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Umies down under

Umies in Sydney

LOVE THE HATS: This snapshot from women’s crew coach Jim Dietz seizes a moment when four UMass people converged at the Sydney games: from left, Danielle Henderson ’99, Dietz, Briana Scurry ’95C, and Sarah Jones ’97. (Courtesy UMass Athletic Development)

Danielle Henderson wasn’t the only Umie Down Under for the 2000 Olympics. A sizeable contingent of athletes, coaches, and staff associated with the campus were in Australia for last fall’s games.

     Perhaps best-known was Olympic veteran Briana Scurry ’95C, starting goalie for the gold-medal-winning U.S. women’s soccer team in Atlanta in 1996, who gained further fame when she helped beat China for the World Cup title in 1999. Injuries kept her on the sideline in Sydney as the U.S. lost to Norway in the gold-medal match.

     UMass assistant field hockey coach Hilary Rose ’96 is another seasoned Olympic athlete. Starting goaltender for Great Britain in the past two Olympiads, Rose saw her team finish fourth in Atlanta and eighth in Australia. Although disappointed in their showing in the Sydney games, Rose savors the Olympic experience and isn’t ruling out another try: At age 29, she plans to compete in the Commonwealth Games in 2002, “I’ll see where I am at that point, then make a decision about 2004.”

     For women’s crew coach Jim Dietz, the Sydney Olympiad was the fifth time around. In 1972 in Munich, he rowed to a fifth-place finish in single sculls; he competed again in 1976 before turning to coaching in the 1988, 1992 and 2000 games. In Sydney last fall, he helped Americans Sarah Garner and Christine Collins take the bronze in the lightweight double sculls.

Sarah Jones
Sarah Jones, left, courtesy MSNBC

     Dietz was also able to cheer on two of his former UMass rowers in Sydney: Sarah Jones ’97 was a member of the U.S. eight that came in sixth in the finals, and Sarah Lauritzen ’98C competed for Denmark, whose quadruple sculls crew also finished sixth. UMass sophomore and crew team member Sarah Pollman made the German national crew, but that team failed to qualify for the Olympics.

     (In a final crew note, the American teams, as well as those from Great Britain, the Netherlands, and Australia, all rowed shells built by Michael Vespoli ’74G at his New Haven plant. And Vespoli, whose boats float the UMass crew team, was on the 1972 Olympic squad with Dietz.)

David Hearn
David Hearn, courtesy MSNBC

     David Hearn ’82 competed in his third Olympic games as the only American to qualify for the solo canoe slalom event where he finished 12th. The 41-year-old canoe and kayak designer lives in Bethesda, Maryland and is the reigning king of U.S. whitewater (he’s won 22 national championships).

     Literally plunging into her first Olympic experience in Sydney was diver Angelique Rodriguez ’97, who competed for her native Puerto Rico in the three-meter springboard and ten-meter platform events. Rodriguez came to UMass as a national-level gymnast with virtually no diving experience, but had an immediate impact on the diving team. (“Unlike divers, gymnasts are taught not to land on their heads,” quips coach Guy Pollino. “But Angelique made the transition quickly.”) By her junior year Rodriguez had won the league diving championship, set three new school records and was fast outgrowing the UMass program and its facilities: Boyden Pool has only one- and three-meter boards, and no diving platform–so she finished her UMass degree in three years and started graduate school at Arizona, where she trains with two-time Olympic medallist Michele Mitchell-Rocha.

Sue Blinks
Sue Blinks, courtesy MSNBC

     Also competing in the 2000 games was former director of the UMass riding program, Sue Blinks, whose bronze medal ride on Flim Flam in the equestrian dressage grand prix won the highest score by an American. Robert Costello ’88 finished seventh overall, and alumnae Colleen Heyduk ’97 and Nicole Beaucheme ’98 were head grooms for David and Karen O’Connor who won the team bronze medal. And Jane Savoie ’74 joined the U.S. dressage team in Sydney as adjunct coach.

     Finally, staffer Mark Morel calls his Olympic experience “quite wonderful” despite having spent most of the games in the back of a huge semi parked just outside Olympic Stadium. Morel, chief engineer for the UMass Video Instructional Program, spent six weeks in Sydney as NBC’s senior engineer, responsible for the coverage of all events inside the stadium, including track and field and the opening and closing ceremonies.

     “I was terrified,” he says now. “The night before the opening ceremonies I realized that 70 million people would be watching.”

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