UC Berkeley Press Release
'Olympics, here we come!'
Top Cal athletes gear up for their Olympic trials or — for those who've already qualified — the Beijing Games themselves
BERKELEY — With the 2008 Summer Olympics less than two months away, dozens of top Cal athletes are hoping to exchange the blue and gold for their national colors during a few unforgettable weeks in August.
Many national teams have long since been finalized. The Swiss will be rooting for Cal senior swimmer Domnik Meichtry; Croats for junior Martin Maric, in discus and javelin events; Kiwis for sophomore swimmer Lauren Boyle and denizens of Hong Kong for first-year swimmer Hannah Wilson; Estonians for freshman breaststroker Martti Aljand. Trials held in April determined the six U.S. marathoners headed for Beijing, among them Magdalena Lewy, a Cal alumna and assistant coach. Other Golden Bear athletes, including gymnast Tim McNeill and runner Alysia Johnson, both All-Americans many times over, face qualifying trials set for late June through early July.
UC Berkeley has a long history of Olympic achievement. Its varsity rugby program alone has produced six Olympians; since 1920 its student and alumni athletes have taken 83 gold medals, plus a total of 60 silver and bronze awards, in the Games. During the 2004 Summer Olympics, the world watched as Cal athletes earned 16 medals (five of them gold) — enough to have put UC Berkeley in 18th place if it were a nation instead of a research university in California. The bar is set high, and the Games of the XXIX Olympiad, Aug. 8 to 24, await.
Current Cal students and recent alums are legion among the Beijing-bound and Beijing-hopeful athletes of summer 2008. Meet seven of these individuals with Olympian dreams.
Tim McNeill: The most decorated gymnast in Cal history, McNeill aspires to make the U.S. Olympic Team at trials set for June 19-22 in Philadelphia, Penn., and go on to compete for an All-Around medal in Beijing. He owns five individual NCAA championship titles, is an eight-time All-American, boasts six Mountain Pacific Sports Federation event crowns, and was a member of the U.S. Senior National team in 2006 and 2007.
Student status: Senior,
Age and height: 22, 5'6"
Hometown: Falls Church, Virginia
Courtesy of Cal Sports Information'I think I can show the judges and selection-committee members at Olympic trials that I'm a good competitor when it counts.'
— Tim McNeill
When I was four, my mom put me in some gymnastics classes. I loved it and went from there. As a kid, someone I really looked up to was a teammate named Justin Spring; working out with someone so talented always pushed me to be better. He would learn a skill in minutes where it would take weeks or months for other people to learn it.
Balancing school and gymnastics
I was home-schooled before Cal, so gymnastics had always been the first focus on my mind. Having to manage school, especially the hard classes here at Berkeley, has made it very challenging. But I've kept up with both: I'm doing well in school and I'm doing well in the gym. So I'm proud of myself for being able to do that so far.
What helps me compete well is having full control of my focus and attention. I try to stay in the moment, focusing just on the event that I am about to compete on, not on later routines or past routines. I've found that even if I was very successful on the previous event, thinking about that success can still interfere. It's very tricky, though: you also can get nervous if you think too much about an event or routine. So there's a fine line. I've learned it from experience how to concentrate.
Most lasting Olympics memory
Without question, it was watching Paul Hamm overcome his fall on vault to win the Olympic All-Around title in 2004.
The biggest thing holding me back right now is my lack of international experience. I think I can overcome this by showing the judges and selection-committee members at Olympic Trials that I'm a good competitor when it counts.
Dominik Meichtry: He will represent Switzerland at the 2008 Summer Olympics in the 100 and 200-meter freestyle events. For the 2008 NCAA championships, he swam five events, including the anchor leg of Cal’s 400 free relay that placed third. Meichtry reached the semifinals of the 200 free at the 2004 Olympics in Athens. He finished 11th in the event at the 2007 World Championships and earned a silver medal at the 2004 World Cup in Durban, South Africa.
Student status: Senior, Interdisciplinary
Age and height: 23, 6'0"
Hometown: Rorschacherberg, Switzerland
Cathy Cockrell photo'Now, going to Beijing, I'm very motivated. I have that ambition to reach the top.'
— Dominik Meichtry
Student and athlete
My thesis is going to be on law and social change. I'm a senior, but I have one more year. Especially with the Olympics, you don't want to a full load of courses. Right now, everything is geared toward the Olympics. Now that the semester is over, it's Olympics, here we come!
When everybody goes out to party, you have to sacrifice that — though with sacrifice comes reward, too; you can look at it both ways. Maybe sacrifice was also coming here, leaving my parents, and starting my own life. It wasn't easy saying goodbye to my parents, who babied me, to come here. When I do go back to Europe, it's mostly for a swim meet. So I don't get the opportunity to spend that much time with my parents or brother, which is a little sad. On average, I'm able to spend, maximum, maybe three weeks a year with them.
Back in 2004, my coach told me that I should just experience the whole experience — being surrounded by so many other athletes, by Olympic champions, and hundreds of thousands of fans. Just before the race, he said "To be honest, Dominik, you're not going to make the finals. So go out there, have fun, enjoy the experience, enjoy waving to the crowd, take the whole thing in. Because in four years' time, in Beijing, we have some business to care of." So I went into the semifinals with that attitude. I didn't do great, but I loved the experience.
Dealing with competitive pressure
In the 2004 Olympics, I didn't have any kind of pressure on me. I was the youngster on the Swiss team; I just enjoyed it. But now, going to Beijing, I'm very motivated, I have certain goals. I've improved a lot since 2004, matured as a person and as a swimmer, taken part in numerous world and European championships. Now I have that ambition to reach the top.
Swiss fan base
My mom actually came to Athens. But this year, in Beijing, is really expensive and the tickets were really hard to get. There's only a certain amount of tickets that each country can get — and they sold out real, real fast in Switzerland. So my mother's not going to be coming. But she'll be tuned in, for sure, to the TV, and she'll record it. I'll have my support base back in Switzerland, for sure.
Jernej Godec: At the 2008 Summer Olympics, he will swim for Slovenia in the 150-meter freestyle event. A swimmer on Cal’s 2008 Pac-10 champion 200 free, 200 medley, and 400 medley relays, Godec also placed sixth and 12th in NCAA events this past year. He anchored Slovenia’s 400 medley relay at the 2004 Athens Olympics and placed 12th in both the 50 free and 50 butterfly at the 2007 World Championships.
Student status: Senior,
Molecular & Cell Biology
(emphasis in immunology)
Age and height: 22, 6'2"
Hometown: Ljubljana, Slovenia
Cathy Cockrell photo'Both athletics and academics are very important to me, so I try to give my best in both fields.'
— Jernej Godec
In high school I realized that I couldn't stay in Slovenia, because I would have to choose swimming or an academic path. To combine both academics and athletics at a very high level, it was much more feasible for me — like a lot of people from foreign countries — to come to an American university. I wrote to the top 10 schools in the NCAA championships in swimming. It came down to a choice between Cal and Stanford, because I wanted a very good academic school and a very good swimming program.
Combining academics and swimming
It's definitely tough — especially the first two years, when my language was an obstacle. For the first time, I had to actually study in English, do exams in English, listen to all the lectures in English. I started learning English in the fifth or sixth grade, but it's not something I would encounter on a daily basis before I came here; it's still a foreign language. After a while, though, language wasn't an issue anymore.
On earning a Pac-10 Postgraduate Scholarship
For this scholarship, your athletic achievements and your academic achievements are combined together; they evaluate it that way. Both are very important to me, so I try to give my best in both fields. I'm thinking about a PhD; the scholarship gives you something extra for your living expenses.
I was in Athens. I swam the relay. It was a wonderful experience to be there for two, three weeks. I tried to expand my horizons, especially in the Olympic cafeteria, where all the athletes from the Olympic Village eat together. That's what I'm looking forward to most in Beijing — apart from swimming my best, trying to make the semis and finals. I would be very, very happy if I made the finals.
I see myself more in a professional career or in academia. Swimming is definitely not my long-term goal in life; it's the vehicle that gets me through and lets me enjoy the ride.
Alysia Johnson: She hopes to make the U.S. Olympic track team at trials set for June 29-July 6 in Omaha, Neb. and go on to Beijing to compete in the 800-meter (half-mile) run. In the 2008 season, she was named the 2008 West Region Co-Women's Track Athlete of the Year, achieved the best national collegiate 800-meter time, and successfully defended her 800-meter title at the NCAA West Regional. At the NCAA Indoor Championships earlier this season, she earned All-America honors for the sixth time in her collegiate career.
Cal status: Senior,
Theater & Performance Studies
Age and height: 22, 5'7"
Hometown: Canyon Country, California
Cathy Cockrell photo'Hearing the word 'Olympian' by my name sounds great in itself. Along with that, I'd like to win a medal; that'd be awesome.'
— Alysia Johnson
Training is very difficult. Last year, going from my collegiate season to the national season wasn't particularly mentally difficult, but it was physically wearing on my body. This year, I know what my goals are; I know what I want to do. I want to make the team and I want to do well. I don't want to just go. I want to show up at the Games ready to do some damage. I have to pull back the reins a little bit on my collegiate season so I can work more on the national season.
Dreaming of the Olympics
In my head, I always thought it was a realistic dream, but when it showed up on paper that it was an actual realistic dream was during my sophomore year. I knew that eventually I would try for the national team and be a potential Olympic candidate, but I didn't know it would be this soon. I showed up as a freshman and my personal record was 2:08 in the 800. That's pretty good for a freshman coming in without all the training that you're going to get at the University.
Biggest sacrifice in order to make the Olympics
I want this so bad that I don't feel like I'm giving something up for it. Your lifestyle is totally different from the average person. There are so many things that my peers are able to do like eating, daily routines, sleeping habits, but everything is different for me. Being in college, I'm not really living the college lifestyle. I can't. Every day I have two to three workouts that I have to get done. There's no way that's going to get done to the best of my ability if I'm tired.
Most looking forward to in Beijing if on
the U.S. team
Hearing the word 'Olympian' by my name sounds great in itself. Along with that, I'd like to win a medal; that'd be awesome. I'm looking forward to the competition and seeing the Olympic Games for myself. You always see it on TV, but to witness it for myself, to be in it, to feel proud to wear the USA uniform as an Olympian is totally different.
Earliest interest in track
My oldest cousin ran track. All of my brothers and cousins started running after him. Our parents weren't pressuring us. My cousin Mark would be running and I'd be running alongside him on the track and we'd all be cheering him on while running on the track. Then you say to yourself, "I want to do that."
Lauren Boyle: At the 2008 Summer Olympics, Boyle will represent New Zealand in the 800-meter freestyle relay. During her 2008 season, she broke her own Cal record in the 1650-yard free at the NCAA championships, where she finished fifth. Boyle initially won the event at the Pac-10 meet, snapping a record that had stood for 20 years. She represented New Zealand at the 2005 World Championships.
Student status: Sophomore,
Age and height: 20, 5'11"
Hometown: Whenupal, Auckland, New Zealand
Cathy Cockrell photo'The most exciting thing will be being in the Olympic Village with all the other athletes. There's no other competition on Earth like that.'
— Lauren Boyle
Swimming for UC Berkeley
Cal has one of the best swim teams in the world — not only on a collegiate level but on an international scale as well. We have world record holders — Natalie Coughlin, Dana Vollmer. It's very rare that anyone has a chance to train with people like that. Natalie graduated, but she still trains with us every day. She and Dana are really good with helping us figure out good ways to race, helping us with our technique. They have a lot of experience that they can share with us. They've been to so many international meets, and have done so well for so long.
The student-athlete challenge
Spring semester was pretty difficult, because the competition schedule has been so tight with the Pac-10, NCAAs, going away for both of those, and then going away for my Olympic trials as well. New Zealand had its trials two days after the NCAA championships. So I had to go straight from Columbus, Ohio to Auckland, New Zealand, lose a day because of the time difference, and compete in the trials the day after I got home. It was really, really tough. So I've missed quite a lot of school this semester; I've been learning how to juggle that.
Keeping cool under pressure
As an athlete you're constantly developing your composure. I've become more composed since coming to Cal, because I've had to deal with so many different adverse situations — like living away from home, making a whole new set of friends, and dealing with not living with my parents…. Sometimes I like to visualize my races before I do them, but not all the time. Sometimes that helps me concentrate — but sometimes I need to do it without thinking.
The most exciting thing will be being in the Olympic Village with all the other athletes. There's no other competition on Earth like that. It's something that I will remember for the rest of my life…. As swimmers we're really lucky: the Olympics opening ceremony is on the 8th of August and swimming starts on the 9th. We'll be done within eight days, and the New Zealand team isn't leaving until Aug. 26. So we're going to have a lot of time to look around, experience the other sports, and experience Beijing. I'm really looking forward to that.
Emily Silver: She'll compete for a berth on the U.S. Olympic swim team at trials set for June 29-July 6 in Omaha, Neb. A member of the U.S. team at the 2007 World University Games, she won a gold and a silver medal there in relay events. During the 2007-08 college dual season, she recorded 15 first-place finishes, and swam in relay events that won the 2008 Pac-10 title in a conference record. As a freshman Silver was voted team MVP.
Student status: Senior,
Age and height: 22, 5'll"
Hometown: Bainbridge Island, Washington
Cathy Cockrell photo'As an athlete you have to schedule your classes around practice. So swimming has really defined my college experience.'
— Emily Silver
When you're recruited for a program, you take a trip to the school and you get to meet the coach. You have a relationship with them for months before you actually commit to the school. Building that relationship with Terri McKeever allowed me to know that this is the right place for me.
Training with the greats
Being here, surrounded by so many amazing athletes — being able to train with Natalie Coughlin every day, Erin Reilly, Ashley Chandler, all these elite athletes — has allowed me to really start to believe that I could be at that level. And to have amazing coaches, Terri, Kristen Lewis, to have them believe in me — that's allowed me to really start to believe. If I had gone to school anywhere else, I wouldn't have been able to do this.
Student athletes have to commit not only to their school work, but also to a full-time job. I practice 20 hours a week, Monday through Saturday. So you have to figure out how not only to commit to class but to training and the competition. I'm a senior this year, but I actually have another year. As an athlete you have to schedule your classes around practice. So swimming has really defined my college experience.
Most lasting memory of Olympics past
I remember watching Dana Vollmer in the 800-meter relay. Dana dove in, and I think the U.S. team was behind, and she caught up. I remember the commentator saying, "Look at Dana Vollmer! She's having the most amazing swim!" I remember thinking "Wow, this girl is so talented. I would love to be in her position." And then she comes to school here (she's a year younger than me) and I get to know her, and to train with her every day! I love it. She works so hard. I love being around someone like that, who has the same goals as me.
I wouldn't have to have any material things to take away from the Games. If I didn't get anything out of the meet, just being able to be there, and have that experience, would be enough for me.
Magdalena Lewy: She won a spot as a U.S. Olympic marathon runner with a second-place finish in the Olympic trials held in Boston this April. While at Cal in the late '90s, Lewy earned All-America honors at the 1997 NCAA championships. Now in her seventh year as an assistant coach with the Cal track and field program, she is married to former Cal runner Richie Boulet. They have a three-year-old son.
Cal status: '97
alumna, assistant coach for women's
distance track and field
Age and height: 34, 5'4"
Birthplace: Poland (became a U.S. citizen on Sept. 11, 2001)
Cathy Cockrell photo'It's going to be hot, humid, and polluted in Beijing, and will require a lot more strategy than a race under perfect conditions.'
— Magdalena Lewy
On being recruited by Cal
At first I was a swimmer, so I didn't start competing as a runner until I got to Long Beach City College. I spent two years there, and was recruited by Tony Sandoval, Cal's current head cross-country coach. So after two years at Long Beach, I transferred to Cal — and the rest of it is history. I fell in love with running and improved from year to year. While I was here, the longest run I did was 5K. It was two to three years after college that I started running marathons. The runs are a lot longer, but the philosophy is still kind of the same.
At Berkeley I majored in human bio-dynamics, which is "integrative biology" now, which concerns how the body moves and is sometimes called "exercise physiology." I graduated in '97, and afterwards I worked for a local company that makes an energy gel that athletes eat, "food on the go." I spent seven years there, had a great time, resigned last year to train full time, in hopes to make the Olympics.
Mom on the fast track
When my son, Owen, was a baby, I used to run on a treadmill when he was napping. Now I do it when he is playing, or right before dinner or after dinner. There's definitely a challenge to finding that perfect balance — what works not just for me but also my family. It took us a while to find that. The treadmill is probably the biggest change. I never ran on a treadmill before I had Owen.
Why strategy will matter at Beijing
For the Olympic marathon they pick only the top three women and top three men. So there will be six of us on the U.S. team. I know it's not going to be a hilly course; it's going to be pretty flat. The challenge is going to be humidity and heat — in the 80s or 90s, which is pretty hot to run. An ideal marathon day would be 50°F; every 10 degrees slows things down. It's going to be hot, humid, and polluted, and will require a lot more strategy than a race under perfect conditions.