Skip to main content

Follow the Pac-12 to Rio: Pac-12 Networks Swimming & Diving

Jun 27, 2016

It’s time to follow the Pac-12 to Rio! Leading into the 2016 Olympic games, Pac-12 Networks Insider will profile its on-air talent with Olympic ties. Whether they’re broadcasters, competitors or have accomplished both feats, we have you covered.

This week, Pac-12 Networks Insider features a four-person roundtable of swimmers and divers who have made their marks in Olympic history:

  • Rowdy Gaines, 1980 and 1984 Summer Olympics
  • Michele Mitchell, 1984 and 1988 Summer Olympics
  • Cynthia Potter, 1968, 1972 and 1976 Summer Olympics
  • Amy Van Dyken, 1996 and 2000 Summer Olympics

Could you describe your training regimen for the Olympics?

Cynthia Potter: “It changed over the course of my Olympic involvement. When I was first in the trials in 1968, the training was much different compared to my last Olympic trials in 1980. Technology wasn’t anything like it is today, but there was always progress in that area. If we had known the best way to train, I think that we could have been a lot healthier. We wouldn't have been as prone to some of the injuries we had. We trained probably the last 4-6 months three times a day, six days a week. That was really intense. We probably over trained at times more than some athletes do today. We trained differently and didn’t have the kind of information that is out there now about the best way for athletes to train off of certain heights that might have a lot of force involved.”

Rowdy Gaines: “As an athlete, right now is a great time physically because you’re in ‘taper mode.’ Resting, getting a lot of sleep, and fine tuning a few things in the pool. Right this minute, it’s a great time to be a swimmer physically. Mentally, it’s the worst time because you're so nervous. As great as some of the other events are, the pinnacle of success is the Olympics. It’s our super bowl. Four year journey and all of a sudden becomes a reality, and that puts a lot of people on edge.”

Amy Van Dyken: “Both of the games I trained with the same coach for most of it. At the end of my career I went back to college at Colorado State. I trained at the Olympic Center from ‘94-’99. We would train for two hours in the morning, two hours at night in the pool and then do another 45 minutes to one hour of weight training in a day. It was pretty intense; we did that for 6 days a week. As I got closer to 2000 and went back to my college coach at CSU, we chilled out a bit because I had two shoulder surgeries. I did a lot more sprinting.”

What was it like when you found out you made the U.S. Olympic team?

MM: “Our Olympic trials were in Indianapolis. I didn’t have a lot of international experience at that point. Some TV person at the time dubbed me the ‘unknown from Tucson, Arizona’. It took 20 years of training to be the unknown from Tucson, Arizona! I was the overnight sensation, and the TV focus was on some other women who had been on the team previously. All media cameras were on them.”

AVD: “I couldn’t believe it. It was for the 100 free. To make it in the individual event, I couldn't believe it. I thought, ‘maybe this is my Olympics.’ It was shocking, but it gave me a lot of confidence.

Can you describe the atmosphere at the Opening Ceremonies?

MM: “There’s an entire day’s schedule of what you’re wearing, when you’re leaving, how long you’re going to be there and they had entertainment for us. We were in there for about six hours. It was a process to even get to the starting gates! It’s the most spectacular thing when you walk into a stadium and there’s a 100,000 people there. It’s seared into your memory.”

RG: “It was surreal. You have to go back to ‘84 in my period of life because it was Hollywood. When I marched out, the biggest show at the time was Dynasty. Right there on the front row was Linda Evans. For me, that kicked off, ‘Wow what an experience - 100,000 people in the LA Coliseum.’ It was pretty cool. One of those magical moments.”

For those of you who competed in an Olympic games in the U.S., what was the atmosphere like?

RG: “It was like competing in a Super Bowl in your hometown. Just imagine the Green Bay Packers playing in their stadium. That's what it was like because we were swimming for our country; to have one in your home country was as big of a thrill as you can imagine. To be able to swim in front of family, friends and Americans - it was one of the reasons I won. I felt the energy of the crowd and I don't know if I would have felt that same energy somewhere else. To swim at home was really special.”

AVD: “Normally we would compete in other countries. It was so cool to see people wearing red, white and blue and have signs with your name on it! It had so much energy and it was spirited. The 100 butterfly was an event that I was swimming at night. I came off the turn and the crowd got so loud that I could hear them underwater and feel the vibration of them cheering underwater. It was that cool. That sums up the entire atmosphere. It was just energy.”

For those of you who have made the jump to broadcasting the Olympic games - can you talk about what that change is like?

CP: “It gave me a totally different perspective. It was a little difficult in a way for me because I was a coach after I quit diving. I saw it from a different side, and that you really have to be tuned in to your own feelings and deal with those about the kids and divers. You also have to be very careful. You’re there to analyze and critique the dive, but beware! You are not there to analyze the person or analyze them. It can be a rookie mistake at first because you know so many inside stories. You have to know those boundaries can’t be crossed.”

RG: “As a broadcaster, it’s sort of the opposite [of athletic training for the games]. I’m busting my tail trying to study up - there’s 1,800 athletes competing in Omaha. I've got to study on a lot of them - trying to do my homework. That’s what I’m doing. It’s pretty tough work. It’s a lot of studying. The physical side - mental/emotional is not hard on me since i’m not competing. It’s more exciting but I’m not nervous or anything.”

Any memorable moments that stick out to date?

AVD: “I remember the medley relay. I swam with Amanda Beard. She came up to me and said, ‘Amy, I haven't done a lot of relays, so I'm not sure if I am going to do this right.’ I remember that night I told her to do what you know and when I scream go, just go. We broke the Olympic record and got a gold medal. I also remember after one of my events, there was a picture of it in one of the newspapers of myself and Franziska van Almsick from Germany - we swam together a lot. It was two people who competed against each other for years and she came up to me and gave me a hug. Just her and I hugging, no one else. It sums up what the Olympics is; it doesn't matter where you’re from, every athlete has respect for each other because you know you are the best in the world. It doesn't matter if you win or if you get last, to be an Olympian is a special club.”

CP: “In 1972, one of my teammates (and we weren’t on the same team in the states), I really liked her diving. Her specialty was more on the platform than springboard. Her mother passed away when we were at the Olympics. I realized the importance of the support you get from your teammates and the things that happen in sports, is no different than what happens and that you have to deal with in life. If you don’t find good friends within your sport, you need to take a look at what’s going on. It was a real eye-opener for me.”

MM: “Every competitor got two tickets. Somewhere along the way, i got a hold of my dad and asked where they were sitting. He said, ‘You’ll see me. I’ll have the Arizona ballcap on.’ I am on the platform for my first event, and I look down to my right for no reason, and my eyes fall right on my parents. He had his Arizona ballcap on and gave me the clenched fist sign, and my mom waved at me.”

Stay tuned for our next feature on wrestler Ken Chertow coming up later this week.