Eyes on Rio

UA athletes go for gold at the Summer Olympics

Doug Carroll, University Relations – Communications, and the UA Alumni Association, Jacob Chinn photos

The panels along the north wall of Hillenbrand Aquatic Center tell the distinguished history — in names, events, times and years — of the Arizona swimming and diving program.

One of the eight panels is devoted to Olympians of all nations that the UA men’s and women’s teams have produced. Among the 50-plus names are those of Amy Van Dyken (1996, 2000) and Amanda Beard (1996, 2000, 2004, 2008), who both won multiple gold medals for the U.S. In the 2012 London Games, 22 athletes claimed UA affiliation, including 13 swimmers.

All told, about 40 current UA swimmers and alumni will compete to win a spot on the U.S. team in late June. Many schools would be over the moon to have just one swimmer qualify for the U.S. team that will compete in Rio de Janeiro Aug. 5-21. As usual, Team USA will be loaded with world-class competitors.

“The U.S. Trials is the fastest meet in the world, faster even than the Olympics,” says UA backstroke star Bonnie Brandon ’16. The U.S. has “so many good swimmers, it’s incredible.” 

Brandy Collins ’08, a former UA swimmer who is now an assistant coach for the Wildcats, says “Olympic years are unbelievable for swimmers. Everyone gets on their game and becomes more professional to try to make the team.”

UA diver Rafael “Rafa” Quintero has qualified in the 10 meter to compete for Puerto Rico. “There’s going to be tough competition in the Olympics,” he says. 

“My goal for these Olympics will be to try to get top five. Then, maybe try for top three for 2020.”

Keep an eye on swimming and diving during the Olympic games, but also look for UA track and field competitors including student-athlete Pau Tonnesen ’16, competing for Spain in the decathlon.

“I’m so excited to see everyone and just to compete at that level and to be a part of it,” says Tonnesen. “I want to compete the best I possibly can, get a personal best in my decathlon score and just put it all out there.”

For men’s basketball, Andre Iguodala will compete for Team USA. 

Paralympic Games in Rio, Sept. 7-18

Student-athlete Jennifer Poist will compete for wheelchair basketball. 

“Just being in the Olympic Village is an awesome experience,” says Poist, who competed in London in 2012. “To see people from all the different countries and all the different sports — that’s pretty cool.”

Bryan Barten and Dana Mathewson are likely to compete in tennis and Shirley Reilly in track and field. Alumna Alana Nichols ’06, a 2008 gold medalist in wheelchair basketball at the Beijing games, will compete in paracanoeing. Nichols competed in the 2010 Winter Paralympic Games in Vancouver where she won two gold medals, a silver medal and a bronze medal in alpine skiing. Nichols is the first American woman to win gold medals in the summer and winter Paralympic Games.

Meet three UA Olympians

All-American Rafa Quintero, an industrial engineering student-athlete at the UA, will compete in 10-meter platform diving for Puerto Rico in the 2016 Olympic games. 

Q: Have you always dreamed of being an Olympian?
A: Ever since I was 5 years old and I started playing sports, the Olympics has been one of my main goals.  

Q: How did you get into diving?
A: I was a gymnast for 10 years. I started when I was 5. Then, at 15, I thought: “Why not diving?” They’re pretty similar in terms of flips and twists.  

Q: What kind of shape do you need to be in to be a diver?
A: It’s more mentally exhausting than it is physically — just having to visualize dives over and over. But it definitely requires a lot of physical abilities. You have to have a strong core and strong legs in order to be explosive in that takeoff. 

Q. Do you still have fear when you dive?
A. Definitely, every time I get on the 10 meter — especially the first dive I do during practice. I’m always a little bit scared. But after that first or second dive, I just fall into my routine. Everyone’s first time is going to be a little terrifying.  

Q. What brought you here to the University of Arizona?
A. My coach in Puerto Rico, Angelic Rodriguez, encouraged me to come here. She was a teammate of my head coach Omar Ojeda ’02. On my recruiting trip, it was definitely the best campus. Academics were really good with what I wanted to study, which is industrial engineering. 

Jennifer Poist, currently working toward her doctor of pharmacy degree, was a member of the UA’s 2012 Women’s College Division National Championship team. She will compete in wheelchair basketball for the 2016 U.S. Team in her second Paralympics. 

Q: Have you always dreamed of being an Olympian?
A: I started playing when I was 14, and from that point on it was my goal to make an Olympic team.

Q: Let’s talk wheelchair basketball.
A. The basket is the same height. The three-point and foul lines are the same. You can’t touch anyone’s arms. You also can’t move laterally. But you can completely stop someone’s momentum.

Q: You can?
A. Yes. In able-bodied ball you can run around people, whereas I can get in front of someone and stop their chair.

Q. How about traveling?
A. You get two pushes and then you have to dribble. If you take three pushes it’s a travel.

Q. Does that get called a lot?
A. A lot of people, especially at the international level, dribble constantly. Every push you take you dribble the ball at the same time. But there are times when you’re trying to move through traffic and you’ll put the ball on your lap a little bit. Then it gets called.

Q: How often do you crash?
A. Often. Very often. If I make it through a practice or a game without falling that’s a good day. It’s a very high-contact sport. We’re so top heavy in our chairs — all of our weight is pretty much above our wheels — so you just fly.

All-American Pau Tonnesen ’16 will compete in the decathlon for Spain in the 2016 Olympic games. He graduated with a bachelor’s degree in general studies.

Q: What kind of diet do you have?  
A: I stay away from anything that has any added sugar. I haven’t had any sweets —
ice cream, cookies, candy — since winter break. The first thing I will do when I finish in Rio is get some chocolate cake. It’s going to be really good.

Q: Can you tell us what all the decathlete events are?
A: We start out on the first day with the 100-meter dash, the long jump, the shot put, the high jump and then the 400. And then we come back for Day 2 with the 110 hurdles, discus, pole vault, javelin and the 1,500.

Q: What kind of experience are you hoping to have at the Olympics? 
A: First of all, whatever happens, I’m going to be very happy. I’m so excited to compete at that level and to be a part of it. I want to compete the best I possibly can, get a personal best in my decathlon score and just put it all out there.

Q: Any advice from a coach that sticks with you?
A: After an indoor heptathlon 1,000-meter dash, Coach (Fred) Harvey saw that I put my whole heart and soul into that race. And he said something along the lines of, ‘That’s what it takes to make a great athlete. You can be fast and you can be naturally gifted, but if you don’t put in the effort when race time comes along, it’s not going to matter.’ It reminds me that every time I do race, it has to be at 100 percent. And if it hurts and if I’m tired, that doesn’t matter. You still have to put in 100 percent.