As the eyes of the world focus on Toyko for the next two weeks during the Summer Olympics, local sports fans find themselves paying close attention to the athletes with South Dakota connections who are representing Team USA in Japan.

There is a trio of notable athletes that stand out this year:

  • Swimmer Micheal Andrew lived in Aberdeen from 1997 to 2011 and began swimming lessons in the Hub City at age seven.
  • Pole vaulter Chris Nilson is a recent graduate of the University of South Dakota.
  • Taekwondo athlete Paige McPherson is competing in her second Olympics. She lives in Sturgis.

And while those South Dakota transplants look to bring home their own hardware from Tokyo, athletes who were born in the Mount Rushmore State have a long history of success at the Summer Olympic Games, dating back more than 100 years, according to

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To find the first South Dakota-born Olympic medalist, you have to go back to the London games of 1908, where Clare Jacobs from Madison brought home a bronze medal in the pole vault.

It would be another dozen years before a South Dakota-born athlete would medal on the world's biggest stage, but it was worth the wait as the state saw two of its' very own win gold medals at the 1920 games in Antwerp, Belgium, when Flandreau's Ivan Dresser topped the podium in track and field's 3,000-meter team race and Faulkton's John O'Neil was part of the gold medal-winning Team USA rugby squad.

O'Neil followed that up with a second rugby gold medal playing for Team USA at the 1924 games in Paris.

It would be another 68 years before another South Dakota-born athlete would capture double gold. Yankton's Crissy Ahmann-Leighton pulled off the feat in a single Olympics, as she was a member of the gold medal-winning 4x100 Meter Medley Relay and 4x100 Meter Freestyle Relay teams in the pool in Barcelona, Spain in 1992. She also added a silver medal that year in the 100-meter butterfly, making her the most decorated South Dakota-born athlete in Olympic history.

With the Olympics back in Tokyo for the first time since 1964, South Dakota sports fans can't help but think back to one of the most famous Olympic moments involving a native son, when Billy Mills from Pine Ridge came out of nowhere to win gold in the 10,000 meters on the track in Japan 57 years ago.

There's one other note of significance from South Dakota's gold medal winners over the years.

Did you know an athlete born in the Mount Rushmore State once ruled as the 'World's Greatest Athlete'? That's the unofficial title given to the winner of track and field's ten-event decathlon, which was won by Marion Junction's Jim Bausch at the 1932 games in Los Angeles.

In all, South Dakota-born athletes have won a total of 18 Olympic medals - nine gold, three silver, and six bronze medals:


  • 1920: Ivan Dresser (Flandreau): Track & Field/3,000 Meter Team Race
  • 1920 & 1924:John O'Neil (Faulkton): Rugby
  • 1932: Jim Bausch (Marion Junction): Track & Field/Decathlon
  • 1948: Wilbur Thompson (Frankfort): Track & Field/Shot Put
  • 1964: Billy Mills (Pine Ridge): Track & Field/10,000 Meters
  • 1984: Randy Lewis (Milbank): Wrestling
  • 1992: Crissy Ahmann-Leighton (Yankton): Swimming/4x100 Meter Medley Relay & 4x100 Meter Freestyle Relay


  • 1924: Glenn Hartranft (Aberdeen): Track & Field/Shot Put
  • 1992: Dennis Koslowski (Watertown): Wrestling
  • 1992: Crissy Ahmann-Leighton (Yankton): Swimming/100 Meter Butterfly


  • 1908: Clare Jacobs (Madison): Track & Field/Pole Vault
  • 1932: Larry Knapp (Garden City): Field Hockey
  • 1932: Harold McCallister (Madison): Water Polo
  • 1988: Dennis Koslowski (Watertown): Wrestling
  • 1988: Bill Scherr (Eureka): Wrestling
  • 2000: Lincoln McIlravy (Rapid City): Wrestling

In all, 23 South Dakota-born athletes have competed at the Summer Olympics over the years. In addition to the above-mentioned medal winners, nine others have represented the Mount Rushmore State on the Team USA roster:

  • 1920: Gene Vidal (Madison): Track & Field/Decathlon
  • 1976: Darrell Vreugdenhil (Mitchell): Rowing
  • 1988: Duane Koslowski (Watertown): Wrestling
  • 1988: Jim Scherr (Eureka): Wrestling
  • 1992: Chad McConnell (Sioux Falls): Baseball
  • 1996: Orly Fuentes (Ellsworth Air Force Base): Judo
  • 2000: Ryan Bolton (Rapid City): Triathlon
  • 2008: Brian Beaman (Mobridge): Shooting
  • 2008 & 2012: Brad Walker (Aberdeen): Track & Field/Pole Vault


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