While many Anteater athletes were training this summer for their upcoming seasons, 10 Anteaters were in Beijing competing in the highest peak in sports.
Headlining the group was current UC Irvine men’s volleyball head coach John Speraw. Serving as assistant coach for the United States’ men’s squad, Coach Speraw added a gold medal to his already stacked list of accolades. He has won an NCAA national championship as a player, assistant coach and head coach.
It was the first gold medal for U.S. men’s volleyball since the 1988 Olympic Games in Seoul, South Korea. The U.S. defeated top-ranked Brazil in the gold medal match in this year’s Olympics after dropping the first set.
While the U.S. men’s volleyball team’s tremendous success went down as one of the most noteworthy Team USA accomplishments in the Beijing Olympics, four former All-American Anteaters made history in the pool for the USA men’s water polo team.
The USA men’s water polo team had taken a back seat to the European powerhouses after their silver medal performance in the 1988 games. This year, the squad came into the tournament ranked ninth in the world and many expected their play to end in the preliminary round. However, under first-year head coach Terry Schroeder, the squad became the Cinderella story.
The U.S. team defeated powerhouses Croatia and Serbia to reach the gold medal match. However, Hungary’s offense was too much to keep up with as the U.S. fell 14-10 and settled for the silver medal, a tremendous feat in itself for a squad that wasn’t even expected to finish in the top eight.
Ryan Bailey and Jeff Powers were two of the most key players throughout the tournament, while Rick Merlo and Tim Hutten provided sparks off the bench.
One female Anteater water polo player attained Olympic success as well. Brittany Hayes, a graduate student at UCI, helped lead the USA women’s water polo team to the silver medal. Although the top-ranked team was favored to win a gold medal, Hayes and her teammates fell just short of expectations, winning a silver medal nonetheless.
Other Anteaters who competed in the 2008 Olympic Games:
Jay Glaser: Former national champion in sailing at UCI in 1972. He served as head coach for the Netherlands and assistant coach for the USA.
Nick Scandone: National champion at UCI in 1988 and was the 2005 U.S. Sailing Rolex Yachtsman of the Year. Scandone is set to participate in the Paralympic games.
Eva Lee and May Mangalakiri: Both former U.S. Badminton Players of the Year. The two competed together in doubles, and Lee competed in singles as well. Lee is currently a student at UCI.
Amber Neben: 2003 USA Cycling National Road Race Champion. Neben is a two-time winner of the Tour de I’Aude Femenin, which is the women’s version of the Tour de France. Neben competed in the Cycling at the Road position for the USA.