

A full list of Tar Heel Olympians is available here.