By Paul Dailey UC Davis men's water polo team member
A talented 200-meter breastroker by the name of Scott Weltz is on the brink of taking the name of UC Davis to London for the 2012 Summer Olympics.
As one of the most decorated Aggie swimmers of all time, Weltz already stands out among greatness after spending five years in the UC Davis men's program before it was discontinued in 2010. He accumulated numerous awards, including the Big West Conference Freshman of the Year honors in 2006, Big West Male Athlete of the Year accolades in 2009, and NCAA Division I All-America recognition in 2009. As accomplished as he was with UC Davis, Weltz has his sights on the world stage.
He has always been a standout swimmer but the feasibility of swimming in the Olympics came to fruition just recently. His coach, Pete Motekaitis, says that over the last year, his belief that the Olympic Dream could come true for Weltz has gone from hopeful to confident.
"About a year ago I was talking to another swim coach and I said to him 'I think this guy can swim at night' and then after eight months of training I realized he could get to the finals," he said. "I think the odds of him making the team went up in December when he beat the defending Olympic champion Kosuke Kitajima from Japan." Motekaitis was referring to his initial belief that the semifinals at night were the extent to which Weltz could reach, but as the results show, he is far from finished. After such a significant victory over the defending gold medalist, Weltz has proven that he can swim with anyone.
Weltz has continued to swim well, finishing an impressive second at the Santa Clara International Invitational earlier this month.
Weltz has been training for this month's Olympic Trials in Omaha, Neb., for the past two years. Considering only the top two finishers in each event will make the trip to London in August, the fact that Weltz is in the running for such an honor is impressive enough. However, it seems that this isn't enough for him, evidenced by the countless hours of training he is committed to each day.
Motekaitis, the former head coach of the UC Davis men's swimming program for 15 years and now an assistant coach for the women's swimming program, knows just how much work is required to succeed at the Olympic level. He helped train Haley Cope, a silver medalist in the 2004 Olympic Games, and Mark Barr, a United States Paralympic swimmer who set two American records, in preparing for their own Olympic Games. This experience has helped Motekaitis set up an efficient (and grueling) workout schedule.
Weltz practices five days in a row, followed by one day of rest, and repeats this cycle. He lifts weights three out of every five training days and trains an average of three hours per day. Such an intense training cycle sets Weltz apart from other athletes, who generally follow a pattern of six days of training with every weekend as a rest period.
Motekaitis believes this will give him an advantage over his opponents, claiming "I don't know if anyone else in the world does this training program. We work harder, we rest more, and we lift more."
Weltz explained the while the workout itself lasts only three hours per day, the other aspects of preparation take up the rest of his free time. Elements such as stretching, eating healthy, individual dryland exercise and getting enough rest are all time consuming.
But just how good is Weltz compared to the rest of the country? How will he stack up against the best swimmers the United States has to offer and still find a place in the top two? The results of a recent USA Swimming Grand Prix in March speak for themselves. He finished third overall (2:13.51) and ahead of Carlos Almeida of the University of Louisville who had just won the NCAA 200-yard breaststroke championship a week earlier while Weltz was still in the middle of a rigorous training period.
The only two swimmers who finished ahead of Weltz were both training in order to peak at this meet while Weltz had no rest and had not tapered down his training at all. This proves just how dominant Weltz can be when he has completed a full taper in preparation for a swim.
There are two swimmers who provide the biggest obstacle to him living the Olympic Dream - Brendan Hansen, a former world record holder who earned two gold as well as silver and bronze medals over the last two Olympic Games, and 2008 Olympian Eric Shanteau. Weltz is up against phenomenal competition but the hours he puts in prove how dedicated he is to winning.
"I don't feel so in awe of these people as I used to, I think of them as my fellow competitors," said Weltz.
Just ask Motekaitis what gives Weltz such a powerful drive, and he will simply say "his stubbornness. "His refusal to back down from such a challenge has put him in a great position to go where no other UC Davis swimmer has gone before."
With such high stakes, Weltz has stopped at nothing to perfect his technique and his level of fitness. He recently visited a sports scientist in Colorado in order to use specialized equipment to work on his breaststroke pulldown, an essential component of any breaststroker. His willingness to go to great lengths to perfect his stroke has helped him to become an elite athlete since much of swimming relies not just on physical fitness but the ability to use correct technique in the midst of exhaustion.
Although Weltz has been an elite swimmer for years he still seeks outside help, a sign of true modesty and dedication. He recognizes that there is no way he can ever end up with a perfect stroke. Motekaitis stresses this point repeatedly.
"Swimming is like silver, you can polish it, but it's never perfect," he said.
While he may not end up with a flawless stroke, Weltz combines fitness and technique every practice and will be training in such a fashion right up to the day he steps onto the block for the Olympic Trials.
For many, stepping up to the block after dedicating so much of their life to a single race would be an extremely rattling experience. However, when asked how he imagined his emotions would be on the day of the trials, Weltz confidently responded "Prepared. That's the biggest different between now and 2008. Pete prepared me in every way, mentally, physically... everything."
So when the 2012 Summer Olympics arrive, as the world watches for big names such as Michael Phelps and Ryan Lochte, Weltz hopes to be among the standouts Aggie fans will recognize. The UC Davis star has already made a name for himself among the world's greatest, but he is not done yet.