Sept. 20, 2004
By Scott MacDonald
Before the summer began, many athletes had their sights set on Athens, Greece. Why? For the opportunity to compete on one of the World’s biggest stages, the Summer Olympic Games. Georgia Tech’s Chaunte Howard, Stephon Marbury, Jorge Oliver, Leo Salinas, Vesna Stojanovska, Angelo Taylor and Onur Uras lived that dream and tried to show the rest of the World what Tech fans have applauded over the years.
“It was a great experience,” said former men’s swimmer Jorge Oliver. “It was a lot better than I ever dreamed of. The best part was walking into the stadium during opening ceremonies, that was surreal.”
Former men’s track standout Angelo Taylor (1997-98) realized his Olympic dreams at the 2000 Summer Olympics in Sydney, Australia. Taylor’s performance was golden in the 400-meter hurdles and 4×400-meter relay. In Athens, the Decatur, Ga., native advanced to the semifinals of the 400m hurdles by winning his heat in the quarterfinals with a time of 48.79. His Olympics would end there as the defending Gold medallist finished 13th in the semis with a time of 48.72, failing to make the finals.
Fresh off the most dominating rookie campaign in women’s swimming and diving history, sophomore Vesna Stojanovska saw herself in her second Olympics. The Skopje, Macedonia, native tallied a 26th place-finish in the 200 butterfly (2:16.51), 27th-place finish in the 400 freestyle (4:19.39) and a 34th-place finish in the 200 freestyle (2:04.64). The 19-year old was just 15 in Sydney and grasped a much deeper concept in Athens.
“I did pretty well, considering the fact that coach Seth Baron was not there with me,” said Stojanovska. “My country could not put him inside the village, so that kind of hurt me because I was without a coach for a month. But I’m pretty happy with what I accomplished.”
A current men’s swimmer for Tech in the Olympic games was freshman Onur Uras. The Istanbul, Turkey, native posted a time of 56.37 in the men’s 100 fly to finish in 45th place. Uras holds the Turkey Junior national records in the 100 and 200 fly events and should be a force in the Atlantic Coast Conference this season.
“It was a learning experience for me,” said Uras. “I hope to use it for this year at Georgia Tech and do well in the ACC Championships and try and qualify for the NCAA Championships.”
Current volunteer assistant coach Jorge Oliver (2000-03) competed in his first Olympics for Puerto Rico. Oliver, who ended his career at Tech ranked in the Top 10 in several events, tallied a 45th-place finish in the 200 individual medley with a time of 2:08.84. For Oliver, it was more than swimming in the Olympics, but a chance to witness the World’s greatest swimmers in person.
“I swam pretty well,” said Oliver. “I was a little disappointed that I did not swim my best time, but overall it was a great experience and I will never forget it.”
The final Tech swimmer in the Olympic games was former men’s swimming star Leo Salinas (1999-2002). Salinas represented Mexico in the 400 free and 800 free relay events. He posted finishes of 29th in the 400 free (3:58.36) and 15th in the 800 free relay (7:29.54), breaking the national record in Mexico for the relay.
“On the relay, we were able to break the national record and it was very gratifying to come out of the competition with that goal reached,” said Salinas. “In Athens, I’ve gained an even greater admiration and appreciation for an Olympic medal of any kind. The medal winners are champions among champions and they’re all clutch competitors.”
Junior Chaunte Howard continued her tremendous season by qualifying for her first Olympic games at the U.S. Trials in Sacramento, Calif. Howard finished second in the women’s high jump, clearing the bar at 6’4.75″. Prior to going to the Olympic Trials, the Riverside, Calif., native posted the highest mark in the United States at 6’6″ against the U.S. top athletes in Provo, Utah. During the college season, Howard won the NCAA indoor and outdoor national titles in the women’s high jump. Heading to Athens, Howard had a swagger that she hoped continued and pushed her to the finals of the event.
That goal fell a tad bit short as Howard was unable to clear the bar at 6’2.50″. With so much expected of her from herself, Howard could not help but feel a little disappointed after clipping the bar a third and final time. But all in all, the Georgia Tech junior knows what she has accomplished.
“It was surreal being there,” said Howard. “I had to stop a few times and say, wow, I’m actually at the Olympics. I don’t feel I did as well as I could have, but I was one of the youngest competitors, if not the youngest, in the high jump and I have a lot to look forward to in the future.”
Completing the XXVIII Olympiad for Tech was former men’s basketball player Stephon Marbury (1996). Marbury guided Team USA to a Bronze medal win over Lithuania, 104-96, after falling to Gold medal winner Argentina, 89-81, in the semifinals. Marbury scored an U.S. Olympic record 31 points in the quarterfinals to lift USA over top-seeded Spain, 102-94.
“I learned a lot,” said Marbury. “Playing under coach [Larry] Brown, I learned a lot! The whole atmosphere as far as playing international basketball. How easy it is to play with three referees and how hard it is to play with two referees. You appreciate that playing in the U.S.”
As foolish as it may seem, the Olympics could be described as a disappointment for these Tech athletes. A stumble over a hurdle, a miss stroke in the water and or a trio of jumps that titled one way or the other cost these finely tuned athletes a chance of accomplishing new goals set once they arrived in Athens. A Bronze medal came when a Gold was expected and that is all the hardware that Yellow Jackets would bring back from the games. But the real reward for these superb athletes was the chance to compete against the World’s greatest athletes, which has a sense of winning all of its own.