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Making a Splash Down Under

Four dozen Stanford athletes hope to swim, run and fight their way to Olympic gold. In our guide to Cardinal-watching in Sydney, meet a cyclist who lives in a van, a sprinter running for president and a fencer who carries a stuffed frog.

Al Bello/Allsport

PLUNGING AHEAD: Jenny Thompson is "the cornerstone of the Olympic women's swin team," says coach Richard Quick.

By Sherri Eng

Let's face it: the Summer Olympics were made for Stanford athletes. Maybe it's the weather, or the overachiever mentality, or the world-class swimming teams -- the bottom line is that Stanford has more medals than most countries.

The University, with 172,350 students and alumni, has been about as successful as China, a nation of 1.2 billion. Both Cardinal and Chinese athletes won 16 gold medals in the 1996 Atlanta Games, placing them fourth in the world. Since the inauguration of the modern Summer Games in 1896, Stanford has garnered 166 medals to China's 164.

When the XXVII Olympiad kicks off September 15 in Sydney, Australia, Stanford's standing as an Olympic superpower should only increase. Led by a pack of distance runners -- fast becoming a Cardinal specialty -- the track and field contingent could make its strongest showing since 1932. The Farm will supply two players and an assistant coach to the first-ever Olympic women's water polo team. And the Sydney Games organizing committee has even adopted quirky mascots -- a kookaburra, a platypus and the anteaterlike echidna -- which should help Stanford Olympians feel right at home. Stanford profiles eight of the Cardinal athletes who will strive for gold in Sydney.

Right on Track

regina jacobs
LEADING THE PACK: Jacobs could medal at the Games.
Shaun Botterill/Allsport


Hometown: Los Angeles

Height: 5'6"

Weight: 112

Event: Track and field, 1,500-meter and/or 5,000-meter run

When Regina Jacobs was growing up in Los Angeles surrounded by a large extended family, her grandmother often shooed her and her cousins outside to play. In between games of tag and hide-and-seek, the cousins would challenge other neighborhood kids to footraces. "That was a game I never lost," Jacobs says. And she's still winning. Jacobs came in first in the 1,500- and 5,000-meter runs at the trials in July, breaking her own U.S. record in the latter. In her fourth Olympic appearance, she plans to run the 1,500 -- her signature event -- and/or the 5,000 and is expected to contend for a medal.

Why she's suited for the sport: Long arms and legs combined with a small frame. "Running is in my blood," she says. "I like the way I feel while I'm doing it and after I'm done."

Stanford career: Four years on the track and cross-country teams, with three top-10 finishes at the NCAAs.

Secret weapon: A strong kick that she starts 150 or 500 meters before the finish, depending on where her opponents are in the pack. "That's the good thing about the 1,500 -- it involves a lot of strategy," she says. "There are a lot of different ways to beat an opponent. Sometimes, you have to be patient and try to outsmart them."

Training regimen: Coached by husband Tom Craig, Jacobs trains full time. She works out twice daily except Mondays. On Tuesdays and Thursdays, she does an easy 4-mile run in the morning, then goes to the track and runs 8 miles. She does longer runs on the other days, around Lake Merritt in Oakland or along the trails on Mount Tamalpais in Marin. She also lifts weights five days a week.

Off the track: Tends the vegetable garden at her Oakland home, reads and does needlepoint.

Hero: Her mother, Cecilia Pinkett. When Jacobs was a budding track star in middle school, she asked her mom if she could have a personal coach. Pinkett, a single mother, could hardly afford it but promised her daughter a coach if she boosted her grades. The tactic worked.

The Polo Prodigy

tony azevedo
SHOOTOUT: Azevedo is the youngest water polo player ever to compete for the United States.
Donald Miralle/Allsport


Hometown: Long Beach, Calif.

Height: 6'1"

Weight: 195

Event: Water polo, driver

Competing in the Olympics runs in Tony Azevedo's family. Aunt Piedade (1932) and Aunt Maria (1936) both played volleyball in the Games, while Aunt Lucy (1952) played basketball, and Uncle Carlos (1972) swam the butterfly. Then there's Azevedo's dad, Ricardo, who was an assistant coach for the Olympic men's water polo team in '96. And now it's Tony's turn. Or, rather, the first of many turns. At 18 -- seven years younger than anyone else on the U.S. team -- he is already being touted as the Michael Jordan of water polo.

Role: Driver, which is similar to a basketball point guard who shoots or distributes the ball. Azevedo "may not be the fastest player," says Bruce Wigo, executive director of USA Water Polo, "but no one beats him, either."

Strategy: Prepares by watching videotapes of opponents, but relies on instinct when he sees unfamiliar competitors in the pool.

Stanford career: Probably will redshirt this fall, says Stanford coach Dante Dettamanti, because "coming back from the Olympic Games will be a psychological letdown." But in the 2001 season, Dettamanti expects "big things" from the young phenom. "We've lost the NCAA championship by one goal each of the last two years, and I'm sure Tony could have scored at least one."

Training regimen: Five days a week, eight hours a day, Azevedo swims, runs, does push-ups, lifts weights to build strength and works on tactical plays.

Diet: Eats a lot of fruit and stays away from fast food. Drinks two liters of water a day.

Lucky charm: Pair of TYR swim trunks that he wears under his rubberized swimsuit during competitions.

He Can Dig It

mike lambert
GOT IT: Lambert led the Cardinal to its first NCAA championship.
Courtesy USA Volleyball


Hometown: Kaneohe, Hawaii

Height: 6'6"

Weight: 210

Event: Volleyball, outside hitter

Luckily for the U.S. men's volleyball team, Hawaii doesn't have a professional baseball, basketball or football team. Otherwise, Mike Lambert might have been the next Barry Bonds, Scottie Pippen or Brett Favre. Instead, he became a top-flight spiker. You see, on the islands, volleyball is big. Thousands flock to the University of Hawaii to cheer on the Rainbow Warriors. For young Mike, going to a volleyball match was as exciting as watching the NBA all-star game. By age 11, Lambert was hooked on the sport for good. At Stanford, he led the squad to first-place division finishes in 1993 and 1994 and an NCAA title in 1997-- stopping out to play on the 1996 Olympic team -- and finished his college career ranked No. 2 in kills and aces and No. 3 in blocks.

Why he's suited for the sport: Long arms and a good jump -- 36 inches with a running start. "Being lanky helps in this game," Lambert says.

Role: "He plays the most important position on the team," says U.S. head coach Doug Beal. "When he plays well, we are hard to beat."

Secret weapon: Lambert, nicknamed "The Chief" by his teammates, thrives on competition. "I get real aggro and step it up when it's a tight game,'" he says.

Training regimen: Works out full time with the national team. Practices 21/2 to 3 hours every morning and weight-trains in the afternoon to build leg muscles. Does yoga for an hour each day, then listens to music (preferably Ravi Shankar) while stretching. Surfs to build up his shoulder and rotator cuff.

Diet: His favorite meal consists of roma tomatoes and cucumbers tossed in olive oil, a baked chicken (yes, he can eat a whole one in a single sitting), feta cheese, avocados and bread. He enjoys making his post-workout shake—a concoction of soy milk, almonds, walnuts, bananas and protein powder.

Hero: Volleyball great Karch Kiraly, who, Lambert says, is "skilled in all facets of the game" -- spiking, serving, blocking, digging and passing.

The competition: Russia, Cuba, Italy and Brazil. "If we play at our highest level, we can beat any of those teams," Lambert says.

En Garde

felicia zimmermann
Art Streiber

Hometown: Rochester, N.Y.

Height: 5'6"

Weight: 140

Event: Fencing, foil

iris zimmermann
Art Streiber

Hometown: Rochester, N.Y.

Height: 5'8"

Weight: 167

Event: Fencing, foil


Thomas Zimmermann didn't want his daughters to be wimps. So when he read in the local newspaper about the opening of the Rochester Fencing Centre, he took Felicia and Iris to sign up for lessons. Felicia, then 8, started at once. Iris, too young at 2, had to wait four years to join her sister. More than a decade later, they are foiling their opponents. Iris is ranked No. 1 in the nation (12th in the world) and will be heading to her first Olympic Games. Felicia, at No. 2 (21st in the world), makes her second Olympic appearance this year.

Secret weapons: Iris is not afraid to attack. ("Some people say that I fence like a man.") She often uses a difficult move called the flick, whipping her sword downward and then hitting her opponent on the back with the tip. It requires extraordinary strength in the shoulder and arm.

Felicia describes herself as a "thinking" fencer who typically waits for her opponent to make the first move. "Some you can trick easily," she says. "Some are more tactical. Some are more physical. And some like to play mind games." She has good control, a strong arm and quick reactions for defense and counterattack.

Stanford careers: Felicia, a transfer student, competed for two years for the Cardinal. She is the only woman to win two NCAA fencing championships with different weapons -- foil in 1998 and épée in 1999. Iris redshirted her freshman year and will return to the Farm next season.

Training regimen: Lessons several times a week at the same studio where they first learned to fence, plus weight training focused on correcting the muscle imbalances that develop from one-sided activity.

Lucky charm: At every competition, Iris totes a green stuffed frog Felicia gave her when she was 12. Felicia bought the toy to comfort her younger sister when they didn't travel together to tournaments.

On facing each other: "Neither of us enjoys the experience, because we both don't want to win, but we both don't want to lose," Iris says. "When we go on the strip and put our masks on, we are competitors." Felicia, finishing Iris's thought, adds: "But when the masks come off, we are sisters."

Heroes: Iris has always wanted to be like her big sis. "I've looked up to Felicia all my life," she says. Both credit fellow fencer Marijoy Clinton for mentoring and supporting them when they were younger.

New gear: Specifically-designed shoes for the leading foot and trailing foot. Felicia has been testing the Adidas-developed shoes since May and plans to wear them at the Olympics.

The competition:Valentina Vezzali, Giovanna Trillini and Diana Bianchedi of Italy.

Pedal to the Medal

nicole freedman
ROAD TO VICTORY: Freedman celebrates her first-place finish at the Olympic trials.
Andy Lyons/Allsport


Hometown: Wellesley, Mass.

Height: 5'2"

Weight: 112

Event: Cycling, road race

Things seem to fall into place for Nicole Freedman. She joined the Stanford cycling team her senior year just to ride with a group. Coach Art Walker convinced her to start entering competitions, and later that year she placed first in a time trial. In 1999, she contemplated quitting cycling when her sponsor withdrew support. "I was 27, living in a van, and I hadn't had the greatest season," Freedman says. "It looked like I was wasting my time." Then Charles Schwab & Co. decided to support a team of female cyclists. And although Freedman still lives in her van, which is parked in front of a friend's house in Palo Alto, she's no longer thinking about laying down her bike. In May, she won the Olympic trials, securing the only automatic berth on the U.S. team. She's not expected to contend for a medal in Sydney. But the way her luck's been going, who knows?

Why she's suited for the sport: Natural endurance and a strong sprint.

Strategy: As a competitor in the longest Olympic cycling event, Freedman carefully plans for the entire 60- to 70-mile course. Before the race, she determines how to pace herself by judging her opponents' strengths. She tries to remain with the front pack, pedaling in the draft created by the other riders. She also adjusts her speed to the course's topography. If there's a hill at the end of the route, for example, Freedman will try to get out in front beforehand, since hills are not her strong point.

Signature move: An all-out dash 200 meters from the finish.

Training regimen: Rides three to four days a week year-round. A typical 67-mile, four-hour ride starts at Stanford and winds through Pescadero to San Gregorio Beach and back. From September to January, she lifts weights for an hour one to three times a week. From November to February, she starts riding 350 miles a week. As she begins racing in March, she decreases her mileage and increases her speed and intensity.

Diet: When she's training, it's oatmeal for breakfast, chicken or tuna salad for lunch and chicken or fish for dinner. During rides, she often munches on a couple of Clif bars. In the off-season, she's been known to gobble down a "greaseburger" or two.

Ready for Takeoff

gustavo envela
Courtesy Stanford Athletics


Hometown: Salem, Ore.

Height: 5'10"

Weight: 162

Event: Track and field, 100-meter dash

Many Olympians hope to retire to a life endorsing sports drinks and gracing Wheaties boxes. But Gus Envela plans to run for president. Of Equatorial Guinea, that is. Envela, who was born in the small West African nation and retains citizenship there, is preparing for the 2003 election. The country has historically been controlled by one party in an effective dictatorship, and Envela wants to establish freedom of speech, raise the standard of living and improve education.

Envela has been successful in another type of race -- on the track, where he set several U.S. age-group records as a prep star. But the most distinguishing feature of his athletic career is its longevity. Envela probably won't get past the qualifying heats in the 100-meter dash (his best time is 10.29 seconds, and the current world record is 9.79). But when Envela steps onto the track in Sydney, he will tie the record for the number of Olympic appearances -- five -- by a sprinter.

Why running: "When all is said and done, there's no one to blame but yourself."

Pre-race ritual: A series of deep-breathing and visualization techniques: "I imagine getting out of the blocks and crossing the finish line."

Hero: His father, Gustavo Envela-Makongo, who resigned as Equatorial Guinea's ambassador to the United Nations in 1970 because he disagreed with the government on free speech and human rights issues.

Off the track: Envela enjoys going to the park with his wife, Tomiko, and their 6-year-old daughter, Misako. The couple is expecting a second child in October.

Eyes on the Prize

jenny thompson
Al Bello/Allsport


Hometown: Dover, N.H.

Height: 5'10"

Weight: 160

Event: Swimming, 100-meter freestyle, 100-meter butterfly

To be a hall of fame slugger, it helps to have exceptional eyesight. To make it in the NBA, it helps to have large hands. And to win five gold medals in swimming, it helps to have double-jointed knees. This physiological advantage gives Jenny Thompson a greater range of motion in her kick. One of the three most decorated American female Olympians, she has had "a fantastic summer and has a good chance to medal" in her third trip to the Games, says Richard Quick, coach of the U.S. and Stanford women's teams.

Why swimming: Thompson took to the water the first day she entered a pool, at 6 months of age. "I really love the way the water feels and the cathartic experience it provides," she says.

Stanford career: Won more NCAA titles --19 -- than any other female swimmer in history.

Training regimen: Still works out at Stanford. Swims every day, often twice. Lifts weights three times a week and does yoga and Pilates -- a conditioning program emphasizing flexibility and strength -- twice a week.

Diet: Consumes a lot of fruits, vegetables, chicken, tuna and seafood, but does "eat like a normal person," occasionally succumbing to pizza and burritos.

New gear: The Fastskin, a long-legged Speedo swimsuit designed to reduce drag. Most of the U.S. swimmers will wear the suit, which is made from fabric that resembles sharkskin and comes in full-body and sleeveless versions. Thompson, who participated in body scanning and product testing for the Fastskin, will likely go sleeveless.

New gig: Posed for a controversial beach shot in the August 14 Sports Illustrated wearing red boots and star-spangled swim shorts, her clenched fists covering her bare breasts. Thompson defended the decision to reporters in mid-August: "I'm an athlete. Athletics is about physicality. And I'm proud of my body and the work that I've done to get it where it is. I didn't do it to get more attention or to be a sex symbol or anything like that."

Sherri Eng is the San Francisco Giants' editorial coordinator.

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