Much has been made of the obstacles to a smooth 2016 Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro — fears over the mosquito-borne Zika virus, worries about polluted water and trepidations about safety in the Brazilian host city.
But many of the athletes are seemingly undeterred, arriving to compete on the biggest stage of international athletics after overcoming a range of their own challenges.
Santa Monica will be represented by a swimmer whose accomplishments belie his 5-foot-9, 150-pound frame; a runner who long considered herself a soccer player; and a judoka whose home country isn’t exactly progressive when it comes to gender equality.
With opening ceremonies set to begin today, here’s a look at competitors with local ties:
When it came time to train for the Olympics, Jordan Wilimovsky knew exactly where to go.
A former Malibu High School swimmer who was competing at Northwestern University, Wilimovsky took a break from his collegiate career to train with Team Santa Monica coach Dave Kelsheimer.
The 22-year-old local swim club member secured a bid to compete in men’s open-water racing at the 2016 Games in Rio by taking first place in the 10-kilometer event at last year’s FINA World Championships in Kazan, Russia. He completed the course in 1 hour 49 minutes and 48.2 seconds, finishing about 12 seconds ahead of Dutch runner-up Ferry Weertman.
Wilimovsky has the benefit of continuity in the form of Kelsheimer, who is serving as an assistant on the Team USA swimming staff in Rio.
Wilimovsky is scheduled to compete in the 10k event Aug. 16. He also qualified for the Olympics in the men’s 1,500-meter freestyle race, which is slated for Aug. 12.
Few expected Kate Grace to qualify for the 2016 Games in the women’s 800 meters.
But at the Olympic Trials last month in Oregon, the Santa Monica native seized the opportunity. She took first place in dramatic fashion, surging to the finish line in 1:59.10 and avoiding an entanglement that caused one of the contenders to fall.
Grace, 27, who attended Marlborough School in Los Angeles before nurturing her athletic career at Yale University, developed her love of track and field while running in and around Santa Monica.
“My mom would take me down to the cliffs the morning before a race and just have me stand there and breathe,” she recently told the Daily Press. “The idea of being able to so quickly get to the beach and have that experience of being calm … I loved growing up there.”
The women’s 800 competition is scheduled to begin Aug. 17.
When longtime Santa Monica YMCA martial arts coach Jim Nieto was approached by a young woman who said she wanted to compete in the Olympics, he first didn’t believe her.
But then he learned about her background: Joud Fahmy, the 22-year-old daughter of a diplomat who has been spending time in Santa Monica, was vying to join Saudi Arabia’s contingent at the 2016 Games as a judo competitor.
Although Fahmy lacks the international experience that her opponents will likely bring in spades, she was invited to Rio de Janeiro because her home country has been encouraged to include women on its Olympic team.
Unfortunately for Nieto, who has been training Fahmy, he won’t be joining her in Brazil. Although he toured the host city a few months ago in preparation for the Games, he was recently told by a liaison to the Saudi committee that his assistance was no longer desired.
Fahmy is expected to participate in the women’s 52-kilogram division of the judo competition, which begins Aug. 7.