UC Davis Magazine

UC Davis will have its own Olympic contingent at the games this summer in Atlanta.

Dee Vochatzer
Women's Track and Field Coach

In early May, Deanne Vochatzer was focused on Aggies Jill Peckler and Jamila Demby. But Olympians Gail Devers and Gwen Torrance were never far from her mind.

Vochatzer, the head coach of the UC Davis women's track and field team, will be the head coach for the U.S. women's team at this summer's centennial Olympic Games in Atlanta. The workload created by coaching a young, successful Aggie team, added to handling all the details and preparations for the Atlanta Games, has at times been staggering.

"It sometimes feels like a snowball coming down a mountain, and it's picking up speed," Vochatzer said between practice with the Aggies and returning phone messages to the national media. "Right now, I'm staying one step ahead of that snowball."

The effort paid off, with UC Davis decisively winning the women's team title at the Northern California Athletic Conference championships. Despite having only seven seniors on the team, the Aggies won the championship by a staggering 199 points.

Immediately following the NCAA Division II Outdoor Nationals, Vochatzer was scheduled to head for Atlanta to prepare for the U.S. Olympic Trials, to be held June 14 to 23.

Despite the busy schedule, Vochatzer said that working with the Aggies has been an advantage.

"The team has been a blessing. The kids will come in and say they know I'm really busy, but they slow me down and ask about the Olympic Games or the Olympic athletes and what the experience is like. I've been really lucky that they're doing that and sharing this experience.

"My savior right now is Jon [her husband, who is the coach of the UC Davis men's track and field team]," she added. "My whole family has been wonderful. Everyone says this will be a great experience. And even though I can't see that all the time, once in a while I'll get a card from my mom and dad saying 'Remember this day.' All that's kept me in the center of the road."

Although the selection of the Olympic team is not left to the coaching staff (the top three finishers at the Oly mpic Trials make the team), Vochatzer says expectations will be high for strong performances by the coaches and the team members. Funding from the U.S. Olympic Committee for the national governing bodies of the individual sports depends on the number of medals won "and what color they are," she noted.

Vochatzer and her staff will have mostly administrative rather than strategic duties. Ideas about technique or race strategy will likely come from an athlete's own personal coach. But bringing this group of individuals together to form a team will indeed be one of Vochatzer's goals. Another will be to instill a sense of national pride in the team.

"You go to a meet and see people who wear Nike or Mizuno on their jerseys; then when you see the same athletes wearing USA on their chest, there's a big difference. Athletes who are representing their country feel extra pressure."

As, obviously, do the coaches.

Linda Somers
Marathon Runner

Alumna Linda Somers' quest to run the marathon in the Olympic Games has been just that--a marathon. And just like the 26.2-mile race she'll be running in Atlanta this summer, the runner-turned-lawyer-turned-runner-again has pursued a personal road to the Olympics filled with peaks and valleys. But like any talented distance runner, she has learned to endure each one. And she has succeeded.

"I went out on a limb and set a goal and attained it," Somers told the San Francisco Chronicle earlier this spring. "This is something that took a tremendous amount of strength for someone like me who likes control and security. In that regard alone, no matter what else happens, it's a victory."

The pinnacle of that effort so far came on Feb. 10 when the 34-year-old Somers, a former All-America cross country and track runner for the Aggies, finished second in the marathon trials in Colombia, S.C., earning her a spot on the Olympic team.

But the realization of her dream hasn't come easily, and her path to Atlanta hasn't been typical. Somers didn't start running until her junior year of college, and after a standout career for the Aggies, she missed the 1984 Olympic trials because of extreme pain in her knee.

After missing on that first attempt to reach the Olympics, Somers put running aside while she pursued a law degree at UC Davis and looked for a doctor who could help her knee. She succeeded in both, receiving her J.D. in 1986 and then, three years later, finishing second at the national championships.

She eventually moved to the Bay Area where she advanced her law career and in 1991 once again qualified for the Olympic trials. Somers finished only 16th but had her confidence restored the next year when she won the Chicago Marathon. That finish inspired her to work even harder, and in 1993 and '94 she captured national championships.

But pursuit of another chance to make the Olympic team meant sacrifice, and in this case it meant sacrificing her career. Somers left her position as an attorney and turned her focus full time toward the sport she loved.

Knee problems resurfaced last year, but she recovered--again. She finished seventh at the World Championships last year and since then has continued to eye Atlanta.

Sue Williams, who coached Somers in college and continues to coach both her and the Aggie cross country runners, says Somers' success is not surprising.

"What I have seen in Linda over the years, and what has been magnified recently, is her talent. But it's her work ethic that has brought her to one of the most exciting places you can be in sports."

Gary Colberg
Volleyball Officials Coordinator

Like any good sports official, if Gary Colberg does a good job at this summer's Olympic Games in Atlanta, nobody will notice.

Colberg, the director of intramural sports at UC Davis, will be the coordinator of officials for men's and women's volleyball. An official himself with international experience, Colberg will be in charge of scheduling, evaluating, testing and assigning officials for one of the most popular sports in the Olympics. "My role is to make sure everything hums," he says.

Colberg is responsible for ensuring that two officials, four line judges and two scorers are available for every match of both the men's and women's tournaments. Volleyball is one of the few sports that spans the entire length of the Olympic schedule, and each day there are six matches at two sites.

But this is familiar ground for Colberg, who worked as an official at the 1984 Olympics in Los Angeles. He has officiated at more than 200 international matches in his career and at a number of collegiate national tournaments.

Colberg is also responsible for establishing a drug testing procedure for the Olympic officials--one of the only times officials are subjected to the same testing as athletes.

"If anything goes wrong or if anyone questions anything, we want to rule out any concerns about that," he said.

Being above reproach is a good rule for any official. Especially with the world's spotlight focused on the Atlanta Games.

Jack Snyder and Sharon Spier
Equine Experts

A husband-and-wife veterinary team from the UC Davis School of Veterinary Medicine will head to Atlanta in July to provide emergency medical care for the Olympic athletes--the four-legged kind, that is.

Jack Snyder, chief of equine surgery, and Sharon Spier, associate professor of internal medicine, will advise the international corps of veterinarians who will treat approximately 250 horses competing in the riding, jumping and dressage events of the Summer Games.

These horses are very much like human athletes, pointed out Snyder, in that they often suffer the same types of knee and other joint injuries. The couple will set up an emergency veterinary clinic and be prepared to perform surgery on site in the event that a horse is injured during competition. Snyder will evaluate horses for lameness and perform emergency surgeries. Spier will lend her expertise in the area of non-surgical veterinary care, including internal diseases and infections.

The veterinarians expect to see a wide range of ailments ranging from foot bruises to severe digestive upsets. They must be prepared not only to deal with a variety of medical conditions, but also to work through professional interpreters to communicate with owners and trainers from around the world.

The Atlanta experience will demand the same clinical skills that Spier and Snyder use daily in diagnosing and treating patients on campus. But they are well aware that the pressure will be keener, the stakes higher, and they--like the human and equine athletes--will be called upon for their Olympic best.

Vochatzer photo by Mark Bullard and Snyder and Spier photo by Neil Michel