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UCLA

Going for the Gold

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By Wendy Soderburg '82

Published Jul 24, 2012 8:00 AM


From two incoming freshmen who have yet to attend a class on campus to an alumna who will be competing in her fifth Olympics, 32 Bruins are headed to London this summer.

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High jumper Amy Acuff '97 will be making her fifth Olympic appearance.

Thirty-two Bruins are taking part in the 2012 Olympic Games, which are being held from July 27–Aug. 12. Twenty-four of them are athletes and eight are coaches or delegation members. Twenty-two will represent the United States, while 10 will represent eight other countries: Australia, Canada (2), Great Britain (2), Ireland, Korea, Netherlands, New Zealand and Poland.

Fifteen of the 32 Bruins have participated in past Olympic Games, including alumna Amy Acuff, a high jumper on the U.S. women’s track-and-field team who will be making her fifth Olympic appearance. The Austin, Texas, native also competed in the 1996, 2000, 2004 and 2008 Games.

"I remember watching from the stands as a 9-year-old in Los Angeles in 1984. Some of the athletes competing there were athletes that I later competed with," Acuff said. "I was always inspired by the athletes’ attempt to generate the perfect expression of their craft with their bodies. I am so excited to have the exceptional luck to attend one more time and have that chance!"

Acuff will be joined by 14 other Bruins making a return visit to the Olympics: Adam Wright (water polo), Meb Keflezighi (marathon), Mark Hunter (rowing, Great Britain), Yoo Kim (pole vault, Korea), Marcin Matkowski (tennis, Poland), Lauren Cheney (soccer), Dawn Harper (100m hurdles), Kelly Rulon (women’s water polo), Jessica Cosby (hammer throw), Karch Kiraly (assistant coach, women’s volleyball), Jillian Ellis (assistant coach, women’s soccer), John Speraw (assistant coach, men’s volleyball), Bob Alejo (coach, men’s beach volleyball) and Al Lau (delegation head, beach volleyball).

For the remaining 17 Bruins, however, it’s going to be a brand-new experience. Current UCLA student Rena Wang, the lone female badminton athlete representing the United States, had to take a leave from school in 2010 in order to train full time and compete in international tournaments. The biology major will return to UCLA in the fall.

"I was so ecstatic and excited, but most of all, relieved," said Wang, upon learning she had made the U.S. team. "The two years of traveling, nine years of training and sacrifices finally paid off. It was a win for everyone who supported me and got me to where I am today."

Although she’s the U.S.’s top female player, Wang’s international ranking hovers in the 50s. So she knows she’s got a tough road ahead of her. "My goal for the Olympics will be to make it to the round of 16," Wang said. "I just want to do my best, enjoy every moment and give my best fight in every game."

As head coach of the U.S. women’s water polo team, Adam Krikorian — whose teams won an unprecedented 15 national titles in 17 years at UCLA (11 as a head coach, three as an assistant coach and one as a student-athlete) — knows that expectations are high. The U.S. women have won two silvers and one bronze in the last three Olympics, and the feeling is that this year, they are poised to win the gold. But Krikorian doesn’t want to appear overconfident.

"This year’s eight-team field has more parity than ever before," he said. "Most would say that at least seven teams, maybe all eight, have the ability to reach the top of the podium. This will undoubtedly make things more challenging for us but, in turn, exciting for the fans.

"With that being said, I have been impressed with the progress in maturity this team has made over the last two years," Krikorian continued. "If we can continue to avoid the distractions that the future presents and consistently play in the moment, I do feel confident that it will be a successful event for us."

Along with Krikorian and Wang, the other 2012 Bruins who are new to the Olympic scene are Brittany Borman (javelin), incoming UCLA freshman Danusia Francis (alternate, women’s gymnastics, Great Britain), Chay Lapin (men’s water polo), Sydney Leroux (women’s soccer), Kevin Love (basketball), Courtney Mathewson (women’s water polo), Tori Pena (pole vault, Ireland), Jean-Julien Rojer (tennis, Netherlands), Chelsea Stewart (soccer, Canada), Russell Westbrook (basketball), Rosie White (soccer, New Zealand), Julian Wruck (discus, Australia), Michael Sealy (scout coach, men’s volleyball) and incoming UCLA freshman Peng Peng Lee (honorary captain, women’s gymnastics, Canada).

Alumna Anna Li, an eight-time All-American and 2011 World Championship gold medalist while competing for UCLA, found out just three weeks ago at the U.S. Olympic Trials that she had been selected as an alternate for the U.S. women’s gymnastics team. This will be her first Olympics.

"I couldn’t believe it," said Li, upon hearing the news. "I knew I did the best I possibly could and felt happy, no matter what the outcome was." As a replacement athlete, she knows she must be prepared to step up at any time and is determined to enjoy the moment.

"Aside from the competition, I think it will be so much fun just to be in London," she added. "I’ve never been there, so I’m looking forward to seeing a lot of fun things and taking lots of pictures. And, of course, hoping to bring back some hardware!"

For more information about the 2012 Bruin Olympians, visit the UCLA Athletics Olympics website.

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