Stanford student athletes and alumni brought home 12 golds and 20 medals in total from this summer’s Olympic and Paralympic Games in London. Ahead of a ceremony that will honor the Cardinal’s Olympians at halftime during the Homecoming football game against Arizona this weekend, The Daily had a chance to talk to seven current students who competed at the Games.
Today and tomorrow we will feature, in their own words, the Olympic and Paralympic experiences of US women’s water polo teammates and London 2012 gold medalists senior Melissa Seidermann, junior Annika Dries and freshman Maggie Steffens; senior American synchronized swimmer Mariya Koroleva,; Australian freshman 400-meter sprinter Steven Solomon; Canadian sophomore gymnast Kristina Vaculik; and American Paralympian and double-silver- and double-bronze-medal winning senior Roy Perkins.
The Stanford Daily (TSD): What kind of allegiance to Stanford do you maintain when you are out competing for an entire country?
“I hated Stanford when I was little,” Steffens said. “My parents went to Cal, my cousins went to Cal. Everybody pretty much was Cal Berkeley…But then once my sister came here and I came on campus and I got to experience the whole Stanford family I was like: ‘Wait, this place is awesome.’”
“I feel a lot of camaraderie,” Solomon said. “It’s weird because I have only been here for a week, but I think it’s the environment that I’m in. Stanford especially has a great sporting culture. I’ve gone to watch soccer, I’ve gone to watch football. I go to watch everything because not only do I want to watch it, but everyone wants to watch it–whether you’re a pure academic, whether you couldn’t catch a ball if it was to save your life. You enjoy being a part of a wider team, and that’s been really good, really fun.”
“I love this place,” Dries said. “I missed it. Stanford’s just an amazing place and has amazing people that you just run into. It’s an amazing community.”
TSD: How do you balance your athletic and academic lives?
“There always is difficulty balancing,” Vaculik said. “But I have been doing it for my whole life, through elementary school, high school and then one year of university, so I’m kind of used to not having a lot of excess time.”
“I saw my life as three different zones,” Solomon said. “I had my athletics zone, my school zone and my social zone. And my athletics was a way out of my school zone, and then my social life was a way out of my athletics zone. So if I kept the balance right, everything went perfectly. It improved my time management dramatically. I pretty much didn’t procrastinate, because I didn’t have time to procrastinate. The only part that was a bit hard was sometimes sleep.”
“It’s tough,” Perkins said. “I took winter and spring quarter off last year.”
TSD: What was the preparation for London like in your sports?
“There’s a big difference [between] collegiate synchro and national team synchro,” Koroleva said, “but the coaches at Stanford really prepared me mentally and physically for what national team training was going to be like. [Stanford assistant coach] Sara Lowe, [Stanford head coach] Heather Olson–they were both Olympians, they’ve been through it before. They told me, ‘Watch out for this, and make sure you remember that.’”
“We were in full-time residential training in Southern California [during the last academic year],” Seidermann said, “so in order for us to be able to pursue this opportunity we had to move down to Southern California and be with the team. The two of us [Seidermann and Dries] got really lucky. The team actually went into full time training in January 2011 when our season was going on, and the head national team coach gave us the opportunity to stay at school and finish our season and join up with the team that summer for a year of training.”
“When I’m up here I swim with Palo Alto Stanford Aquatics,“ Perkins said. “It’s a club team, [and] it’s mostly high school swimmers, which is similar to how I train at home. There’s a lot of flexibility, so it’s been good.”
TSD: What was it like taking on the best of the best in the world level on such a global stage?
“The competition itself is very much like any world competition or the Pan American Games,” Koroleva said. “I think the main difference for us was the pressure; there was so much pressure on us. We were the only two girls from the US competing in the Olympics for synchronized swimming because our team didn’t qualify and for the technical program we swam first, so we were the first people to open the competition for synchro. So a lot was riding on us.”
“I can remember sitting in the waiting area, and being like: ‘Guys I’m so nervous right now, so nervous I don’t know what to do,’” Seidermann said. “Then you get in there, you play your first game [which the US won 14-13 against Hungary]. It was very chaotic for us–there were some things out of order [and] everything was really intense. [We were] scoring lots of goals: Maggie [Steffens] scored seven goals, there was just so much going on.
“But by the end of the tournament you could see the progression the team made. That second game we went in there and it was just water polo. It was like what we do every day in practice, every other game we play. That made that final game against Spain just a piece of cake. We were really able to just have fun and enjoy ourselves, playing water polo with our friends instead of thinking about, ‘Oh my God, there’s millions and millions of viewers watching us at home.’”
Read The Daily tomorrow to find out about life in the Olympic Village, how the athletes felt about their achievements and their experiences in general and what they plan to do in the future.