Henderson, Butler headline NJCAA's Olympic medalists

RIO DE JANEIRO – Olympic gold medalists Jeff Henderson and Jimmy Butler from the United States were among the former NJCAA student-athletes that won 11 medals in the 2016 Summer Olympics. A total of nine athletes with roots in the two-year collegiate athletics association claimed two gold, six silver and three bronze medals for their respective nations.

With a winning mark of 8.38 meters, Jeff Henderson became the first American male to win gold in the long jump since 2004. A product of Hinds (Miss.), Henderson was a five-time NJCAA champion in his two years with the Eagles. In the 2007-08 season, he won long jump titles at both the indoor and outdoor championships – also claiming victory in the outdoor 100-meter dash. As a sophomore, Henderson repeated as the outdoor long jump champion and participated in Hinds’ winning performance in the 4x100 relay. Henderson would go on to win the NAIA 60-meter championship at Florida Memorial before clinching the long jump and 100-meter NCAA Division II titles at Stillman.

With a 96-66 rout of Serbia in Sunday’s gold medal game, Team USA captured gold for the third straight Olympics. Among the Americans to earn a spot atop the medal stand was Jimmy Butler – a former NJCAA All-American from Tyler (Texas). Averaging 18.1 points, 7.7 rebounds and 3.1 assists per game as a freshman with the Apaches, Butler transferred to Marquette where he’d earn All-Big East Conference honors as a junior and senior. A first-round draft pick by the Chicago Bulls in 2011, the two-time All-Star has become the franchise’s marquee player ever since being named the NBA’s Most Improved Player in 2015.  

Former Coffeyville (Kan.) sprinter Andre De Grasse made himself a household name on the international stage over the past week, becoming the first-ever Canadian to win three sprint medals at the same Olympics. The former Red Raven earned silver in the 200-meter dash – finishing second behind Jamaican phenom Usain Bolt – and took bronze in the 100 and 4x100 relay. In two seasons at Coffeyville, De Grasse won five NJCAA championships and swept the 200-meter titles as a sophomore. He would then transfer to USC where he swept the NCAA sprint titles at the 2015 outdoor championships.

At the 2012 London Olympics, Brittney Reese joined Jackie Joyner-Kersee as the only Americans to win Olympic gold in the long jump. In Rio, Reese fell just two centimeters shy of becoming the first American to win gold at back-to-back games – earning silver with a mark of 7.15 meters. A former basketball player at Mississippi Gulf Coast, Reese transitioned to the track at Ole Miss where she’d win back-to-back NCAA outdoor titles in the long jump.

A pair of Jamaican Olympic medalists from NJCAA programs added to their medal collections in Rio, capturing silver in the relay events. Former Barton (Kan.) sprinter Veronica Campbell-Brown took part in the 4x100, while former Essex County (N.J.) star Novlene Williams-Mills served as anchor in the 4x400.

Although they didn’t take part in Jamaica’s relay finals, two more former NJCAA student-athletes earned silver medals for helping their teams advance there. Barton’s Simone Facey ran in the 4x100 heat, while South Plains’ Chrisann Gordon participated in the 4x400.

Joining De Grasse on the medal stand following Canada’s bronze medal performance in the 4x100-meter relay was Barton’s Akeem Haynes. At the 2012 NJCAA Outdoor Championships, Haynes won a national title as part of the Cougars’ 4x100-meter relay team.

Despite failing to earn medals, five former NJCAA student-athletes made finals appearances in their respective events. Indian River State (Fla.) swimming legend Bradley Tandy took sixth in the 50-meter freestyle for South Africa. Nothing seventh-place finishes on the track were Panama’s Alonso Edward from Barton in the 200-meter, Grenada’s Bralon Taplin of South Plains in the 400 and Guyana’s Troy Doris from DuPage (Ill.) in the triple jump. In the 4x100-meter relay final, Barton’s Tyson Gay appeared to earn a bronze medal before the United States was disqualified for a baton-exchange violation.

Advancing past the opening heats were three more athletes with backgrounds in the NJCAA. Central Arizona’s Viola Lagat of Kenya and South Plains’ Janeil Belille from Trindidad and Tobago each finished sixth in the 1500-meter run and 400-meter hurdles, respectively. Cloud County (Kan.) alum Jeffrey Julmis also advanced to the 110-meter hurdle semifinals for Haiti.

Central Arizona’s Kurt Felix from Grenada had a notable performance in the Olympic decathlon, finishing in ninth place.

A total of 45 athletes from 23 NJCAA member colleges representing 25 nations competed at the Rio Games. Click here to view a complete listing.

Photos courtesy of AP Images.

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