This is the second part of a two-part series on Stanford student-athletes in London. Today, the seven current Stanford students who competed at this summer’s London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games discuss life in the Olympic Village, reflect on their achievements and talk about their future plans. Join us to talk to U.S. women’s water polo teammates and London 2012 gold medalists senior Melissa Seidemann, junior Annika Dries and freshman Maggie Steffens; U.S. synchronized swimmer senior Mariya Koroleva; Australian 400-meter sprinter freshman Steven Solomon; Canadian gymnast sophomore Kristina Vaculik; and U.S. Paralympian double-silver and double-bronze medalist senior Roy Perkins.
The Stanford Daily (TSD): What was life like in the Olympic Village?
“Our coach made sure that we had no distractions,” Koroleva said. “[Organizers] were trying to get us to do some media stuff, go out of the village for things, and we were just not allowed to do any of that. It was very focused, very intense. Afterwards it just felt so good. It was like a weight lifted off your chest, and you’re done, you just competed at the Games, and from then it was just exploring the village and people having fun.“
“I did meet one of Russia’s greatest basketball players, and I didn’t know who he was at the time until I went back to the room and Googled his name. That was pretty cool.”
“I’m lucky that I’ve been to world championship villages before, so I knew how to control myself in the dining hall,” Solomon said, “which is a big thing. A lot of people see endless amounts of any food that you can possibly imagine, and the best-tasting pizza that you’ve ever had in your life is just sitting there every day for breakfast, lunch and dinner. The dining hall at the Olympic Village was about a 100 times the size of Arrillaga. It was like the size of an airplane hanger, and there was just endless amounts of food, 24 hours a day, every day, which was really cool. Really, really cool, especially when you’re finished.”
“For me, I tried to fit everything in, the village life, hanging out with other athletes,” Seidemann said. “I also spent some time on the Tube and in the mall and visiting my family. For me it was important to make sure I included the whole experience, not just the Olympic Games, into it, so that part was cool too, that we had off-days and opportunities to experience other things while we were there.”
TSD: It’s always difficult to rate your own performances fairly, but how do you think the competition went?
“As a team we expected to make top eight,” Vaculik said, “and this hadn’t been done before by the Canadian gymnastics team, the women specifically. So that was our goal and we actually placed seventh during the qualification round, and that was a huge surprise for us. In the team finals we came fifth, which was a huge step up and totally unexpected, so we were all really happy with that, and it was amazing.”
“It was great; it was my second Paralympics,” Perkins said. “I swam in Beijing as well, so the experience was kinda similar, but my performance was better this time, so it was a better experience in some ways.”
TSD: Did you get a chance to soak up the excitement of the Games amidst all of your individual preparations?
“We didn’t get to go to the opening ceremony because it was two days before the competition,” Vaculik said, “but I watched it on TV and it was still really exciting. The closing ceremonies were awesome. It was just spectacular; great artists came and performed and the energy there was amazing even though it symbolized the closing of the Olympics.”
“Working toward the Olympics I really just looked at each day as another step toward it,” Vaculik said. “It is the Olympics, and that was what I had been working for my entire life, so I wanted to make the most of each moment and take it all in, and that’s what I did there. Even when I walked into the stadium I took time to look around, take in the atmosphere. It was just incredible, something I hadn’t experienced at any other competition. It really was a once in a lifetime thing.”
“At the opening ceremony was the first time that I really felt that we’re here on the world stage,” Dries said. “You’re walking out, there’s 60,000 people, there’s lights everywhere. I almost got lost from the group because I was so excited in the moment of it. Just this moment when you’re like, ‘Wow this is the real deal.’ In water polo we don’t have as many opportunities [like] this. Every four years it’s really special.”
What about the future? What lies ahead for you guys?
“The experience gives me a little bit of confidence going into this next season,” Vaculik said, “but it was sort of something separate for me. That was a separate goal other than my collegiate goals. That was the endpoint to my international career, and now I can fully come back and solely focus on my collegiate gymnastics and giving my all to the team. I think that’ll be a really good step in the right direction for me, with Stanford.”
“I will be 24 if I decide to go to Rio ,” Vaculik said. “I’m not sure for now; it’s really hard for me to say if that is a possibility or not, so as of now I’m focusing on my academics and I want to get my degree.”
“I’ve got short- and long-term goals,” Solomon said, “but one can look at it that my time at Stanford is the four-year cycle between now and Rio, so pretty much my preparation for the Rio Olympics will be done on campus at Stanford. That’s something that myself and the coaches are really aware of, and we’re really looking down to strategically planning where I wanna be in different stages of that four-year cycle. I’m really confident that being here at Stanford’s gonna give me the best opportunity to do as well as I can.”