ACC in Rio: We Knew Them When

ACC alums Rollins, Castlin make historic mark in Rio

Late Wednesday night, Clemson’s Philip Sikes posted a Facebook status and photo that aptly summed things up.

“Not every day you can say you've publicized an Olympic gold medalist,” wrote Sikes, the Tigers’ longtime Associate Communications Director who serves as publicist for track and field. The post included a photo of Sikes with former Clemson All-American Brianna Rollins, who had just added to her growing legacy by leading Team USA’s sweep of the women’s 100-meter hurdles in Rio.

“Congratulations Bri, knew you were special years ago!” Sikes added.

All who follow Atlantic Coast Conference track and field are echoing that sentiment, particularly since Rollins isn’t the only league alumnus basking in Wednesday night’s spotlight. Kristi Castlin, a seven-time Virginia Tech All-American, took the bronze medal with a terrific run of her own and a heads-up lean across the finish line to secure the third spot.

It added up to a 1-2-3 finish for the United States, with Rollins leading at 12.48 seconds, Nia Ali taking the silver medal at 12.59 and Castlin placing third at 12.61.

“I feel great,” Rollins told reporters in Rio afterward. “I’m relieved that I was able to come out here and do the best that I could to achieve a gold medal. I was able to just execute and relax and do the best that I could and I’m so grateful. I knew that I got the gold. I just wanted to make sure that my teammates medaled as well so once I saw that on the board it just gave me an excitement that I wanted to have today.

It marks the first time in Olympics history that one nation has swept the medals in a women’s track event, and Rollins’ gold medal was the first by a USA track women’s athlete in this year’s summer games. 

“It’s like a sisterhood,” Rollins said of Team USA winning’s trio. “I’ve known these girls for quite a few years. Kristi and I, we train together. This evening we came and we prayed together and we just asked God to give us the peace of mind and the confidence that we need to get us through these round and come out here and fulfill our dreams, and we were able to do that. I’m so grateful and blessed that we were able to accomplish this together.”

While a strong Olympics showing by the United States women’s hurdlers was generally expected, Rollins, Castlin and Ali surpassed even the highest expectations.

“I didn’t feel any pressure at all,” Rollins said. “I knew that we were capable of achieving this dream.”

Rollins’ accomplishment was a definite dream fulfilled, even for one who owns a World Championship, three NCAA titles (including both indoor and outdoor collegiate records) and a Bowerman Trophy. Castlin, while adding to an impressive resume that includes gold in the 2012 USA Championship indoor 60-meters hurdles, became the first Hokie to claim an Olympic medal since former men’s basketball standout Bimbo Coles in 1988.

“I was happy to come out with a medal and be part of U.S. history,” Castlin said. “I typically race in about seventh place until the last three hurdles. I’m a closer, I’m a finisher. It’s always good. I would be so surprised when I actually get a good start one day and see how good I can be.”

In the immediate aftermath of the race, Castlin and her teammates awaited confirmation from the leaderboard that she had indeed earned the bronze medal. Once her third-place finish became official, the celebration began.

“I really couldn’t breathe for one second,” Castlin said. “My thing wasn’t so much a bronze for myself but upholding the team. We came into this together. Track and field, a lot of times athletes go into it as individuals. But we had a different perspective. We came into it as a team, for girl power, for USA. We were able to do the first sweep in U.S. women’s history. 

“It feels good to be a history-maker.”