Celebrating past Explorers at the Olympics

July 20, 2021

A few athletes who have worn blue and gold at La Salle went on to win gold at the Summer Olympics.

Field hockey took Diane Moyer, ’80, Ph.D., across North America and to Asia, Australia, and Europe. It gave her a platform upon which to earn All-American status at La Salle University—and even a bronze medal at the 1984 Summer Olympics in Los Angeles.

“If it wasn’t for La Salle, I wouldn’t have been there,” Moyer said of her Olympic experience.

Moyer arrived at La Salle to play basketball. Explorers field hockey coach Kathy McNally asked Moyer to play goalie for the team. The Reading, Pa., native accepted.

“La Salle encouraged me to be my best,” said Moyer, a professor of psychology at Cedar Crest College in Allentown, Pa. “My professors, while I was away for weeks at a time and traveling the world, always inspired me. I did my work, made it a priority, and they just said, ‘Go.’ That still touches my heart. All these years later, now with my students, if they can find their passion—music, performing arts, athletics, anything—I encourage them to follow their heart.”

Moyer, who played for Team USA, would have represented the U.S. at the 1980 Summer Games in Moscow, if not for the Americans’ boycott of that Olympiad. Four years later, she won bronze. She keeps her medal in a showcase frame near the front door of her home. Every now and then, she takes the medal out of its case to show visitors or explain its design. Family members and young children in her neighborhood, she said, find inspiration in Moyer’s performance at the Summer Games.

“Standing on the podium, there’s nothing like it,” said Moyer, a 2014 inductee into the U.S. Field Hockey Hall of Fame. “When you’re on the field, you only see the field. You know the crowd is there, but you are focused on the game in front of you.”

Fans are not permitted to attend the Tokyo 2020 Games, which were postponed for one year due to the global COVID-19 pandemic. While no Explorers will compete in Japan, La Salle historically has been well represented at the Summer Olympics. Since 1948, 16 La Salle athletes have appeared in 22 Olympiads. Three have earned gold medals. Two—Kathy McGahey, ’82, and Moyer—won bronze with the 1984 U.S. field hockey team.

The 1964 Summer Olympics serve as the peak for La Salle Olympians. At those games, also in Tokyo, Stanley Cwiklinski, ’65, and Hugh Foley, ’66, won gold rowing with their men’s eight-oar boat. Those games also were the final Olympics appearance for Ira Davis, ’58. The first Black athlete inducted into La Salle’s Hall of Athletes, Davis is the former U.S. record holder in the triple jump and the University’s only three-time Olympian. He also competed in 1956 in Melbourne and 1960 in Rome.

Joe Verdeur, ’50, a four-time All-American swimmer at La Salle, is the only other Explorer to win gold. He set 19 world and 21 American records during his competitive career. Most notably, he outswam the field in the 200-meter breaststroke to reach the top of medal stand at the 1948 Summer Olympics in London.

For Derek Brown, ’93, La Salle’s most-recent Summer Olympian, reaching the 1996 Summer Olympics was kismet. The U.S. handball team had moved its training program from Colorado Springs, Colo., to 20th and Olney. And Brown, a track and field athlete at La Salle, practiced with the team during his final weeks at La Salle prior to graduation. One week later, he got an invite to join the national team.

“I packed my bags, loaded my car, and drove back to La Salle University to join the team,” Brown said in a 2020 interview. “The rest is handball history.”

As the host country in Atlanta, the U.S. was the last to enter Olympic Stadium. The procession remains one of Brown’s fondest memories. He played through a hamstring injury at those 1996 Summer Games.

“Life is not easy nor fair, but we have to endure until the end,” he said. “Talent can take you far, but dedication and commitment toward improvement, developing those skills and seeking to perfect your craft will take you to unimaginable heights.”

Bill Belden, ’70, a rower at La Salle, spent 12 hours on the water each week in preparation for the 1976 Summer Games in Montreal. There, he rowed doubles for the U.S. team. Belden didn’t medal. The 1980 Games in Moscow represented his second shot at Olympic glory; if not for the U.S. boycott, he would have worn red, white, and blue once more. Instead, his Olympics rowing career was over.

Making it that far seemed almost improbable, Belden said in a 2008 interview with NPR. He got a late start in the sport, only hitting the water after his high school had launched a rowing program. By his account, he was “a scrawny, 138-pound kid” who made the most of his opportunity.

“You don’t need to have all the gifts in your life to succeed,” Belden said. “What you really need is determination. I watched more talented people walk away because they didn’t have the determination to do what it takes. Whether it’s rowing or having a career, that’s the way it is. You have to have determination. And a lot of luck.”

—Christopher A. Vito