Elena Delle Donne is about to join a select group of athletes who have represented their country and their state in the summer Olympic games. In the modern history of the Games only three athletes from Delaware have ever won a Gold medal, and it appears to be just a matter of time before Delle Donne has that precious metal medal draped around her neck as the United States flag is raised and our National Anthem is played.
Winning medals or trophies isn’t anything new to Delle Donne, of course. But then again, it’s not new to anyone in this day and age when kids are given medals or trophies just for showing up. And the importance of winning a trophy was shot down years ago by Dallas Cowboys running back Duane Thomas, who couldn’t understand the breathless way people talked about winning the Super Bowl. Before the Cowboys lost to the Baltimore Colts in Super Bowl V, Thomas was asked about playing in “the ultimate game.” Thomas, who hated talking to the media in the first place, quietly shot back “If this is the ultimate game, why are they playing it again next year?”
That might be true about most awards. But this one is different.
There is no greater prize in all of sports than an Olympic Gold medal. It’s more important than the heavyweight boxing championship belt or soccer’s World Cup or the Wimbledon or Masters trophies or even the “ultimate,” a Super Bowl ring. Olympic athletes compete for their countries as well as themselves, and most of them toil away in anonymity before they finally get to take the world stage every four years.
And, as previously stated, that includes just three Delawareans who have won Olympic Gold since the Games were resumed in 1894. Frank Shakespeare, who was part of the Navy crew team that won gold in the 1952 Olympics in Helsinki, Finland, was the first. Then Dionna Harris was part of the Gold medal winning softball team in 1996 in Atlanta, when she batted a team-high .409 The last to join this select group was Mike Neill, who was part of the U.S. baseball game that won Gold in Sydney, Australia, in 2000. Neill hit two home runs in the tournament, a lead-off homer against powerful Cuba and a walk-off homer against Japan that lifted the U.S. team into the second round.
Now, barring a miracle, Delle Donne will join them. The former Ursuline Academy and University of Delaware ace is part of the U.S. women’s basketball team that is winning games by record margins – their third team would probably win the Gold medal. In fact, they could probably put together a U.S. squad of Olympic rejects and win the Gold.
Two other Delawareans appeared to have a shot at a Gold medal, and certainly they can’t be faulted for the U.S.’s failure to win any medal in field hockey. Kate Falgowski of St. Mark’s High and Caitlyn Van Sickle of Tower Hill did a great job representing the First State, even though they failed to finish in first place after starting pool play at 4-0. Van Sickle scored what proved to be the winning goal in a 2-1 upset of Argentina in the opener, and then she had an assist on the winning goal in another upset, over Australia. Falgowski assisted on the first goal of a 3-0 victory over India, and after the U.S. lost to Great Britain 2-1, she had her team’s only goal as the U.S. was eliminated by Germany 2-1.
Now, they have to wait another four years for a shot at that elusive and ultimate prize, unless Elena Delle Donne lets them borrow hers every once in a while.