Mona McSharry first voiced her dream when she was 12 years old. She was at a swim camp in Ireland when a man at the front of the room asked the kids how many of them wanted to compete in the Olympic Games one day.
“My arm shot straight up,” said McSharry, now a sophomore at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, and one of 18 current and former Tennessee student–athletes competing at the Tokyo Olympics from July 23 through August 8.
McSharry, who joined UT’s swimming and diving team in 2020, qualified for Tokyo with an Irish national record in the 100-meter breaststroke. The achievement was the culmination of a year in which she was also named SEC Female Freshman Swimmer of the Year, set the UT records in the 100- and 200-meter breaststroke, and won medals at the SEC and NCAA championships.
“When you think about how few people out of the whole world—even just out of the swimming world—get to go out and experience the Olympics, the fact I get the opportunity to do so is really just a blessing,” McSharry said.
McSharry is the fifth UT swimmer to represent Ireland at the Olympics (incoming first-year student Ellen Walshe will also compete in Tokyo in the 200-meter individual medley). Eleven other countries—Antigua and Barbuda, Bulgaria, Canada, Great Britain, Greece, Jamaica, the Netherlands, New Zealand, South Africa, Trinidad and Tobago, and the US—have at least one current or former UT student–athlete competing or serving as a coach during the Summer Games.
Since 1964, UT has sent at least one athlete to each summer edition of the Olympics. Tennessee athletes have won 39 gold medals—more top finishes than 100 participating countries, including Greece, Brazil, Jamaica, Argentina, and Mexico.
“UT has an extraordinarily impressive Olympic history,” said Associate Athletics Director for Communications Tom Satkowiak. “Including this summer’s competitors, close to 120 Vols and Lady Vols have now represented the Big Orange and their respective home countries on the worldwide Olympic stage.”
Some athletes, like New Zealand soccer player Hannah Wilkinson and US softball player Monica Abbott, have competed in the Olympics before (Wilkinson competed in 2012 and 2016, and Abbott won silver in Beijing in 2008). Others like McSharry and Team USA member Darryl Sullivan—the first athlete from Tennessee to qualify in the high jump—are doing so for the first time.
“I’ve grown so much in the past five years I’ve been at Tennessee,” said Sullivan, who finished second at US Olympic Team Trials to qualify for the Games. “There are a lot of guys who have put on the uniform, and I’ve followed in their footsteps. I’m etched in history forever.”
Sullivan, UT’s school record holder in the high jump, will compete on July 29. McSharry will compete on July 25 in the 100-meter breaststroke and July 28 in the 200-meter breaststroke.
Other UT Olympians include two-time SEC Female Swimmer of the Year Erika Brown, who will compete in the 4×100 freestyle relay on July 24 and the 100-meter freestyle on July 27. Redshirt sophomore Joella Lloyd, who achieved national records for Antigua and Barbuda while competing for Tennessee, will run the 100-meter dash on July 29. Redshirt junior Carey McLeod—the only athlete in the world to qualify for both the long jump and triple jump at the Olympics—will compete for Jamaica on July 31 (long jump) and August 2 (triple jump).
Kara Lawson, who played in three NCAA Final Fours for Lady Vols basketball and was named a Torchbearer in 2003, will serve as head coach of the US women’s 3×3 basketball team; Lawson won a gold medal with Team USA in 2008. Three-time Canadian Olympian Rhian Wilkinson, who holds the record in assists for Tennessee women’s soccer, is an assistant coach for England and will serve in the role for the Great Britain women’s soccer team.
UT swimming and diving will also be represented by Tess Cieplucha (Canada, 400-meter individual medley), Lyubomir Epitrpov (Bulgaria 200-meter breaststroke), Michael Houlie (South Africa, 100-meter breaststroke), Kira Toussaint (Netherlands, 100-meter backstroke), and Cherelle Thompson (Trinidad and Tobago, 50-meter freestyle). Kelsey Robinson will compete for the US in women’s volleyball, while Tennys Sandgren will compete in men’s singles and doubles tennis. Stamatia Scarvelis will compete in the hammer throw for Greece.
To learn more about each athlete and coach, visit UT’s Olympics Central page.
Brian Canever (865-974-0937, firstname.lastname@example.org)
Tom Satkowiak (865-974-7501, email@example.com)