Ole Miss' head track & field coach will lead Team USA in Rio

Ole Miss' head track & field coach will lead Team USA in Rio
Raven Saunders (Source: Joshua McCoy / Ole Miss)
Raven Saunders (Source: Joshua McCoy / Ole Miss)
Gwen Berry (Source: Team USA)
Gwen Berry (Source: Team USA)

MEMPHIS, TN (WMC) - USA Track & Field announced Ole Miss Track and Field Head Coach Connie Price-Smith will lead Team USA's women's track and field team to Rio in August.

Price-Smith, a four-time Olympian, was hired by Ole Miss in July 2015 after spending 14 seasons as head coach at Southern Illinois University, her alma mater.

The Rio Olympics will not be Price-Smith's first time coaching for Team USA, but it will be her first stint as head coach. She served as an assistant coach in the 2008 Beijing Olympics, as well as throughout the 2012 London Olympics.

"It is an exciting time for me as the head coach for the U.S. Olympic Team. It is exciting to be the head coach of athletes that are going to the Olympics with me," Price-Smith said during a news conference last week. "Ole Miss has seven athletes, present and future, that are traveling down to Rio. It's exciting and I'm excited to be a part of it."

Price-Smith was also head women's coach for Team USA at the 2011 IAAF World Championships in South Korea, the 2013 World University Games, and the 2007 Pan American Games in Rio.

Price-Smith started out as a basketball player for Southern Illinois.

According to OleMissSports.com, it wasn't until SIU track and field star, John Smith, urged her to throw the shot put for the first time. As a senior, she "quickly became dominant in both the shot and discus." She and John are now married and coach alongside each other at Ole Miss.

Assistant Coach Gwen Berry & Ole Miss sophomore named to Team USA

Volunteer Assistant Coach Gwen Berry and Ole Miss sophomore Raven Saunders will also head to Rio to compete for Team USA.

Berry will compete in the women's hammer throw event.

Despite not feeling like she had a very good performance during the Olympic Trials, Berry is excited about heading to Rio.

"It's a good feeling. I had confidence in myself that I would make the team. I wasn't as happy as everyone else probably because I didn't have my greatest performance, but I am really grateful," Berry said. "Working with and growing up with coach Connie at Southern Illinois, coming here to Ole Miss and training with all the student-athletes, like Raven, has been a good feeling. I'm glad to have a couple teammates going with me."

Saunders will compete in women's shot put. She is looking forward to seeing how she stacks up against worldwide competition.

"I'm just excited about it. I don't feel any different about it because I don't want it to change my work ethic at all," she said. "Maybe just pushing myself a little harder to see how I stack up against the best competition in the world for the next four years. I'm trying to push forward and keep going as strong as I have been."

When she learned she made the 2016 Olympic team, Saunders said she burst into tears.

"I basically started crying at the fact that I am an Olympian. Not a lot of athletes can say that. To finally see that all of my work had paid off in that one, split moment. It brought me to tears."

7 people, past and present, will represent Ole Miss in Rio

Antwon Hicks | Nigeria | Men's 100-meter hurdles | 2002-2005
Hicks qualified for Rio by setting a new national record in the men's 110 meter hurdle. He will represent Nigeria at the 2016 Olympic Games. He competed for Ole Miss from 2002-05. He's a two-time NCAA champion, but this will be his first trip to the Olympics.

Sam Kendricks | Team USA | Men's pole vault | Ole Miss: 2012-2014
Kendricks earned his way to Rio with a pole vault jump of 19 feet, 4 3/4 inches. He competed for Ole Miss from 2012-14. In that time he was an NCAA champion twice. He is the first Rebel to make the Olympics in pole vault.

Ricky Robertson | Team USA | Men's high jump | Ole Miss: 2010-2014
Robertson is a first-time Olympian who qualified with a high jump of 7'6''. He graduated from Hernando High School. He then followed in his parents' footsteps and chose Ole Miss over LSU, Florida, and Mississippi State.

Raven Saunders | Team USA | Women's shot put
Saunders secured her place on Team USA with a shot put throw of 63 feet, 1 1/2 inches. She is currently a sophomore at Ole Miss. She is also the first Rebel to make the Olympics in the shot put. She won the NCAA outdoor shot put title and broke the all-time collegiate indoor and outdoor shot put collegiate records in 2016.

Gwen Berry | Team USA | Women's hammer throw 
Berry finished second behind Amber Campbell with a U.S. hammer throw of 73.09 meters. She was a three-time All-American during her collegiate career at Southern Illinois. She is currently a volunteer assistant coach at Ole Miss.

Brittney Reese | Team USA | Women's long jump | Ole Miss: 2007-2008
Reese earned her third trip to the Olympic Games with a long jump of 23 feet, 11 3/4 inches. She took the gold medal in London and hopes to repeat in Rio. She competed for Ole Miss in 2007-08.

Rafaelle Souza | Brazil | Women's soccer | Ole Miss 2011-2013
Souza is the all-time leading goal scorer for women's soccer at Ole Miss with 44 career goals. She was a first-team all SEC player in 2013. She's now representing her native country in the Olympics.

Anthony Perez | Venezuela | Men's basketball | Ole Miss 2012-2016
Perez is making his first international appearance for his county's basketball team. He played four years at Ole Miss, but never really lived up to expectations. He averaged 4.7 points and 2.8 rebounds per game as a Rebel.

Khadijah Suleman | Nigeria | Women's 4x100 relay | Ole Miss 2014-2015
Suleman transferred to Ole Miss from Laney Community College. She led the Rebels' 4x100 relay team to its first NCAA Championship final. The team finished seventh.

Catch the 2016 Rio Olympics beginning August 5 on WMC Action News 5 and WMCActionNews5.com.

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