Oct. 2, 2012
STANFORD, Calif. - Seven current students and student-athletes who competed at this summer's Olympic Games spent Tuesday afternoon recounting their London experiences to Bay Area media members in the Arrillaga Family Sports Center.
The athletes present included Olympic Gold Medalists and U.S. women's water polo players Annika Dries '14, Melissa Seidemann '13 and Maggie Steffens '16, U.S. synchronized swimmer Mariya Koroleva '13, Australian sprinter Steven Solomon '16, Canadian gymnast Kristina Vaculik '15 and U.S. Paralympic swimmer Roy Perkins '13.
The topics ranged from preparation in the lead up to the London Games, exhilaration of earning an Olympic spot, competing at the Games and a reflection of the experience.
Vaculik, for example, helped Canada's gymnastics team to a fifth-place team finish, the highest result for the Canadian squad in its Olympic history. She took the 2011-12 collegiate season off to train for the Olympics, and performed in all four disciplines during the qualification phase in London, topping off with a 14.366 in uneven bars that was second-best on the Canadian team. In the team finals, Vaculik performed on uneven bars and balance beam, scoring 14.166 and 13.433, respectively, as Canada finished fifth with a score of 170.804.
"It was definitely unexpected. When it did happen, it took time for it to sink in," Vaculik said about the Canadian team's finish. "The real impact of that is only starting to sink in now. There's such a high at the Olympics: the energy, the excitement, the pride, the patriotism. You couldn't fully understand what that meant at that point. Now, I look back and I think, `Wow.' We actually did it. And that's something we can carry with us the rest of our lives."
"It was a very cool experience overall," Koroleva noted. "It was the culmination of all the hard work I have put in for the last 13 years. Swimming for that many people was incredible. Seeing the Olympic rings everywhere, it was amazing to see and know that you have reached the peak of athleticism."
Koroleva was in a unique spot at the Games, as she and duet partner Mary Killman were the only U.S. synchronized swimmer in London as the nation had failed to qualify as a full team. The pair finished 11th overall in the competition with 175.670 points after posting an 87.770 score in the free routine final. They scored 87.900 points in the technical routine.
"Being the only two synchronized swimmers from the United States was very humbling. We had to be good role models and present ourselves in a positive way," she added.
History was made in London as the women's water polo trio of Dries, Seidemann and Steffens helped the U.S. to its first Olympic Gold Medal in the sport. Steffens, playing on the U.S. squad with older sister Jessica '10, was the tournament's leading scorer with 21 goals, including an Olympic-record seven goals in the tournament-opening win over Hungary and five in the gold medal final against Spain.
Seidemann scored seven goals in London while Dries added a pair, as the 2011 Peter J. Cutino finalists joined fellow U.S. teammate Brenda Villa '03 as the only Stanford women's water polo players to possess both an NCAA championship ring and Olympic Gold Medal.
Dries and Seidemann, when asked what the gold medal represents to them, commented that it represented all of the hard work undertaken to get to London as well as the satisfaction of winning the gold for all U.S. women's players who had come before them in Olympic competition.
Solomon provided Cardinal track and field sharps with an early glimpse of his speed and skill in London, qualifying for the 400-meter final and finishing eighth. Although Australia's 4x400-meter relay team missed out on the relay final by one spot, Solomon's performance left him with great memories.
"The experience (in London) was pretty awesome," Solomon said. "My highlight was walking out in the final. It was a packed stadium and the British love the Australians so walking to the start line I heard lots of `Go Australia' cheers from the British fans. I also had a lot of friends and family from Australia there and it was great to be able to share that moment with them."
Having just begun his freshman year on The Farm, Solomon is eager to continue his training in preparation for the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Games.
"I want to assimilate into the Stanford environment and get to know the coaches. I hope to be in Rio in four years and I truly believe that coming to Stanford is the best place to train. I think Stanford and gives me the best chance to improve over this four-year cycle and reach my potential in Rio."
Rounding out the group Tuesday was two-time Paralympian swimmer Roy Perkins '13. At the 2012 Paralympic Games in London, Perkins added four medals (two silver, two bronze) to his gold and bronze from the 2008 Beijing Games. The Stanford senior captured silver medals in the 100-meter freestyle - S5 and 50-meter butterfly - S5 while grabbing bronze in the 50-meter freestyle - S5 and 200-meter freestyle - S5.
"It was kind of different, I kind of felt more pressure than I did in Beijing," Perkins said. "As far as my performance it was a lot better and that kind of made my experience better."
At the 2012 London Olympics and Paralympics this summer 42 Stanford-affiliated athletes, both current and former, competed in various sports, earning 20 medals (16 Olympic, four Paralympic). Twelve of those medals were Olympic Gold, the fourth-highest total of golds for Stanford athletes at a single Olympic Games, behind only the 1996 Atlanta Games (17) and the 1920 Amsterdam and 1924 Paris Games (13 each).
Stanford will conclude its Olympic Heritage Celebration Saturday, Oct. 6 when the school will commemorate the achievements of current and past Cardinal athletes who have participated in the Olympian Games in a ceremony held at halftime of the Cardinal's 12 p.m. Homecoming football game against Arizona. More than 50 Olympians are confirmed to participate in the event including athletes from as far back as the 1956 Melbourne Games.