London Olympic Dreams | Summer 2012

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London Dreams

We catch up with seven athletes in seven St. Regis destinations who are hoping to make their Olympic dreams come true in 2012.

By Rod Evans

When more than 11,000 athletes representing more than 200 countries, along with thousands of spectators, descend upon London for the 2012 Summer Olympics, the legendary city will stand alone as the only three-time host in the modern era of the summer games.

London first hosted the world’s largest sports gathering in 1908, then again in 1948. But while the magnitude of the Olympics has grown exponentially since then, one thing has not changed: the dedication and commitment it takes for an athlete to excel on sport’s biggest stage.

Representing seven regions of the U.S. served by the St. Regis, these Olympians and Olympic hopefuls embody the sporting spirit of these 2012 London games.

 

SAN FRANCISCO

Shannon Rowbury, 27, Track and Field

Rowbury, a San Francisco native and product of Duke University, finished seventh in the 1,500 meters at the 2008 games in Beijing, the highest finish in that event by an American woman in the modern Olympics.

“I began Irish dancing at age 5, and it was my first love,” Rowbury says. “But as much as I loved it, dancing was a money pit. Running had more potential for college and beyond.”

Rowbury, who turned pro in 2007, took up running while attending high school at San Francisco’s Sacred Heart Cathedral Preparatory—a school without a track.

“We had to take the bus or drive to Kezar Stadium, which has a public track. But it taught me the importance of perseverance and appreciating whatever you have,” Rowbury says.

Rowbury describes the 2008 Beijing games as an almost surreal experience: “It’s taken a few years to digest all of it,” she says. “The experience of walking into the Bird’s Nest for the opening ceremonies, chanting ‘USA, USA’ with the other Olympians was one of the best moments of my life,” she recalls.

Now training for the Olympic trials in June, Rowbury says she always looks forward to returning to San Francisco.

“Whenever I’m away from home, the number one thing I miss is my family, but the thing that strikes me is how beautiful and inspiring the space is. There’s something unique about San Francisco that I haven’t found anywhere else.”

 

HOUSTON

Steven Lopez, 33, Tae Kwon Do

Houston’s Steven Lopez will compete in his fourth Olympics in 2012, after winning a gold medal in 2000 when tae kwon do debuted as an Olympic sport. He added another gold in 2004 at Athens and a bronze in Beijing in 2008.

“I didn’t believe when I started this journey in 2000 that I would be here 12 years later, but not for a moment have I lost any of the excitement of making the Olympic team,” Lopez says.

While Lopez was less than happy with his bronze medal performance in Beijing, his personal disappointment was far overshadowed by the fact that his family became the first to send four athletes to the same Olympics since 1904, with older brother and coach, Jean, serving as the U.S. Olympic tae kwon do team coach and younger siblings Mark and Diana also on the team (Mark won a silver medal and Diana claimed bronze).

Jean returns as the U.S. coach, and Diana and Steven will compete in London, but Mark did not qualify. “It’s a bittersweet moment for us as a family, but Mark will be my training partner in London,” Lopez says.

The Lopez family now transcends the sport while operating two tae kwon do training facilities in the Houston area. “We’re just an ordinary family that’s been able to do extraordinary things through the love and support we give each other,” Lopez says.

Steven is leaving the door open on attempting to make a fifth Olympic team in 2016. “If I had to make a decision today based on the way my body feels, I would say yes, but I’ll wait until after London to decide.”

 

COLORADO

Will Daly, 28, Rowing

As a kid, Will Daly filled his days by hitting the ski slopes and playing hockey. And then one day, it all changed. Daly, a Boston University graduate, discovered rowing while attending high school at the Kent School in Connecticut.

“My parents met in Aspen, but I grew up in Vail skiing and playing hockey and playing soccer in the summer,” Daly says. “Then I found rowing in high school and that changed the direction of everything I’m doing.”

Daly went on to earn a spot on the U.S. Olympic rowing team at the Beijing Olympics, where, competing in the men’s lightweight four, he finished in 11th place. In 2011, Daly switched to the men’s lightweight doubles and is partnered with Andrew Campbell as they gun for a spot on the 2012 Olympic team.

“It’s almost impossible to describe the excitement and the honor you feel of getting to represent your country in the Olympics,” Daly says. “We didn’t get to attend the opening ceremonies because our competition began the next day, but the closing ceremonies were my most memorable experience.”

Daly and Campbell pilot a 20-foot carbon fiber boat weighing 50 pounds through a 2,000-meter course in just over six minutes. The duo trains six or seven days a week, combining long distance, speed and interval rowing with weight training.

“You have to be a well-rounded athlete with a big lung capacity, but you also need to be explosive,” he explains.

Daly says he is constantly struck by the outpouring of support he receives from his hometown. “I’m amazed at how many people want to reach out to me to see how I’m doing,” he says. “In a sense, I’ll be bringing all of them to the Olympics with me if we make the team.”

 

ORANGE COUNTY, CALIF.

Andy Stevens, 24, Water Polo

“Goalies are different,” Andy Stevens says. “They’re a little kooky, and I would label myself as that.”

He may be a free spirit, but in the water polo pool, Stevens is all business. Following a stellar collegiate career at Loyola Marymount University, he’s now the youngest member of the U.S. national team.

“I started taking swimming lessons when I was about 1 year old,” Stevens recalls. “When I was 6, I was tired of swimming lap after lap. My coach told me about water polo, and I haven’t quit since.”

Blessed with an extremely strong lower body and explosiveness, Stevens tried several other sports before finding his niche in the water polo pool.

“In junior high I tried out for the flag football team and didn’t make it,” he says. “I tried out for the basketball team and didn’t make it. I tried out for the track team and wasn’t fast enough. I’m much better at in the pool sports than land sports for some reason.”

Having fully embraced the goalie’s role as the quarterback in the pool, Stevens is now focused on making his first Olympic team.

“If I were to make the team, it would be a recognition that I’ve finally made it and become one of the best athletes in America,” he says. “I look up to the guys on our team who are going to their fourth Olympics. It means they’ve been among the best athletes in America for 16 or 20 years.”

Stevens says Orange County produces some of the best water polo talent in the country. “I’m not sure why the best kids in water polo keep coming out of Orange County, but it might be the great coaches we have,” he says.

 

ATLANTA

Jeff Larimer, 30, Canoe/Kayak

With the Chattahoochee River flowing through his hometown of Atlanta, Jeff Larimer had the perfect training ground for a career as a world-class canoe/kayak racer right in his backyard.

Lured into the sport by his father, a former competitive paddler, Larimer took up paddling at age 15 and competes in the men’s slalom C2 class with partner Eric Hurd, a native of Woodstock, Ga. “It took me about a year to get comfortable in the boat,” Larimer says. “But now, making the Olympics and doing well there is all we’re focused on.”

In whitewater slalom, athletes have to navigate their super lightweight boats made of carbon fiber, Kevlar and epoxy resin through a 300-meter course with hanging “gates” in the fastest time possible.

“I still do most of my training in Atlanta,” Larimer says. “There are lots of paddling opportunities on the Chattahoochee, even though it doesn’t have lots of whitewater. It’s great for learning and honing your skills.”

While Larimer and Hurd secured an Olympic spot for the U.S. in slalom C2, they will still have to earn their position on the team at the National Whitewater Slalom Team Trials in Charlotte, N.C.

“An Olympic berth means everything,” Larimer says. “It is the reason we are still doing it.”

 

MIAMI

Manuel Hurta, 28, Triathlon

As a 12-year-old, Huerta competed in his first triathlon in his native Cuba. Now, as a naturalized U.S. citizen since 2003, he has qualified to represent the U.S. at the 2012 games.

“To represent America at the Olympics would be a dream come true,” says Huerta, who moved with his family to Miami when he was 13. “My family moved to America for a better life because it is a place where if you work hard, good things happen.”

Huerta grew up swimming and kayaking in Havana, and swam, played water polo and ran cross-country for his Miami high school team. He began racing in local triathlons during the summer and credits an area junior team called the Phantoms for helping him obtain his first bike and other equipment to take his interest to the next level.

“When I was 18, I won my first junior national championship and realized I was a better triathlete than an individual swimmer or runner,” he says.

Miami is the perfect place for a triathlete, says Huerta, who does three-mile swim training sessions three times a week, logs about 200 miles on the bike and runs 40 to 50 miles a week.

“The weather during the winter is great and every year in Dade County, you can race in at least 10 triathlons, ranging from sprint distance all the way to half-Ironman,” he says.

The 2012 Summer Olympics are scheduled for July 27 through Aug. 12 and will utilize venues throughout London and Great Britain. The Paralympic Games, for athletes with disabilities, is scheduled for Aug. 29 through Sept. 9 and will occupy many of the same venues as the Olympic games. Keep your eye on these athletes and the many others who have made it to this pinnacle of worldwide sports.

 

NEW YORK
Amanda Clark, 30, SailingAmanda Clark felt something was missing as she and the rest of the U.S. Olympic team entered Beijing’s Bird’s Nest stadium at the 2008 games.
“I thought the NBC Olympic theme (the symphonic music used throughout Olympic TV broadcasts) by (composer) John Williams was supposed to be playing in the stadium,” Clark laughs. “I thought that was part of the Olympic experience. I’ve since put it on my iPod.”For Clark, who grew up on Shelter Island, a small strip of land situated near Long Island, earning a spot on the 2008 Olympic sailing team was the culmination of a journey that began as a child aboard her parents’ Herreshoff 12 .5 foot sailboat.“I’ve been sailing for as long as I can remember,” Clark says. “At 6 years old, I got my own Optimist dinghy. I began racing on a national level at 10 and was racing internationally by 13.”In Beijing, Clark and then-partner Sarah Mergenthaler placed 12th in the two-person International 470 class, which includes 15-foot boats that can travel up to 20 mph. She and current partner Sarah Lihan have qualified for the London games and are aiming to bring home a medal.Even though Clark spends much of her time traveling, she still finds time to get on the water back home. “Shelter Island is a great sailing community,” she says. “It has beautiful wind.”