Fordham Fields Three Athletes, Medals Twice at Tokyo Olympics


Fordham’s Olympians pictured from left to right: Fiona Murtagh, Nick Martinez, Alexander Gadegaard Shah. (Photos courtesy of Fordham Athletics)

There are few achievements in sports as significant as claiming an Olympic medal. Four years of work and preparation culminate in one single moment, with all of the pressure, drama and tension packed into it. It is a testament to the exact reasons why sports exist.

The 2020 Tokyo Olympics were different in many ways, not just because of the misleading name or the one-year delay, but the conditions that surrounded them. The iconic games have been canceled just three times throughout history, all during World Wars, with 2020 being the first time they have ever been postponed. The Olympics have withstood political bouts, terrorist attacks, humanitarian crises and in this instance, one year later, a pandemic.

Because of the delay, some felt this year’s games were executed out of necessity rather than desire. The fans protesting outside the closed-off venue to spectators were one example, so too were the drastically low television ratings. However, all of those storylines slowly faded away to the background like they always do as the world’s greatest athletes took center stage.

There were the stories of triumph that the Olympics has always come to represent such as two athletes sharing a gold medal stage in the high jump, the greatest gymnast of all time becoming candid about her mental health struggle or USA Basketball persevering through doubt to claim another world championship. In this year’s games, some of those moments went to former and future Fordham Rams.

First, Nick Martinez, a 2011 Fordham alumni, was one of 24 members, including 12 pitchers, selected to the USA Baseball team. During his three seasons at Fordham, Martinez was primarily a position player, serving as second basemen along with relief pitching, picking up 22 strikeouts across his 15 appearances. 

Talking with WFUV Sports, Martinez jokingly said hitting was not his strong suit in college, and in search of an entry point to the Majors, pitching became his new prowess. The Texas Rangers selected him in the 2011 MLB Draft for that very reason and Martinez went on to pitch there for four seasons before making his way to Nippon Professional Baseball, where he now competes with the Fukuoka SoftBank Hawks.

With the games right in his backyard, Martinez was a natural fit for Team USA and baseball’s return to the grand stage in what he referred to as a dream come true. Furthermore, he was not only a member of the team but its ace.

Martinez first took the mound against Korea, throwing five innings of one run ball, allowing just four hits and accumulating nine strikeouts to lead to the record-tying 14 the team had on the day and secure the top spot in Group B.

Then, Martinez again got the ball in the gold medal game. He gave up just one run and five hits through six innings of work, as the team fell short on the day but succeeded in the tournament, returning home with a silver medal.

A week and a half before that, the Rams claimed their first of two medals in Tokyo courtesy of Fiona Murtagh and Ireland’s Women’s Four in rowing. Murtagh, along with her teammates Aifric Keogh,Eimear Lambe, and Emily Hegarty, underwent a challenging qualification process, booking their spot in the tournament at the final regatta in May. They cherished the opportunity, finishing neck-and-neck with Australia in their heat, and as they had done through qualifying, fighting from behind in the final race for a bronze medal.

Murtagh, a well-accomplished youth rower in Galway, Ireland, was competing on the national stage from an early age. However, a desire to study in America and one phone call from the now-retired Ted Bonanno brought her to the Bronx, an experience that continues to shape her rowing career today.

Back in February after her crew won bronze at the European Championships and in the midst of preparing for that final qualifying race, Murtagh reflected on the challenges of the year-long process that preceded it and Fordham’s constant voice beneath it. Then, five months later from Italy with the knowledge she was going to Tokyo, Murtagh spoke with nothing but excitement about finally seeing that journey realized.

Martinez and Murtagh became the fourth and fifth Rams ever to win Olympic medals, the first to do so since 1956. This year also represented the first time Fordham athletes have won multiple medals in the same games. 

In addition, Fordham had one final member representing the school at the games, someone who is yet to even dive into the water at the Messmore Aquatic Center. At just 18 years old, Alexander Gadegaard Shah, an incoming member of the Fordham Swimming & Diving program, was just one of five Olympians from Nepal and swam in the 100-meter freestyle event.

Competing in the very first heat, Shah broke his country and personal record with a time of 53.41 seconds, enough to best the six other racers beside him but not for the semifinals. Regardless, it was a fantastic swim from Shah as he begins his competitive career at Fordham and beyond.

With three distinct athletes delivering remarkable success, for all of the concern surrounding it, and rightfully so, the 2020 Tokyo Olympics were the very best in Fordham’s history, just one of the many reasons they will be a games to never forget.