UCI Going for the Gold

Anteaters! The 2012 Summer Olympics is right around the corner. While we recently had a international sports warm-up if you will, as the UEFA European Championships ended with a dominant performance from a Spanish team that many consider to be one of the all-time best,  the real action starts on July 27 when the Olympics kick-off in London. The Euros might have gained recognition in the United States, but the Olympics are on a whole other level. With 204 countries competing in 302 events in 26 sports, this is where sports history is truly made.

It’s easy for people to say that UCI is a non-sports school, that its primary focus is on academics. But I’m here to tell you that that is just not true. The 2012 Olympic Games provide good proof, with three of UCI’s coaches and five student alumni competing in London. The numbers don’t stop there though because 50 UCI students, alumni and coaches have participated in the Olympic games, combining for a total of 23 medals. Perhaps I shouldn’t be admitting this as the new Associate Sports Editor for the New University, but I have to say, I was a little surprised by these numbers. Maybe you are too. But actually, UCI has a rich Olympic history, full of surprises, begging us to take a closer look.

The biggest surprise of all, was when I discovered that Greg Louganis was, in fact, a UCI alumni. Since he first competed over 35 years ago, many UCI undergrads might not know who Louganis is, but he is widely regarded as the best diver in Olympic history and one of the greatest American Olympians of all time. Louganis first competed in the 1976 Olympics in Montreal, and finished his career with the 1988 Seoul Olympics. All told, Louganis collected four gold medals and one silver. In 1988, he was even honored as “Athlete of the Year” by ABC’s Wide World of Sports.

The most notorious moment of his career came in the 1988 Olympics when he suffered a concussion after hitting his head on the springboard while performing a dive. Yet only 35 minutes later, he climbed back up the ladder to dive into the pool and qualified for the finals. Less than 24 hours later, he earned the gold medal in the event, cementing himself as one of the greats in Olympic history.

That same year, Louganis tested positive for HIV, and in 1994, he publicly came out at the Gay Games in New York. In my opinion, this makes Louganis one of the most courageous athletes of the past 50 years. Not only did he win a gold medal less than a day after suffering a concussion, but he was an openly gay athlete even though the general climate of sports felt a bit opposed to homosexuality, as it still is. This same type of athlete, who displays strength and courage both in and out of his or her respective sport, is representing their country, and UCI, at the Olympics this year too.

UCI will once again makes its biggest Olympic splash in the pool, with UCI alumni Ryan Bailey, Tim Hutten and Jeff Powers competing on the team this year and defending the men’s water polo silver medal from the 2008 Beijing Games. There have been 13 UCI athletes who have been on the squad, nine of whom took home silver medals.

Women’s water polo will also be represented this year, as Dan Klatt, UCI’s coach (and UCI alum who played on 2004 team in Athens) of the same sport, will serve as the assistant coach in London.

Volleyball, another UCI highlight, will feature Anteater alumni Brian Thornton and David Smith, who are defending their team’s gold medal from the 2008 Games.

Other Anteaters participating in the Games this year are UCI women’s volleyball coaches Paula Weishoff and Jamie Morrison, who will be assistant coaches in London, and former UCI graduate student Amber Neben, who will ride with the cycling team.

Perhaps the most well-known UCI athlete associated with this year’s Olympic Games is one who won’t be there, Charles Jock. On June 8, Jock won the NCAA championship in the 800 meters, the first UCI individual NCAA champion in 34 years. He competed in the preliminaries for the 800-meter event in track and field, hoping to earn a spot on the U.S. team. Jock raced to head of the pack, as he always does, and held the lead for 600 meters, but faded in the last 200, ultimately coming in eighth place. Even though Charles Jock won’t be competing in the 2012 Olympic Games in London, he will still be remembered as likely the best sprinter in UCI history.

UCI might not necessarily  be known as a sports school, but we can compete with the best of athletes on all levels – even at an international competition such as the Olympics. So this year, as you chant, “U.S.A., U.S.A.”, remember to throw in a little “zot-zot” too.