Six area athletes again seek Olympic glory
07/27/2012 12:00 AM
10/08/2014 10:37 AM
Editor's note: Two athletes who competed in previous Olympics were inadvertently omitted from an earlier version of this story. Swimmer Chloe Sutton and shot putter Jill Camarena-Williams now are included.
When the Opening Ceremony officially kicks off the Summer Olympics today, six athletes with Sacramento-area roots will be among the more than 500 competitors for the United States in London.
These six athletes share one special thing in common – all of them have been to the Olympics before.
Mary Whipple, 33, has competed in rowing in two Olympic Games and medaled both times, a silver from Athens and a gold from Beijing.
And Whipple said her boat is ready to defend the gold at her final Olympics.
As the six-time defending world champions, Whipple's U.S. women's eight is considered a favorite for the Games. Whipple is one of six returners from the championship boat at the Beijing Games.
"This Olympic cycle, I think my teammates are looking to me and trusting me to lead," said Whipple, who lives in Orangevale. "My role is to give them that one job, that one thought to back each other up and stay together."
Whipple, who sits in the "ninth seat" as the coxswain, faces the opposite direction of the eight rowers and yells instructions to the crew.
Whipple said she finds inspiration in the unity of her teammates.
"A lot of times, it's not what I say but how I say it," she said of her role. "My reaction makes them feed off my words, and I feed off their reaction."
Whipple began her rowing career in high school with Sacramento's Capital Crew.
"I want to do Sacramento proud in London," she said.
Stephanie Brown Trafton
Stephanie Brown Trafton, 32, started dreaming of becoming an Olympian when she was just 4 years old. Now she's competing in her third Summer Olympics.
"I want to return and win another medal, and I have prepared everyday to win another gold," Brown Trafton, who won the gold medal in discus throwing in Beijing in 2008 after placing 22nd in Athens in 2004, wrote in an email. "Two golds are better than one."
The London Olympics are especially meaningful to Brown Trafton, because she will be competing in her mother's home country.
"It will be so much fun to experience (the Olympics) with my family nearby," she said.
Brown Trafton, who lives in Galt, started to focus on discus throwing at Cal Poly.
"I love being able to compete well and respond to the level of competition at the time," Brown Trafton said. "If I need to throw far in the first round, I am capable, and if I need a big throw at the last, I can."
Brown Trafton said she's determined to compete at the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, too.
"I have the ability to go for another Olympics," she said.
Jamie Nieto, 35, is competing in the high jump in his second Summer Olympics.
Nieto, from Valley High School and Sacramento City College, placed fourth in Athens in 2004 but failed to qualify for Beijing in 2008.
This time, he hopes to medal.
"I think it's anybody's game, so my first goal is to make it to the finals," Nieto said. "After that, I'll worry about getting a medal."
No matter the result, Nieto said London will be his final Olympics. He said he will probably compete next year, but that will be the end of his run as a high jumper.
Meanwhile, he has started to pursue his other dream – acting.
"I've always wanted to act, and when I made the team in 2004, I realized I could do whatever I wanted to do," Nieto said.
Since he took his first acting class in 2007, Nieto has been in five feature films and is currently producing and starring in "Blood Brothers," a Web series that will come out later this year. He said he will focus more on acting after retiring his high jump shoes, though he may first take on coaching jobs until acting can pay the bills.
"It takes time to become great at anything you want to do," Nieto said. "Your limitations are only what you believe them to be."
James Williams, 27, who went to Beijing in 2008 as an alternate, came home with an unexpected silver medal after suiting up to fence in the championship match.
Williams, who graduated from Rio Americano in 2003 and started competing at the Sacramento Fencing Club, now has his eyes on a second medal.
"No one believed we could win a medal in 2008. The U.S. hadn't won a medal in team saber in 60 years," Williams said. "It was a pipe dream to everyone else, but the team thought it was possible."
After Beijing, Williams quit training to take a finance job. But he said he missed competitive fencing and rededicated himself to practicing at the encouragement of coach Yury Gelman.
For more than 10 years, Gelman has been more than just a fencing coach to Williams. He has taught Williams everything from new saber techniques to the Russian language, and he said Williams' strength is his intelligence.
"Our sport is very psychological," Gelman said. "It's like playing chess, and you play different strategies. James is always thinking about who he is fencing and his strategies for that opponent."
Despite winning silver in 2008, Williams said the odds are stacked against the U.S. team. The International Fencing Federation ranked the men's saber team eighth for the 2011-12 season.
Gelman and Williams both said the key to medaling in London is believing it's possible.
Said Gelman: "If he is confident, he will achieve really good results."
By qualifying for the U.S. team in the 400-meter freestyle, Sutton, who competed 10-kilometer open-water race in Beijing in 2008, became the first American swimmer to make Olympic teams in both open-water and pool competitions.
Sutton, who lived in Roseville, did not compete in high school swimming, graduating from University of Nebraska Independent Study program in 2010 and, instead of swimming collegiately, swam with her Mission Viejo club.
She has extensive international experience and has won a total of five medals in major international competition: three gold, one silver and one bronze spanning the Open Water Championships, the Pan Pacific Championships, and the Pan American Games.
Sutton's father, David, is a U.S. Air Force officer who was in the Pentagon at the time of the Sept. 11 attacks and is a former football player who played for the U.S. Air Force Academy.
Born March 2, 1982, in Woodland, Camarena-Williams attended Woodland High school and Stanford, where she graduated in 2004 after setting the U.S. indoor shot put record for women (66 feet, 3.25 inches) and tied the outdoor record (66-2.5).
Qualifying first in the U.S. Trials with a throw of 62 feet, 10 1/2 inches, she will make London her second Olympics, following the 2008 Beijing games, where she finished 12th.
Married to Dustin Williams, who will also be in London as a member of Team USA's medical staff, Camarena-Williams has had some of her best performances since undergoing surgery to repair a herniated disc in her back in 2008.
Camarena-Williams gained All-America honors while at Woodland High School where she won the 2000 California state discus title and the 1999 state shot put crown.
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