The New University recently got a chance to chat with each UC Irvine representative on the USA men’s water polo team individually. Over the summer, the team won silver medals at the 2008 Olympics in Beijing. The following are the conversations with these athletes.
New University: How does it feel having that silver medal around your neck?
Tim Hutten: It’s hard to describe. It’s obviously one of the greatest things you can accomplish as an athlete. Me coming in off a great college season and stepping right into this mix, it was the experience of a lifetime.
New U: Coming off a great college career, how did you prepare yourself mentally to go and compete with the best in the Olympics?
Hutten: I had to change up my role a little bit and conform to a smaller role, more of a role player. I didn’t have a problem with it. We played well as a team. I would be a little bit happier with a gold medal, but what we did was remarkable.
New U: What was it like scoring your first Olympic goal?
Hutten: It was definitely a great feeling. It’s not something you get to do everyday. I was very excited doing it, but that’s what practice is for. So I tried not to get too crazy about it, but it was a good time.
New U: Going into the tournament you guys were not even expected to make it past the group stages. How did the team react to those doubts after finishing near the top?
Hutten: Going in, a lot of people overlooked us from everywhere. The odds on USA water polo were against us in Vegas, if you wanted to place a bet. But, we all believed and we went out and did it.
New U: Rick, did you listen to a lot of Daft Punk?
Rick Merlo: Actually I did; I don’t have a favorite song, but I did listen to them a lot.
New U: What was it like scoring an Olympic goal?
Merlo: The energy that runs through your body once the ball hits that net is amazing. You’ve probably seen pictures of me fist pumping my arm. The excitement was just unreal.
New U: How did you guys make yourselves believe you could beat top-ranked teams like Croatia?
Merlo: We just took it quarter by quarter, and made sure we achieved our small goals, which lead to our big goals. We did that everyday, and it paid off in the end.
New U: So Jeff, you harnessed that strong arm of yours and started cranking some goals there. What did you do to prepare?
Jeff Powers: (Laughs) I tried to get as much rest as I could. It was hot there and hectic. So I tried to get as much rest so I could be calmer and more focused on the games; that was my deal.
New U: What was it like being a big goal scorer for your silver medal team?
Powers: You know, I would have been happy even if I didn’t score a single goal because the team was doing so well. It’s always a great feeling knowing you actually contributed on the scoreboard and helped your team along. The crowd would just erupt every time you scored a goal, and cheer for you whenever you subbed out. You would forget that you were tired.
New U: Ryan, it was your third time around at the Olympics. How was 2008 different?
Ryan Bailey: The first two times were a disappointment for us when we finished sixth and seventh. So it feels pretty good to come home with some hardware.
New U: Why were you guys so successful this time around?
Bailey: I think the biggest reason was that we were a more experienced team. We were a team with nine guys who had trained together for eight years. We had been through the worst together. It was nice to have a little experience in a tournament like that. You know what to expect and things start going your way.
New U: What was the toughest moment in Beijing?
Bailey: For me, it was the first game. When I walked up on stage, I was really emotional. My father passed away this year so I was thinking about him. (Pause) Yeah, that was the toughest moment for me.
New U: What was your favorite moment other than winning the silver medal?
Bailey: You know we had a really great time at the Great Wall. At the Great Wall you ride up on a chair lift and come down on these Toboggan-like things, which were like stretchers with wheels on them. You ride down on them and it takes over ten minutes to get to 30 miles an hour. That was really fun.
Congratulations olympians, you made your country and alma mater proud.