RIO DE JANEIRO – For the first time since 2004, the University of Wisconsin has an Olympic gold medalist.
After UW’s Cierra Runge swam the 800-meter freestyle relay in preliminaries for the United States and helped secure the top seed for the final at the 2016 Rio Olympics, Team USA finished the job and claimed gold by winning the event in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, on Wednesday night.
Runge swam the anchor leg of the relay in prelims, which helped put the USA in position to win the Olympic gold medal on Wednesday night and thus meant that she too would earn an Olympic medal as a member of the team. Most teams substitute several of their prelim-only swimmers for others after their relay teams make the final, which this year included the USA and Runge. In the final, Maya Dirado, Katie Ledecky, Allison Schmitt and Leah Smith clinched the gold medal with a time of 7:43.03, beating out Australia (7:44.87) and Canada (7:45.39).
An incoming redshirt sophomore for the Wisconsin women’s swimming team, Runge is the first Wisconsin athlete to capture a gold medal at the summer Olympics since fellow female swimmer Carly Piper (USA) and men’s rower Beau Hoopman (USA) in 2004. Coincidentally, Piper also won gold for Team USA in the 800 freestyle relay.
Runge becomes the second swimmer in Wisconsin program history to claim an Olympic gold medal.
Earlier on Wednesday, Runge swam the anchor leg of the 800 freestyle in the prelims at the Olympic Aquatics Stadium. She teamed up with Missy Franklin, Melanie Margalis and Schmitt to record the fastest time of 7 minutes, 47.77 seconds, which secured Team USA the top seed in the final.
Runge joins Wisconsin as a transfer from the University of California-Berkeley. Her freshman season at Cal, Runge was the NCAA record holder in the 500-yard freestyle and was also a member of Cal’s NCAA and American record breaking 800-yard freestyle relay team. Runge finished runner-up in both the 500- and 1650-yard freestyle events at the 2015 NCAA Swimming Championships.