Imagine centering your entire life around one goal—representing the United States at the Olympics—and dedicating four years of tireless work through good days and bad to achieve it, only to have success ripped away in the last moment. And then, somehow, getting right back up and starting the process all over again.
That’s the story of former Col. Zadok Magruder High School wrestler Helen Maroulis, who is participating in the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro next month four years after a disheartening defeat to Kelsey Campbell in the 2012 U.S. Olympic Team Trials final.
Maroulis, who has been open in recent media interviews about her struggle to fully let go of the anger and forgive herself for the 2012 setback, has risen to female wrestling world dominance and, as a first-time Olympian, could be a gold medal favorite in the Rio games, from Aug. 5 to 21.
Maroulis joins two other Montgomery County natives who will be representing Team USA in Brazil along with their more famous teammate, Bethesda’s Katie Ledecky, who shot to stardom after winning a gold medal at the London games in 2012. Here’s what you need to know about these three first-time Olympians:
Helen Maroulis, women’s freestyle wrestling
Helen Maroulis after winning at last year’s World Championships, via Twitter
- Age 24; 5 feet 3 inches tall; started wrestling at age 7.
- 2015 World Champion (three-time world medalist, overall); six-time U.S. Open champion
- Hasn’t lost an international match in over a year; enters Rio on a 57-match win streak.
- Most of her dominance has come in the 55-kilogram weight class. But to accommodate the addition of two weight divisions for this Olympics, United World Wrestling eliminated her class, forcing her to drop to the 53-kilogram division and adjust to her new frame.
- Won all five of her Olympic Trials matches, outscoring her opponents, 55-2.
- Her toughest opponent in Rio will likely be Japan’s Saori Yoshida, who has won three Olympic gold medals and 16 world-level championships.
Ashley Nee, women’s single slalom kayak
Ashley Nee, via Aaron Mann and USA Canoe/Kayak
- Age 27; 5 feet 4 inches tall; 2007 Northwest High School graduate; Bethesda resident
- Started kayaking at age 10 while attending Valley Mill Camp in Germantown.
- 2016 Olympic Trials champion
- Quit the sport in 2008 after failing to make the national team. In 2007, Nee qualified the U.S. boat for the 2008 Beijing Olympics, but dislocated her shoulder during a test event for the course in China and finished fifth at Olympic Trials.
- Won 2012 Olympic Trials, but was beaten by Darnestown native and Bullis School graduate Caroline Queen, who earned the U.S. its boat, in the selection process by a technical tiebreaker.
Jack Conger, swimming
Jack Conger swimming for the University of Texas, via Melissa Lundie Photography
- 6 feet 4 inches tall; 2013 Our Lady of Good Counsel graduate; Rising University of Texas senior.
- Former backstroke specialist has in recent years reached the upper echelon of the sport in butterfly and freestyle.
- Touted as one of American swimming’s brightest young stars, he earned three top four finishes at U.S. Olympic Trials: 200-meter freestyle (3rd), 200-meter butterfly (3rd) and 100-meter butterfly (4th).
- Member of 200-meter freestyle relay in Rio
- Holds the American record in the 200-yard butterfly.
- Finished second to Michael Phelps in the 100- and 200-meter butterfly at 2015 U.S. Nationals.
- Earned fifth place in the 200-meter backstroke and eighth in the 100 backstroke at the 2008 Olympic Trials.