As the 2012 Summer Olympic Games closed Sunday, the 46 Golden Bear athletes, coaches and staff members representing the University of California, Berkeley, in London stood tall following another record-setting performance on the international stage.
All told, the Bears earned 17 medals, matching their record haul from the 2008 Summer Olympics in Beijing. Eleven of the medals were gold, one silver and five bronze. If UC Berkeley were its own country, it would be sixth in the world for the number of gold medals it earned, tying with France and Germany. The school’s overall count of 17 medals ranked it third among U.S. universities, behind only the University of Southern California and the University of Florida.
Only once have the Bears accumulated more than 11 gold medals. In 1948, the last time that the Olympics were in London, UC Berkeley collected 12, with nine coming in crew when the members of the Bears’ varsity boat comprised the entire U.S. team and rowed to victory.
“We are extraordinarily proud of our Cal athletes and their coaches,” said Chancellor Robert J. Birgeneau. “These remarkable athletes, who are current, former and future students, represent the best of Berkeley. Many have excelled academically as well as athletically, and exemplify the success of the student-athlete paradigm at Berkeley.”
Added Cal Director of Athletics Sandy Barbour, “We applaud the efforts of all of our 46 Olympians in London, from our current student-athletes – including incoming freshmen – and alumni to our coaches and staff. We celebrate each of them, and their journey. In particular, we celebrate the 17 medals that our Golden Bears won to tie our school record from four years ago in Beijing.
UC Berkeley’s 2012 medal count
11 gold, 1 silver, 5 bronze
Nathan Adrian (USA) – 400-meter freestyle relay (silver), 100-meter freestyle (gold), 400-meter medley relay (gold)
Rachel Bootsma (USA) – 400-meter medley relay (gold)
Natalie Coughlin (USA) – 400-meter freestyle relay (bronze)
Jessica Hardy (USA) – 400-meter freestyle relay (bronze), 400-meter medley relay (gold)
Caitlin Leverenz (USA) – 200-meter individual medley (bronze)
Dana Vollmer (USA) – 100-meter butterfly (gold), 800-meter freestyle relay (gold), 400-meter medley relay (gold)
Kara Kohler (USA) – quadruple sculls (bronze)
Erin Cafaro (USA) – eight-person rowing team (gold)
Alex Morgan (USA) – gold
Men’s Water Polo
Aleksa Saponjic (Serbia) – bronze
Women’s Water Polo
Heather Petri (USA) – gold
Elsie Windes (USA) – gold
“Over the last two weeks, it was so thrilling to follow all our Bears’ performances in so many Olympic venues. But that’s the environment of excellence that’s encouraged and developed on this campus. That’s this campus’s culture and it permeates everything that this campus does.”
Tony Sandoval, UC Berkeley’s director of track and field who was in London to watch protégé Alysia Montano run the 800-meter race, said he noticed the impact of a member of the Golden Bear community just about every day of the games.
“It’s pretty special,” Sandoval said. “In almost every sport, you see someone from Cal that’s making some kind of a contribution, which is phenomenal. I think it’s a reflection of the mission and the philosophy that Sandy (Barbour, UC Berkeley’s director of athletics) and the department have taken.”
Added UC Berkeley men’s crew head coach Mike Teti, who coached the U.S. men’s eight in London: “You walk through the dining hall and you hear ‘Go Bears!’ You walk down the street and you hear ‘Go Bears!’ It’s a warm feeling, and it makes you proud of being a part of this great tradition.”
That tradition extends in particular to the water, from which the campus picked up most of its medals. The Bears earned 11 medals in swimming, two in rowing and three in water polo. Only Alex Morgan, who captured gold as a member of the USA women’s soccer squad, secured a medal on dry land.
Over the last three Olympiads, UC Berkeley athletes have won a total of 50 medals, with 16 in 2004 and 17 in 2008 and in 2012. In history, the Bears now have 99 gold medals and 178 overall.
Among the more notable accomplishments this summer in London, swimmer Natalie Coughlin picked up a bronze medal in the 400-meter freestyle relay to give her 12 medals for her career –- tying the all-time USA record for a woman. Dana Vollmer, with gold medals in the 100-meter butterfly (world record), 400-meter medley relay (world record) and 800-meter freestyle relay, joined Matt Biondi (who earned five gold medals in 1992) and Mary T. Meagher (with three gold medals in 1984) to become the only Bears who each won at least three gold medals in one Olympic Games.
Vollmer and fellow swimmer Nathan Adrian, who won gold in the 100-meter freestyle and 400-meter medley relay, also became the eighth and ninth Cal athletes to receive multiple Olympic gold medals in one year.
Teri McKeever, UC Berkeley’s head women’s swimming coach who also served as head coach of the USA women’s team in London, admitted to having some favorites when watching the competition. Despite the success of all of the Golden Bears at the games, her eyes were clearly on the nine participating UC Berkeley women’s swimmers.
“I’m a little biased, because my Cal highlights have been Dana Vollmer’s world record and Caitlin Leverenz winning a bronze medal, and Natalie Coughlin winning her 12th medal and tying to be the most decorated female swimmer in U.S. history,” McKeever said.
Although a majority of the medalists are alumni, four are current students, giving Golden Bear fans plenty of opportunities to watch them in action at UC Berkeley — swimmers Rachel Bootsma and Caitlin Leverenz, rower Kara Kohler and water polo’s Aleksa Saponjic.