Knoedler and Illustre: familiar faces from the Olympics

By Molly McSweyn | September 3, 2016 11:39am

by Hannah Baade / The Beacon

When thinking of Olympians, the first that come to mind are probably the faces you see on TV, the medal machines like Michael Phelps, Simone Biles and Oregon track star Ashton Eaton. But what about the faces that you do know from walking through Chiles and eating and the Pilot House? Did you realize those are Olympians too?

This year, several Pilots competed on the world stage at the Olympic games in Rio de Janiero.

As Josh Illustre made his way through Franz on his way to class last year, most didn't know that he was preparing to take the international stage. And Allison Knoedler, the Director of Academic and Student Athlete Development already had eight years ago.

A 2016 UP graduate, Illustre ran the 800 meter this summer at the Rio Olympics representing Guam. Knoedler competed with the U.S. Women’s Water Polo team during the 2008 Olympics in Beijing, where her team won the silver medal.

In Guam, which has a population of about 165,000, the Olympic process is different. After having no athletes run the Olympic qualifying time, the Guam federation is able to select one male and one female to compete in Olympic games. They picked Illustre to represent them in Rio.

Head coach of the track team, Rob Conner, said that since Illustre arrived on The Bluff, competing in the Olympics was a goal for him. And although Conner didn’t train Illustre differently than the rest of the team, Illustre ran with an extra edge.

“He improved probably seven or eight seconds in the 800 from high school until college, so he worked very hard to get his time down,” Conner said.

For Illustre, preparing for the Olympics was not just about him being the best athlete he could be, it was also about his deeply rooted pride in his country.

“He was an extremely important part of the program because of his passion and dedication and his hard work and his desire,” Conner said. “He also has a lot of pride in where he comes from, everybody from Guam does.”

And tucked away in the offices in the Chiles Center, Knoedler helps athletes academically, assists with scheduling classes and acts as a support system. At heart, she is an athlete herself.

Knoedler has played water polo since she was young, finding it the perfect balance between her love of volleyball, basketball and swimming. She attended Stanford University for their standard of academic excellence and for their water polo team.

After college, Knoedler trained for an entire year before being officially selected as a part of the 2008 Olympic team that competed in Beijing.

The team competed every other day for two weeks, coming out at the top of their bracket and beating Australia in the semifinals. They played the Netherlands for the gold and lost by one point.

“I remember crying out of joy that we won and we were on the podium but also this sadness that we hadn't accomplished our goal of winning the tournament,” Knoedler said, looking down at her silver medal in her hands.

The following year, Knoedler and the U.S. team won the world championships in Rome.

After her water polo career came to an end, Knoedler took her background in athletics and her love of teaching and turned them into her career.

“Something that you find a passion for, do it as long as you can and in whatever capacity (you can),” Knoedler. “I think that is what I hope to pass on to other students and student athletes here, is to find what you really love and do more of it,” Knoedler said of her role on The Bluff.