For local athletes, road to Olympics paved with excitement

Lolo Blair

Former Santa Barbara High athlete Lolo Blair powers through the backstroke at the Speedo Irvine Grand Challenge Swim Meet earlier this month. (Melissa Lundie photo)

?From the time I was a little kid I always dreamed of being in the Olympics.?

For Sami Hill, a Dos Pueblos High School graduate who now plays water polo for perennial powerhouse UCLA, it is still her dream.

?I always thought it would be the coolest being on the team,? said Hill, a goalkeeper and one of several younger players who, in March, was invited to train with and compete for one of the spots on the U.S. women?s water polo team at the London Olympics later this summer.

Noozhawk and Presidio Sports will continue to track the progress of these local Olympic hopefuls, as well as publish feature interviews with local Olympic medalists Kami Craig (water polo) and Todd Rogers (beach volleyball), both of whom are headed to London to compete again.

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?Not a lot of people can say that you?re an Olympian and it?s just such a great thing to accomplish,? she told Noozhawk at the time. ?I?m just striving for what I want. It?s still my biggest goal.?

Hill, the eldest of Cynthia (Battistone) and William Hill?s four children, has two younger sisters, Kodi and Abbi, and a younger brother, Deacon, all of whom she expects will travel to London to cheer her on if she makes the final roster.

Training with the Olympic team is very different than training with her college team, said Hill, who red-shirted her sophomore season at UCLA to work with the national team.

?It?s basically professional water polo and it?s totally different,? the 20-year-old explained. ?Professional water polo is their job. They are doing it because they love it. I?m happy I got to test out those waters before I enter into them for sure. Now I know even more how to prepare for college versus professional.?

Another local Olympic hopeful, Lauren ?Lolo? Blair, will turn 21 just days after she competes in this week?s Olympic swimming trials in Omaha, Neb. Blair, a Santa Barbara High School standout who now swims for USC, has been swimming competitively since she was about 7 and will compete in the 100- and 200-meter backstroke at the trials.

Water polo goalkeeper Sami Hill

Sami Hill, who currently plays for UCLA and the U.S. National Development Team, won three CIF titles while at Dos Pueblos. (Presidio Sports File Photo)

?As a really little kid I remember looking at time standards ? they vary from each Olympic trial but they are roughly the same ? and I remember thinking that they were crazy-fast times,? she laughed. ?So now it?s definitely exciting. When you?re younger, you look at the times and think that?s not possible.?

Blair, the daughter of Mary (Dougherty) and John Blair, has always loved sports. She currently serves on the Trojan Athletic Summit, a group that brings all of USC?s sports teams together for community service and outreach programs.

?It?s really cool and I?ve gotten to know a lot of other people in different sports,? she said. ?It brings all of the athletic teams together. I really enjoy it.

?Sports has been a big part of my life so I know it?s something that will always be a part of me,? said Blair, who hopes for a career related to sports after she graduates.

?I love kids too,? she added. ?So I could end up being a first-grade teacher or something.?

Clearly excited about the opportunity to compete at the trials, Blair said: ?I have been so lucky to grow up in Santa Barbara, and have the Santa Barbara Swim Club that got me started on swimming and really gave me the opportunity to swim in college. It is cool. … I?m really looking forward to trials and am just going to enjoy the experience.?

Of course, not every Olympic dream can end in London. The first local to compete in trials, Santa Barbara native Colin Dunbar, fell just 3 feet, 4 inches shy of qualifying for the finals in the men?s hammer throw at the U.S. Olympic Track & Field Trials on June 21 in Beaverton, Ore. A Santa Barbara High graduate who competed for Long Beach State, Dunbar also holds several records in the shot put and discus throw, as well as the hammer.

Also in Oregon for trials this week are two recent UCSB tack and field grads. Heptathlon standout Barbara Nwaba and Ryan Martin, an NCAA All-American in the 800-meter run, will both compete, and 16 UCSB swimmers will join Blair in Nebraska for the trials.

According the UCSB Athletic Department, the qualifying group includes freshmen Bob Hwang (200-meter butterfly), Chris Leon and Katie Records (both 200-meter freestyle); sophomores Randy Aakhus ( 400 IM), Andrea Ward (100-meter butterfly) and Sophia Yamauchi (100-meter breaststroke); juniors Ryan Hanni (50-meter freestyle and 100 freestyle) and Katie Tomkinson (100-meter freestyle); and seniors (just graduated) Kevin Ferguson (100 freestyle and 100 breaststroke), Tim Freeman (100- and 200-meter breaststrokes), Kevin Kuhn (100 freestyle and 50 freestyle), Chris Peterson (100 freestyle) and Evan Simoni (200 IM).

In addition, UCSB alum Katy Freeman will compete in the 100- and 200-meter breaststrokes and Ann Marie May will swim the 50 freestyle.

Olympic gold medalist and 1999 UCSB alum Jason Lezak? the guy who chased down Frenchman Alain Bernard in the Beijing Olympics to preserve Michael Phelps? chances of winning eight gold medals ? will also be in London. Lezak has four gold medals of his own and has competed in three previous Olympics.

Diver Troy Dumais, another athlete with roots on the South Coast, will also compete in his fourth Olympics at age 32, an accomplishment he shares only with Greg Louganis, the only other American man to make four Olympic diving teams.

Dumais, along with his brothers, Justin and Dwight (all of whom were born and raised in Ventura), is currently competing in the U.S. Olympic Diving Trials in Federal Way, Wash. As of Sunday, Dumais and his synchronized diving partner, Kristian Ipsen (a Stanford sophomore who is seeking his first Olympic berth), had won first place in synchro, so they have definitely qualified as a team, with Dumais in second behind Ipsen in the 3-meter springboard competition, his second qualifying event.

Noozhawk asked Dumais how training for his fourth Olympics is different from the first.

?It?s challenging,? he said matter-of-factly. ?I can?t say it?s more challenging. I can?t say it?s easier. There are easier parts about it because you know what it takes, but the hard part about it is continuing to do it. I?m just doing what I?m capable of doing and putting it on the line.?

Dumais? rigorous training schedule includes spending up to six hours a day in the pool, plus, he said, ?depending on the day I also do two hours? worth of weights, and then I usually do my own stretching and workouts at 24 Hour Fitness about three or four times a week on top of that.?

This is in addition to teaching math and computer science and working as a tutor and mentor for football players at his alma mater, the University of Texas at Austin.

In response to a remark on the intensity of his determination, Dumais said, ?I put it in my training schedule because I needed to be as flexible and in the best rhythm as possible. I can?t sit around and think that my dives are going to get better. I can sit around and rest knowing that I practiced well and trained well. … I?m busy but you have to work to pay the bills, and you have to work to do what you want to do and go for what you want.?

Dumais has been diving almost his entire life.

?I knew I wanted to focus on diving when I was 4 years old and someone told me I couldn?t go off the diving board at the Ventura College pool. … My first competition was when I was about 5 and I?ve been competing ever since.?

His advice to other aspiring Olympians?

?When in doubt, trust yourself and do what you want to do. Don?t do what other people tell you to do or tell you what you can?t do. I have found out through my years and experience that when an athlete or when a human being wants to do something so badly that they will find a way, no matter how hard it is, no matter what situation they come across, they will find a way to get it done. Shoot for the stars never doubt yourself and just continue doing what you do.?

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