Santa Clara University

Santa Clara Magazine

A Beijing Olympic scrapbook

By Ann Killion

In training: Aly Wagner ’03, left, with teammate Amy Rodriguez in Beijing
AP Images

At the Olympics, they didn’t hand out gold medals for having a great experience. But the Santa Clara Broncos who made it to China this summer felt like they had won something special just by being there.

“It was incredible,” said synchronized swimmer Janet Culp ’04. “To be there in the Opening Ceremony with the other American athletes, all wearing the same uniform, all marching under the same flag. Amazing.”

Culp was one of several Santa Clara Broncos who took part in the world’s biggest sports competition. The only one to come home with an actual gold medal was Aly Wagner ’03. Wagner was a member of the women’s soccer team, which defended its Olympic championship with an overtime victory over talented Brazil.

That Olympic championship was earned after months of adversity. Brazil knocked the U.S. team out of the Women’s World Cup in September 2007, sending the national team into a state of chaos. The fallout included a public rift between goalkeeper Hope Solo and the team; ultimately it led to the firing of coach Greg Ryan. In addition, the team lost key players—Abby Wambach and former Bronco Leslie Osborne ’05—to injury on the eve of the Olympics.

“The Olympics were definitely a different feeling from the World Cup,” Wagner said. “There was good team chemistry and a belief in the path the team had taken to get there.”

Wagner, who was also on that 2004 Athens championship team, won her second gold medal this August, but she didn’t see much playing time. She came off the bench in just one game. Wagner was recovering from a double hernia operation, but after making the roster under new coach Pia Sundhage she had hoped—though not necessarily expected—to play more.


The milky way: Sports Illustrated readers saw this ad on the eve of the Olympics, featuring among the Beijing hopefuls Leslie Osborne ’05, fourth from right.
Photo: Stefano Peltera for MILK PEP

So close they could taste it

At least Wagner had the full Olympic experience, including living in the athletes’ village when the team came to Beijing to play the semifinal (a 4-2 victory over Japan) and the final. That was more than what Osborne got. Midfielder Osborne suffered a serious knee injury in July and missed the Olympics altogether.

“I tried not to dwell on it,” Osborne said. “I think I handled the injury much better than I would have expected.”

She watched the early games with Wambach, while both were rehabilitating in Southern California, and watched the championship match in Santa Clara. She, too, feels great about the direction of the program.

“We finally have a coach who wants to play soccer in a way that takes the game to the next level,” Osborne said.

Osborne was part of a pre-Olympic “Got Milk?” ad that rolled out this summer, featuring athletes expected to compete in the Olympics. As it turned out, the campaign proved unlucky: Gymnast brothers Paul and Morgan Hamm also appeared in the ad but neither competed in Beijing due to injury. But Osborne doesn’t believe in jinxes and said she would do the shoot again without hesitation.

The month after the Olympics, both Osborne and Wagner were allocated to the new Women’s Professional League. While Wagner was selected by the team in Los Angeles, where she lives now, Osborne will play for the new Bay Area team. The league, whose owners include Phoenix Suns guard Steve Nash '96, is scheduled to launch next April.

“I’m very excited,” Osborne said. “The Bay Area is my number one choice. We really want this league to last.”

Santa Clara senior Jide Ogunbiyi hopes his Olympic experience can help catapult him to a professional soccer career. Though Ogunbiyi, the Broncos' captain, never actually made it to Beijing, he was part of the Nigerian soccer team’s player pool and traveled to a pre-Olympic training camp in Korea, where he was one of the final cuts. Ogunbiyi’s father is Nigerian, and he and his brother Tunde—a goalkeeper for Boston College—spent summers at a soccer academy in Nigeria.


Internationalist: Jide Ogunbiyi ’09 was asked to try out for the Nigerian team.
Photo: Don Jedlovec

After he was cut from the soccer team, Ogunbiyi came home and watched the Nigerian team make it all the way to the gold medal game, where it lost to Argentina 1-0.

“I knew they’d be good,” he said, adding that he expects Nigeria to make a strong showing in the 2010 World Cup.

Ogunbiyi said the experience encouraged him, and he hopes to play overseas after he leaves Santa Clara. “It was nice to know I could play at that level,” he said.

Sisters in synch

Janet Culp made it to Beijing, where she competed on the U.S. synchronized swimming team, which finished fifth.

Figure of eight: Janet Culp ’04, upper left, with synchronized swimming teammates
Photo: Associated Press
“I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t disappointed,” Culp said. “We hoped to medal. We felt it was within our grasp. But we felt that we gave everything.”

Janet and her twin sister, Jenny Culp ’04, grew up in Colorado and came to Santa Clara for college—which also let them compete on the Santa Clara Aquamaids team as a synchronized swimming duet. The twins knew they would have little chance to make Beijing as a duet and pinned their hopes on making the U.S. team. Jenny was one of the last cuts.

“That was definitely hard,” Janet Culp said. “I really wished she was there competing with me. But she was there in the stands cheering.”

Synchronized swimming not only gave Culp a chance to compete in the Olympics but also gave her what she calls “the best four years of my life. Santa Clara was a wonderful experience.” She met her husband Erick Redwine ’04 at SCU, and they have settled in the South Bay. Though she hasn’t officially retired from her sport, Culp rules out attempting to make the London Olympic team.

“I’ve got to get my bearings and figure out my life a little bit,” she said.

Row your boat

Matt Madigan ’91 is getting his bearings, too. After coaching the women’s quad boat for the U.S. rowing team in Beijing, Madigan returned to Arlington, Va., to his family—two boys under the age of 3—and his start-up company, FortiusOne, to prepare for a product launch.

“I’ve had a lot on my plate lately,” Madigan said.


Spellbound: Matt Madigan ’91, center, at the opening ceremony
Courtesy Matt Madigan '91

But Madigan was willing to juggle in order to fulfill a lifetime dream. When Madigan was a student, Coach Carroll Williams cut him from the Santa Clara basketball team, so Madigan turned to crew. Several years after graduation, he made the move from athlete to coach. When he walked in the Opening Ceremonies, as a representative of U.S. rowing, he was enthralled.

“It was a dream,” he said. “You go from being part of the rowing team to being part of the entire Olympic team. When you walk through that tunnel into the stadium, it’s just awesome.”

Madigan’s boat finished fifth. The rowing teams were lodged near the venue, in the countryside outside Beijing. When the competition was over, Madigan stayed on to experience more of the Olympics, including seeing women’s soccer, track and field, and water polo. He doesn’t know where his coaching career is headed, but he’ll always cherish his memories from Beijing. And thank Carroll Williams for making them happen.

“It’s funny the way your life takes a turn,” he said.

Ride, Mary, ride

Life took a few turns for Mary McConneloug ’93 in Beijing. The Santa Clara grad made her second Olympic mountain biking team. She had already learned the hard way to go with the flow and adjust on the fly. Her experience qualifying in Athens in 2004 was a grueling process that was documented in the film Off Road to Athens. That year, in the 11th hour, USA Cycling awarded more points to another cyclist and McConneloug had to appeal; she was awarded the spot in arbitration.

The qualification process for Beijing was much saner, and this summer McConneloug secured a spot in Beijing. But the day before the Olympic race, organizers pushed it back a day, due to course conditions after heavy rain. McConneloug finished seventh.

Rapid-fire shifter: Mary McConneloug ’93 takes on Olympic terrain.
Photo: Casey B. Gibson / USA Cycling
“I wasn’t too bothered when the race was changed, though it is unprecedented in mountain bike racing,” McConneloug said by e-mail. Despite the intense heat and humidity, “I could feel the joy and amazement of riding in this Olympic race,” she said.

After the race, she took off for Australia and then Taiwan to meet with her sponsor, Team Kenda. It was a busy schedule, but nothing new for McConneloug, who, with her husband, cyclist Mike Broderick, lives a nomadic lifestyle, traveling the world to biking competitions in a motor home.

The Bay Area is still a home base. Though she grew up in the mountain biking mecca of Fairfax, in Marin County, and occasionally borrowed a bike from a dorm neighbor to bomb through the Santa Cruz mountains, her career really started years after she left Santa Clara. But her experience at Santa Clara helped shape her into a world-class athlete.

“It definitely contributed to my ability to perform,” said McConneloug, who earned a bachelor’s of music in vocal performance. “I really learned how to focus my energy and be disciplined to train for an event.” Let the countdown to London 2012 begin.

Ann Killion is a columnist for the San Jose Mercury News.