Tuesday, August 22, 2000

Tristate boasts 11 Olympians

Athletes dream of striking gold in Sydney

By Scott MacGregor
The Cincinnati Enquirer

Dante Craig and Ricardo Williams will fight in the Olympics.
(Ernest Coleman photo)
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        Dante Craig has 24 more nights to dream his golden dreams. Then it gets real.

        Craig has been dreaming of Olympic boxing gold since he first began running the hills of Eden Park nine years ago, a Parktown kid sweating for the stamina to win in some far-off place like Barcelona or Atlanta or Sydney.

        His punches have become increasingly packed with anticipation he grows closer to the Sydney Games, where he'll represent the U.S. at 147 pounds.

        Dreaming of gold, he says, keeps his eyes on the prize.

        “I wake up and think, "Oh, man, I didn't win the gold yet?'” said Craig, who turned 22 on Sunday. “I'm ready for it now.”

Gymnasts Alyssa Beckerman and Morgan White and coach Mary Lee Tracy return triumphant from the U.S. trials Monday.
(Gary Landers photo)
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  Dante Craig

  • Age: 22
  • Local tie: Woodward High School
  • Event: 147 pounds
  Ricardo Williams Jr.
  • Age: 19
  • Local tie: Taft High School
  • Event: 139 pounds

  Morgan White

  • Age: 17
  • Local tie: Cincinnati Gymnastics Academy
  Alyssa Beckerman
  • Age: 19
  • Local tie: Cincinnati Gymnastics Academy

  Greg Ruckman

  • Age: 26
  • Local tie: Wyoming High School
  • Event: Lightweight four
  Kelly Salchow
  • Age: 26
  • Local tie: Walnut Hills High School, UC
  • Event: Quadruple sculls
  Bryan Volpenhein
  • Age: 24
  • Local tie: Kings High School
  • Event: Men's eight

  Thrine Kane

  • Age: 19
  • Local tie: Xavier University
  • Event: Three-position rifle
  Jason Parker
  • Age: 26
  • Local tie: Xavier University
  • Event: Air rifle

  Nate Dusing

  • Age: 22
  • Local tie: Covington Catholic High School
  • Event: 800-meter freestyle relay
  Erin Phenix
  • Age: 19
  • Local tie: Ursuline Academy
  • Event: 400-meter freestyle relay

        His friend and sparring partner Ricardo Williams Jr. knows the feeling. So do Kelly Salchow, Greg Ruckman and Bryan Volpenhein (rowing), Morgan White and Alyssa Beckerman (gymnastics), Thrine (pronounced Tree-na) Kane and Jason Parker (shooting) and Erin Phenix and Nate Dusing (swimming).

        Along with Craig, they're the 11 athletes with Cincinnati ties who will represent the United States in the 2000 Summer Olympics, which run Sept. 15-Oct. 1 in Sydney, Australia. All but Ms. Beckerman, who was named the alternate for the women's gymnastics squad, will compete.

        “It shows you how much talent Cincinnati has,” Williams said.

        In the 24 days to the Opening Ceremonies, training is the only thing that matters. Most will leave for Sydney around Sept. 1 to become acclimated to the 15-hour time change.

        “We're racking up the mileage (on the water) and taking naps in between,” said Salchow, a Walnut Hills High and University of Cincinnati graduate who will compete in rowing's women's quadruple sculls. "'It's a full-time job. We want to make a lot of progress, because we know our competitors are going to.”

        Cincinnati's contingent is even or up this year, depending how you count. At the 1996 Atlanta Games, the area was also represented by 11 athletes, but only nine were competitors, with two alternates.

        Seven of this year's crop were raised in Greater Cincinnati and graduated from high school here. Two others came here to attend college, while two moved here specifically to train for the Olympics.

        Salchow, 26, started rowing in the Cincinnati junior rowing program while in high school, and though she rowed on a club team at UC, was considered on the fringes of the national rowing community. Then she and seven self-described “rejects” challenged the national eight-woman boat and nearly won twice in 1997. That made her realize her Olympic dreams weren't so crazy.

        When she decided to make an Olympic run, she borrowed a boat and showed up at the National Sculling Center in Augusta, Ga., where she entered the Olympic training camp on her own.

        “Nobody told me I couldn't do it, so I just kept going,” she said.

        Though she has been officially named to the Olympic team by U.S. Rowing, Salchow faces a legal pothole on her road to Sydney. A second four-woman boat has filed a grievance to replace Salchow's boat, with the case expected to be considered by an arbitrator this week.

        Ruckman, 26, (Wyoming High) and Volpenhein, 24, (Kings) didn't take up rowing until they got to college at Harvard and Ohio State, but both grew up here. All three are medal contenders, with Volpenhein's eight-man boat a favorite for the gold.

        Williams, 19, was raised in West End, schooled at Taft High and trained at the Golden Gloves gym in Mount Auburn, where he and Craig often spar. Fighting at 139 pounds, he is considered America's most talented boxer and a serious gold medal favorite.

        Craig, a Woodward High School graduate, had a harder road to the Games — having to win two box-offs to qualify — and is called America's least likely Olympic boxer. But he has a chance at that gold he envisions.

        “I love fighting out of this city,” Craig said. “It makes me proud to be included.”

        Kane, from Long Island, N.Y., will be a sophomore on the Xavier University rifle team that placed second in the nation last year. She's just 19; the average age of the U.S. rifle team is around 30. The 26-year-old Parker, a native of Omaha, Neb., is a 1996 Xavier graduate who is now a member of the U.S. Army's special marksmanship unit at Fort Benning, Ga.

        Both qualified for the Games as the top shooters in the nation in their events.

        White and Beckerman moved here from Florida and New Jersey, respectively, in 1998 to train with coach Mary Lee Tracy at the Cincinnati Gymnastics Academy.

        White, who had shown great physical talent, wanted to be in a team atmosphere with a more positive mental environment. The move paid off; after finishing fourth at the Olympic trials on Sunday, the 17-year-old wisp was named to the six-member squad that will defend America's 1996 women's gymnastics gold medal. And though Beckerman won't compete unless there's an injury, she'll be part of the U.S. contingent in Sydney.

        Dusing (Covington Catholic) and Phenix (Ursuline Academy) are products of the Cincinnati Marlins swim club who now swim at the University of Texas. They won't swim individual events in Sydney, but will be considered to swim on America's freestyle relay tea

        Dusing, 22, and Phenix, 19, have been dating for four years.

        Those 24 days until the Games will be a whirlwind, packed with long flights and media interviews, not to mention all the training yet to come. Williams, for his part, stays focused by not getting too excited — yet.

        “My dream never was to make the Olympic team,” he said. “It was to win a gold medal at the Olympics. I don't really think the excitement has hit me. Not until I'm up there standing on the (medal) podium.”
  Monday story: Gymnasts make Olympics

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