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Olympics: SCV’s Olympic future

Locals look ahead, hoping for a chance to shine on the biggest of stages

Posted: July 27, 2012 1:55 a.m.
Updated: July 27, 2012 1:55 a.m.

What makes an Olympian?

For the next two weeks in London, we’ll get a chance to the see the finished product, as thousands of athletes take part in the highest level of competition on Earth in the 2012 Summer Olympic Games.

But every one of the athletes had to start somewhere.

In a few cases, that somewhere was the Santa Clarita Valley.

But what exactly does it take to go from somewhere to the center of the athletic universe?

“The obvious answer is the physical dedication, but it’s also being able to handle the ups and down,” said Jeff Conwell, head coach of the locally-based Canyons Aquatics Club. “Most athletes that are in the Olympics now haven’t swam their best times since four years ago when they were last at the Olympics.”

Canyons Aquatics sent seven athletes to the U.S. Olympic Team Swim Trials earlier this summer and current Olympian and Hart graduate Anthony Ervin was a Canyon Aquatics swimmer.

That seven made up the majority of the 11 overall swimmers with Santa Clarita Valley ties to participate in this year’s trials.

There were also three athletes with local connections to compete in the Olympic track and field trials.

Of all those to take part in trials, just one swimmer and two track athletes made the Olympic team.

But clearly, many others are close.

“It’s one in thousands,” said Canyon High track and field head coach Paul Broneer. “I think it’s everybody’s dream to get to that level, but not too many athletes do. First of all, you’ve got to have a lot of talent, great coaching and a tremendous amount of competitive spirit.”

Two of the athletes who competed in Olympic trials this year, Canyon graduates Alysia Montano and Lauren Fleshman, were once coached by Broneer.

Montano became the first Canyon product to make it to the Summer Games when she qualified in the 800-meter run. Fleshman fell short in the final round of the 5,000-meter trials.

Given the achievements of SCV high school track and field athletes in recent years and the number of local products earning track and field college scholarships, Broneer said future Olympians are possible.

“I think some (athletes) will emerge and become pretty good,” Broneer said. “We’ve had quite a few kids go on and compete in college, but none of them have gone on to the Olympics other than Alysia.”

And many more have shown that the Olympics are a reachable goal.

Most of the local swimmers to make it to trials this year are students or graduates SCV high schools.

Hart’s Ervin was the only one to qualify for the Olympics, doing so in the 50-meter freestyle. He already won a gold in the same event in 2000.

With the recent influx of Olympic trials appearances, it sets the precedent for future Olympians in the sport.

“As one swimmer sees they can get to the top level, the two or three swimmers right beneath them say, ‘Hey, Ican get there too,’” Conwell said.

One of the more promising performances at trials this year was turned in by Saugus sophomore Abbey Weitzeil.

She swam a personal-best time of 56.65 in the 100-meter freestyle to take 51st in the prelims and she nearly did the same in the 50 freestyle, where she took 79th overall.

Considering she was among the youngest competitors in the field, the numbers were encouraging.

“I knew that compared to everyone at trials, I’m definitely not at the top, but (my coach talked to me about) how close I could really be in my goal times and all those,” Weitzeil said.

There were other strong showings at swim trials, including West Ranch graduate Riley Mita in the 400 and 1,500 freestyle events.

Former Saugus High swimmer John Criste took first overall in a field of 139 swimmers in the 100 breaststroke prelims, but came up short with a 12th-place finish in the semifinals.

That’s just the individual sports.

The team sports provide another possible avenue to the Olympics.

In the past, softball and baseball have given SCV products a chance to for Olympic glory, but both sports were removed from the list of events following the 2008 Summer Games.

But that still leaves sports like volleyball, which is another growing trend in the SCV with the emergence of two clubs in the area.

This week will mark the first time a homegrown SCV player will take part in the Olympics as a volleyball player when Saugus graduate David Smith takes the court.

“The nice thing is volleyball in this community is growing, and this is proof of it,” said Tony Ker, operations supervisor at Legacy Volleyball Club. “It’s been a running joke for the past 15 or 20 years where people say, ‘Oh, you guys actually play sports in Santa Clarita?’”

It’s players like Smith and Ker, who graduated from Valencia and went on to a decorated career at UCLA, who can pave the way for more Olympic hopefuls by the time the 2016 and 2020 Games roll around.

It’s hard to tell which athletes could one day compete with the best athletes in the world.
For now, we can only look at the potential.

And in the SCV, there is plenty.


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