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slides: Massachusetts Natives Go for Olympic Gold

Thursday, July 26, 2012


In the 2012 Olympic games there are 14 athletes that call Massachusetts home. The Bay State has sent residents to compete in rowing, track and field, gymnastics, sailing, cycling, wrestling, and equestrian events. Click through to learn more about these top notch athletes and find out if a potential gold medalist hails from your hometown. 

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Elena Pirozhkova


Elena Pirozhkova’s path toward representing the United States in the 63kg (138.5 lb) Wrestling Weight Class is a long one. She was born in the small Russian town of Novokuznetsk to a family of nine children. When she was three years old her father, Sergey, moved the family to avoid religious persecution. They traveled around Europe for months before they were sponsored by a church in Greenfield and could move to the US.

At Greenfield High School her brother Viktor convinced her to join the wrestling team because it needed another person. Initially Pirozhkova hated wrestling and was on the verge of quitting. But when brother Viktor began to nag and tease her, Pirozhkova pushed herself and began to excel at the sport.

And excel she did. Pirozhkova won the gold medal for her weight class in the 2008, 2009, and 2010 Pan American games. For the past four years she has also represented the United States at the World Championship games, finishing in the top eight each time. In 2010 she brought home the silver medal.

Pirozhkova credits her mental toughness and dedication to her father. Sadly he passed away in 2011 and will not see his daughter compete in London.


Photo courtesy of United States Olympic Committee

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Karen O'Connor


Growing up in Bolton Karen O’Connor did not come from a horse family. But when she saw Princess Anne on television competing in a three-day event O’Connor was hooked. At age 11 she got her first horse, Midnight, and hasn’t looked back. The London games will mark O’Connor’s fifth, and potentially last, Olympics.

O’Connor first competed in 1988 Seoul Olympics. In 1996 she took team silver followed by a team bronze in 2000. While she competed in the 2008 Beijing games, they were marred by tragedy. Less than two weeks before the games her star pony, Teddy, was injured and had to be put down.

This year O’Connor is returning aboard her new mount, Mr. Mendicott. Mr. M, as O’Connor calls him, is a veteran like his rider, having represented Germany in Olympic and World Equestrian Games. The two will compete in Team Eventing and Individual Eventing, competitions in which horse and rider jump through a grueling course of natural obstacles.

At age 54, O’Connor is the oldest member of the US Olympic delegation. Her international riding career began when she was just 21. She is married to fellow Olympian David O’Connor, who will take over as coach of the US team next year.

In addition to her Olympic medals, O’Connor holds two gold medals and one silver medal from the Pan American Games. 

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Shalane Flanagan

Track and Field

The London games mark Shalane Flanagan’s third consecutive Olympic appearance. The 2008 bronze medalist in the 10,000m will compete in the Women’s Marathon. She holds American records in the 3,000m, 5,000m and 10,000m.

A University of North Carolina graduate and 10 time NCAA All American, Flanagan has running in her blood. Her mother, Cheryl Treworgy, is a former word record holder in the women’s marathon and her father, Steve Flanagan, is a US World Cross Country Champion participant and marathoner. This pedigree undoubtedly helped the Olympian win her 2008 bronze medal even though she was suffering from food poisoning in the days leading up to the race. With her third place finish Flanagan became only the second American woman to medal in the 10,000m.

Flanagan grew up in Marblehead where she was three-time All-State cross country competitor, winning first-place All-State in the mile, and set a record that still stands for the two-mile. While she excelled at cross-country, Flanagan also participated in swimming, soccer, and even painting. 

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Sean Furey

Track and Field

First time Olympian Sean Furey will represent the United States in the Men’s Javelin Throw. Although he is an Olympic rookie that eeked into the games with a fourth place finish at trials, Furey has an impressive record. The 2005 Dartmouth College graduate established a school record in the javelin of 242-03 while earning a 3.80 GPA as an engineering major. In 2005 he was named the US Track & Field and Cross Country Coaches Association Men’s Scholar Athlete of the Year.

Furey grew up in Methuen where he earned a Merrimack Valley Conference title with an undefeated 8-0 record. He is also a two time Merrimack Valley Conference and All-State Champion.


Photo courtesy of United States Track and Field, Inc. 

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Stuart McNay, Sailing


Stuart McNay began sailing at age 9 and started racing two years later at the Beverly Yacht Club. Now 31, he pilots the 470, a 15.12ft sailboat that’s been Olympic class since 1976. In 2005 he teamed up with crewmember Graham Biehl with the goal of winning an Olympic Medal for the United States. In 2008 they got a shot at their dream, competing in the Men’s 470 at the Beijing games. They finished 13th but this year they are back for another try after becoming the 2011 North American Champions.

McNay grew up in Newton, attending Roxbury Latin High School where he was captain of the wresting team. He went on to attend Yale University where he earned a degree in architecture while also being named an All-American in 2003 and 2005. Currently he serves as an Assistant Coach for the Bulldogs sailing team.


Photo courtesy of the United States Sailing Association

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Aly Raisman


Aly Raisman began gymnastics lessons at age 2. Now at age 18 she is the oldest member of the United States Gymnastics Team. Raisman will compete in her first Olympics after finishing third all around at trials and first on the balance beam and floor.

Throughout her career Raisman has been known for her reliability. In her first senior year she avoided major mistakes in her international debut and has consistently finished on the podium. At the 2011 World Team Championship in Tokyo Raisman rallied the squad after leader Alicia Sacramone was injured, motivating her team to a gold medal. That year Raisman also was the CoverGirl Classic Champion.

Like Sacramone, a member of the women’s gymnastic team at the 2008 Beijing games, Raisman is strong on the beam, vault, and floor but struggles on the uneven parallel bars.

Raisman lives with her family in Needham.


Photo courtesy of United States Olympic Committee

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Evelyn Stevens


Evelyn Stevens' improbable journey to the Olympics began on Wall Street, where she worked as an associate for the infamous and now defunct Lehman Brothers. Exhausted from work, Stevens was visiting her sister in California when she decided to enter a bike race on a whim. Five years later she is set to compete in the Women’s Individual Time Trial and the Women’s Road Race for the US cycling team.

After her initial foray into cycling, Stevens trained in Manhattan for Vermont’s Green Mountain Stage Race. She won that race in the amateur field and went on to be back-to-back national time trial champion and has a reputation as one of the most promising female riders in decades.

A key component of her success is the amount of power she is capable of generating. After minimal training she was generating 90 more watts of power than most endurance athletes of her size. But despite this natural ability, Stevens has struggled with her bike handling skills, which has caused her to be somewhat inconsistent.

Stevens’s hometown is Acton, MA.

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Shelley Olds


Before setting her sights on an Olympic medal, Shelley Olds had to choose a sport to pursue. She was a talented runner and soccer player, serving as captain of Roanoke College’s women’s soccer team for two consecutive years. In 2005 she was introduced to cycling while riding on a tandem mountain bike. Two years later she kicked off her career as a professional cyclist.

In pursuit of a spot in the Olympics, Olds trained her eyes on the points race, a form of track cycling. But before the 2008 Beijing Games the International Olympic Committee removed the event, forcing Olds to change gears. In 2010 she transitioned from track racing to road racing, becoming a two time USA Cycling Elite Criterium national champion. She also won the 2010 Pan American Champions and the 2011 Grand Prix.

The Groton native will attempt to go for gold in the Women’s Road Race. 


Photo courtesy of USA Cycling

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Wes Piermarini


From a young age Wes Piermarini aspired to compete in the Olympics. In 2008 he achieved his goal—just not for the sport he imagined. Growing up in West Brookfield Piermarini initially pursued downhill skiing, but in his freshman year at University of Massachusetts Amherst he took up rowing.

While rowing for UMass Piermarini won three gold medals and one silver medal at the New England Rowing Championships. But after enrolling in the university’s Architecture + Design masters program for architecture, Piermarini gave up the sport.

Once a former coach talked him out of retirement in the fall of 2007, he came back faster than ever and went on to compete in the men’s double scull at the 2008 Olympics, finishing 13th with his partner Elliot Hovey (another Massachusetts native). In the London Games Piermarini and Hovey will team up again, this time in the Men’s Quadruple Sculls. 

While competing in Beijing, Piermarini researched and reported on the city’s architecture. He completed his masters in 2011 and works at M.W. Steele Group, an architecture firm in San Diego. He credits his success to his balance of working and training. 


Photo courtesy of US Rowing

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Elliot Hovey


It’s safe to say that Boston born Olympian Elliot Hovey is a natural born athlete. At age 3 he took up downhill skiing and by age 8 he was racing down the slopes. As a high school student at the Salisbury School in Connecticut he played football in the fall and ice hockey in the winter. During his freshman spring he decided to began rowing, a move that would take him the Olympics.

Hovey made his national debut with the US Olympic team and his international debut at the 2008 Beijing games, where he finished 13th in the men’s double sculls with partner Wes Piermarini. In the London games Hovey will compete in the Men’s Quadruple Sculls.

Hovey attended the University of California, Berkeley where he and his teammates won the PAC-10 Championships and the IRA Championships in 2006. He has a degree in American Studies and is an elementary school substitute teacher in Chula Vista, California.


Photo courtesy of the United States Olympic Committee

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Gevvie Stone


In most cases one wouldn’t call a trip to the Olympics fated, but for Gevvie Stone it seems fitting. Both of Stone’s parents, Gregg and Lisa, were elite rowers on US National and Olympic teams. 

Stone's rowing career begain in 2001 at the Winsor School in Boston. This year in London she will compete in the Women’s Single Sculls after finishing third at the Final Olympic Qualification Regatta. In this event she’s a three-time winner at the Head of the Charles Regatta and came in second another time.

In addition to rowing Stone is attending medical school at Tufts University with graduation anticipated in 2014. She also works as a research assistant at Massachusetts General Hospital’s Department of Biomedical Engineering.

Perhaps the key to Stone’s success is that she eats ice cream the night before every race.


Photo courtesy of US Rowing

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Will Newell


Just six years after beginning his rowing career and just a year out of college, Weston native Will Newell is making his Olympic debut representing the United States in the Men’s Lightweight Four. Newell punched his ticket to London with a first place finish at the 2012 Final Olympic Qualification Regatta. Along with his teammates, he hopes to end the United State’s drought in the event, where the nation has only won a single bronze medal since it was added in 1996. 

Newell began rowing his junior year of high school at the Wayland-Weston Rowing Club. He continued his rowing career at Harvard University, where senior year he was the lightweight captain, guiding the team to a 27-1 record.  He first made the US National Team in 2010 and a year later won the lightweight eight at the prestigious Head of the Charles Regatta.


Photo courtesy of US Rowing

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Kristin Hedstrom


When Kristin Hedstrom takes to the water to compete in the Lightweight Double Sculls she’ll be rowing with a cause. The first time Olympian is part of a program called In the Arena, which seeks to provide role models to youths by pairing them with elite athletes. Hedstrom became involved with the program after working with a third grade class in Madison, Wisconsin where she attended college at the University of Wisconsin.

Hedstrom began her rowing career on the Charles River where ironically, Hedstrom’s debut in lightweight double sculls ended with a last place finish. A graduate of Concord-Carlisle High School, Hedstrom has been a member of the US National Team since 2007. In 2010 she earned silver at the World Rowing Championships and in 2011 she won the Overall World Rowing Cup title. Hedstrom secured her Olympic ticket with a fourth place finish at the 2011 World Rowing Championships. 


Photo courtesy of US Rowing

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Will Miller


Forty years after his father competed in the 1972 Olympics, Will Miller is set to make his Olympic debut. A five-year member of the US National Rowing Team, Miller will compete in the Men’s Eight, an event for boats with eight rowers and a coxswain who steers. His team earned their spot in the Olympics in dramatic fashion, winning their final qualifying race by more than four seconds.

As a student at Duxbury High School Miller played lacrosse and did not become seriously involved in rowing until his late teens. His talent was noticed early on at the Duxbury Bay Maritime School.

Throughout his life Miller has followed in his father Bill’s footsteps. Both men attended Northeastern University, where Miller earned a degree in civil engineering, and both are winners of England’s Henley Royal Regatta, with Miller taking the prestigious prize thirty-five years after his father.


Photo courtesy of United States Olympic Committee


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