Michigan’s Greatest Summer Olympians

I’m 38 years old. When I think of great American Summer Olympians my memories are from the 1984 Olympics and onward. I remember the original Dream Team, Carl Lewis running the 100 meters, Michael Phelps winning seemingly every metal in swimming, Roy Jones Jr. being completely robbed of a gold in boxing…you get the picture.

My frame of reference is very recent and in many ways geared towards the highest profile sports at the Summer games. So, as I looked to take another Michigan-focused sporting article I figured I’d take a less subjective view of what makes someone “great” and just make the bar a very clear one – win multiple gold medals.

As it turns out, there are more Michiganders on that list than I would have guessed. Based on the work of my crack research team, we were able to come up with what we believe to be a complete list of multi-gold medal winners from the Summer games who were born in Michigan. Here’s the complete list, and if you care to read on you can learn a bit about each of these amazing athletes.

michigan's best summer olympians

Jackson Scholz

jackson scholz A rather small fellow who was born in Buchanan, Michigan, Jackson Scholz was later nicknamed “The New York Thunderbolt.” Scholz stood only 5 feet 8 inches tall and weighed all of 134 pounds. He went on to gain some fame as a writer and he was depicted in the movie Chairots of Fire, released in 1981. With all that fame it’s telling that Scholz’s achievements on the track can more than speak for themselves. Scholz competed as a sprinter in three separate Olympic games, winning gold as a member of the 4×100 relay team in Antwerp in 1920 and winning an individual gold in the 200 meters four years later in Paris, where he also took the silver in the 100 meters. Scholz returned again in 1928 where he finished fourth in the 200 meters.

  • Scholz’s 1920 relay team broke the world record in the finals with a time of 42.2 seconds
  • Scholz’s 21.6 seconds in the 1924 Olympic finals for the 200 meters broke the Olympic record

American Express found Scholz worthy of a spot in an Olympic spots many years later, as you can see below.

Karch Kiraly

Karch Kiraly Michigan A beach volleyball legend from Michigan? Sure, why not? While Kiraly spent his childhood growing up in Santa Barbara, he was actually born in Jackson, Michigan of all places. Kiraly is a legend in the world of volleyball for both his indoor and outdoor accomplishments. During his four All-American seasons at UCLA (1979-1982) where he won three national championships, Kiraly joined the U.S. National Team in 1981.

At the 1984 Olympics Kiraly was the youngest member of the gold medal winning team. With the Russians boycotting the 1984 games, the U.S. proved itself against that volleyball powerhouse by defeating them for the gold at the 1988 games, where the team was captained by Kiraly.

Kiraly left the national team in 1988 and stopped his indoor career for good in 1992 when he and Kent Steffes played doubles on the AVP Tour. In 1996 the Summer games added beach volleyball as an event and Kiraly and Steffes took the gold medal in that inaugural event.

Kiraly eventually retired from the AVP tour after the 2007 season after winning more than $3 million in prize money.

Kate Markgraf

Kate Markgraf Markgraf was born in Bloomfield Hills and played defender for the beloved U.S. Womens National Soccer Team from 1998-2010. After a distinguished career at Detroit Country Day High School, she went on to play four years at Notre Dame where she made 97 appearances, scoring seven goals.

Markgraf bounced around domestically and internationally in her club career, moving between the WUSA where she was named defender of the year for the Boston Breakers in 2001, and then to the Swedish League and finally back to the United States to play for the Chicago Red Stars of the Women’s Professional Soccer League where she made the All-Star team in 2010, her final season.

She appeared first for the Women’s National Team in 1998 and became a starter for the 2000 games where they finished in second place. Fortunately, she returned again for the 2004 and 2008 games (the latter as a co-captain) and steered the team to consecutive gold medals.

Over the course of her distinguished career Markgraf became only the tenth woman to earn more than 200 caps, finishing with 201 appearances for the United States.

Ralph Craig

Ralph Craig Yeah, I laughed at this picture, too. This guy is a multiple time Olympic Champion? Oh yeah. In fact, for one Summer Olympics this guy was the Usain Bolt of his time. Ralph Craig, born in Detroit, was a winner of the sprint double at the 1912 Summer Olympics in Sweden. After graduating from Detroit Central High School Craig moved on to the University of Michigan where in 1910 he won the first of his back-to-back national titles in the 220 yard sprint.

During the 1912 games Craig was a heavy underdog in the 100 meter race to countryman Donald Lippincott, who broke the World Record in the earlier heats with a time of 10.6 seconds. After an almost unthinkable seven false starts in the finals, Craig blazed his way to victory with a time of 10.8 seconds, edging out countrymen Alvah Meyer (silver) and Lippincott (bronze) in an American medal sweep.

As if one gold wasn’t enough, Craig went full on beast mode and once again topped Lippincott in the 200 meters with a time of 21.7 seconds (beating Lippincott’s 21.8).

Craig retired from competition after the 1912 games, but did make a return appearance at the Olympics in 1948 as an alternate for the U.S. yachting team, where he carried our country’s flag at the opening ceremonies in London.

Serena Williams

Serena Williams If you don’t know who Serena Williams is then I’m not sure what planet you’ve been living on. Serena has dominated the women’s tennis scene for so long now it’s hard to remember when she wasn’t the greatest player in the world. Over the course of her remarkable career in which she’s won 22 Grand Slam singles titles she’s also found time to win four gold medals. She won doubles titles in 2000, 2008 and 2012 and a singles title in 2012 as well. Of course, with all the doubles titles you can’t help but wonder, how come her sister Venus isn’t on this list? Well, that’s because Serena was born in Saginaw while older sister Venus was born in Lynwood, California.

Serena continues to be the world’s number one ranked player and has won more than $80 million on tour thus far during her playing career.

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