Davis' Weltz places surprising fifth in 200 breaststroke
08/02/2012 12:00 AM
10/08/2014 10:37 AM
LONDON – Lost behind the flurry of Michael Phelps' mad medal haul and a world-record-setting Chinese teenager, something remarkable occurred at the London Games' swim competition this week.
Davis' Scott Weltz, this summer's Accidental Olympian, placed fifth in the men's 200-meter breaststroke Wednesday.
Hungary's Daniel Gyurta won in a world-record 2 minutes, 7.28 seconds. Michael Jamieson of Britain finished second, and Ryo Tateishi of Japan was third.
Weltz, 25, qualified for the Olympics by dropping time in his specialty as if he were on a crash diet. It's the most surprising performance in the swimming world outside China's Ye Shiwen, 16, sweeping the women's 400-meter and 200-meter individual medleys in London.
Weltz, who grew up in San Jose and graduated from Bellarmine Prep, didn't compete at a big-time U.S. college or make a slew of national teams. In other words, his ascent is dramatically different than Bellarmine's other Olympic swimmer, three-time Olympic gold medalist Pablo Morales, who went on to Stanford.
Weltz twice was Big West Conference Swimmer of the Year for UC Davis. Two weeks after returning from the 2010 NCAA Championships, UC Davis dropped the men's swim program.
Not that it mattered in the context of becoming an Olympian. Weltz never had made the final of a senior national meet until June. He was 38th at the 2008 U.S. Olympic Trials in the 200-meter breaststroke.
The London Games are his first international meet.
"We live small," his coach, Peter Motekaitis, said Wednesday.
Motekaitis, a father of four, has been living large in London. To say he helped develop an Olympian in a vacuum is an understatement.
Motekaitis lost his job as the Davis men's coach after 15 years but has been the school's assistant for women's swimming the past two seasons. He recruited Weltz to become a volunteer assistant, giving him access to the Aggies' pool and weight room.
With a degree in economics, Weltz set his mind to becoming an economical swimmer.
"We're still working on making it better," said Motekaitis, who is mostly satisfied by the way Weltz has embraced the idea of trying to master the event.
"I'm never going to swim a perfect race," Weltz added.
Coach and swimmer designed a different kind of program than most swimmers. At first, the idea was to just to go fast enough to reach the final at national meets.
Weltz swam five days, then rested instead of undergoing the same weekly routine with Sundays off. It allowed him 18 percent more time to rest and 18 percent more time in the weight room.
Weltz slept as much as 10 hours a day to help recover from the rigorous training.
As the times dropped, the goals changed. But everything had to be perfect for the plan to work, because the breaststroke is swimming's most complicated stroke.
"There are a lot of moving parts," Motekaitis said. "Timing is a big issue."
Weltz trained with a few women but often was the only one in the pool at Davis. He and Motekaitis needed something to help push the swimmer. That's when the coach introduced a tempo trainer.
A chip was placed in Weltz's ear during breaststroke sets. His coach programmed it to make a beeping sound every 16.125 seconds – basically it was an aquatic metronome. It allowed Weltz to monitor his pace without the need of a buddy to pull him.
Motekaitis set the device for a 2:09 pace. That was the time the coach thought could lead to London. With a dearth of strong U.S. breaststrokers, Weltz saw an opportunity. For example, three-time Olympian Brendan Hansen had just returned after retiring in 2008.
Weltz went to the U.S. Trials in Omaha, Neb., feeling confident. Then he stunned Hansen and 2008 Olympian Eric Shanteau in the 200 breaststroke final.
"I think you guys are as surprised as I am," said Hansen, who won the bronze medal in the 100 breaststroke this week. "I didn't think Weltz had it in him."
Motekaitis, who coached former Cal backstroker Haley Cope to an Olympic berth in 2004, knew what the swimming community did not. The men had been training for the Olympic final since February.
Back then, Weltz complained one day about having to train on Leap Year, thinking March 1 was Feb. 29.
Since then Motekaitis just kept adding days to the February calendar.
"We were on Feb. 88," Weltz said. "Then the next day was Aug. 1.
Finally it arrived Wednesday. The real Aug. 1.
And Weltz leap off the starting block like a man ready for anything.
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