Olympics Align Past, Present Bears Swimmers

By Caroline Ogawa, Daily Cal Contributing Writer
This story was originally published in the Daily Californian on Wednesday, April 9, 2008.
Click here for original version.

Reprinted by permission.

It's an honor, but more importantly, it's a tradition.

During the opening ceremonies of the Olympics, every nation parades its athletes across the stage-donned in the country's colors and soaking in the glory.

The 2008 Summer Olympics in Beijing will be no different.

On Aug. 8, competitors will walk into the National Stadium with the honor of representing their respective countries.

But some Cal swimmers will not grace the stage for the opening ceremonies.

Not desirously, but practically.

'It's the day before swimming starts and you're on your feet for four hours,' former Cal swimmer Natalie Coughlin said. 'You get home at 2 a.m. and that's not smart the day before the biggest competition of your life.'

This isn't just speculation. Coughlin speaks from experience. In the 2004 Olympics in Athens, she followed the same prescription and returned home, her neck heavy with medals: two gold, two silver and one bronze.

But not everyone felt the same way. Junior Dana Vollmer took in every moment of the opening ceremony and left Athens with a gold medal of her own.

This proves just how different athletes can be-even athletes trained in the same collegiate arena.

Coughlin is the veteran with the mentality expected of a highly distinguished female athlete. She dispels the doubts that plagued her four years ago and shakes off the pressure imposed by past accomplishments.

'In 2004 there was always the question of being a successful college swimmer without a gold medal,' Coughlin said. 'They really can't say that to me anymore because no matter what, I'll always have that gold medal.

'However, having the success I've had over the past several years does add some more pressure, but it's not making me uncomfortable.'

While Coughlin is steadied by experience, senior Emily Silver sits on the other end of the spectrum. She has yet to qualify for an Olympic team, even though, for her, swimming is a family pastime.

Silver's uncle, Larry Barbiere, was an Olympian in 1968 and took fourth in the 100-meter backstroke, and her father made a name for himself in the college arena.

'My uncle doesn't add any pressure; it's just a cool fact,' Silver said. 'But my dad knows what it's all about so I can relate to him about it.'

Forty years later, she can follow in her uncle's footsteps.

But before Beijing, there's Omaha-the site of the U.S. Olympic trials.

'The goals are simple: just qualify,' Coughlin said.

Although trials may seem basic for one of the most decorated female swimmers, Coughlin knows to take it one step at a time after not qualifying in any event in 2000.

'It was nice to feel what both sides felt like,' Coughlin said. 'Even though I didn't enjoy not making the team in 2000, it gave me more motivation to train hard and perform well-not only at the Olympic trials but also at the Olympics in 2004.'

The extra incentive paid off for Coughlin, proven by her five Olympic medals. Now, as she works to defend them, Silver works to claim her own.

'Being able to say that you're an Olympian is something you can say forever,' Silver said. 'In athletics, that is what everyone strives for.'

While Silver trains to make the cut in Omaha, there's one Cal swimmer that won't have to worry about the upcoming U.S. trials.

Sophomore Lauren Boyle qualified in the 4x200-meter free relay earlier this month as a member of the New Zealand Olympic team.

Since the NCAA championships, the Bears-past and present-are scattered around the world: Boyle in New Zealand and Silver in England for the World Short Course Championships.

At different stages in their careers, there is only one thing they can agree on: progress is evident.

'I'm much stronger than I was going into Athens,' Coughlin said. 'I've learned a lot over the past several years. I think I'm emotionally a stronger athlete as well as a physically stronger athlete. I've had my lifetime bests in all my best events within the past year.'

And while this may be the last competition for Silver, she feels at the top of her game.

'I would love to make the Olympic team,' Silver said. 'That would be a great way to end my career. I haven't decided if I'm going to keep swimming after this summer, but it's not the time to think about that.

'I'm focused on the trials, and with my four years at Cal, I've dropped times. I can see it on paper and it's helped reassure me to know that I'm getting better.'

And there isn't a better time to shed seconds because no matter their history and no matter how many medals they may have, every athlete involved remembers that it is an honor.

'It's the best of the best in the whole world,' Silver said. 'To say that I was a Olympian and that I went to the Olympics would be an experience I would have for the rest of my life. It's would be a dream come true.'

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