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7/15/96

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Four Stanford coaches to head Olympic teams

STANFORD -- Their lives haven't been the same since they were tapped to coach United States teams in the Olympic Games, say four Stanford coaches who are in Atlanta this week for the opening ceremonies on July 19.

  • Tara VanDerveer, on leave this year from her job as head women's basketball coach at Stanford to train the women's national basketball team, has racked up a 50-0 record in worldwide exhibition games and logged more than 70,000 air miles.
  • Skip Kenney and Richard Quick, head coaches of the men's and women's swimming teams at Stanford, respectively, probably have paced off a comparable number of laps on the DeGuerre decks, as they've drawn on their experience in five previous Olympic Games to forge this summer's medal-winning strategies.
  • Fencing coach Zoran Tulum, who competed in saber for his native Yugloslavia in the 1980 Olympics, even gave up his Stanford apartment to hit the international tournament circuit with athletes trying to qualify for the U.S. fencing team.
"I really felt like a gypsy," Tulum said after spending nine weeks traveling with the national men's foil team to competitions in Bonn, Koblenz and Paris.

But once his relatively inexperienced fencers beat the world-champion Cuban team, Tulum knew the win was worth all the time on the road.

"We are not used to success yet," he said of his young fencers, all of whom are students who have taken a year off from school to get ready for the Olympics. "But we fenced very well at the World Cup finals, and at the university games, and at the Cup of Seven Nations, so I think we could surprise some teams in Atlanta."

In contrast, when swimming coaches Kenney and Quick talk about their teams' prospects for gold in Atlanta, they know they're working with world-class swimmers. But they're looking for more than record-breaking times from their athletes.

"What our country needs right now are role models, and our swimmers have a chance to provide that," Kenney says.

When United States Swimming in November 1994 named Kenney and Quick to head the Olympic teams, other coaches who regularly compete against them applauded the choices.

"There could not be two nicer people for the Olympic athletes," said Jon Urbanchek, men's head swimming coach at the University of Michigan. "These guys are like the Dallas Cowboys of swimming. They have the qualities to unite young people in a team."

Kenney, a U.S. Olympic coach in 1984 and 1988 who was named Coach of the Year by the American Swim Coaches Association in 1993, masterminded Pablo Morales' storybook comeback for the gold medal in the 100-meter butterfly at the 1992 Olympics, even though he wasn't in Barcelona for the event.

"I turned down the opportunity to go because my son was pitching a championship game in an all-star tournament," Kenney said. "I knew that Pablo was prepared, and that I didn't have to be there with him."

During training season, Kenney is on the DeGuerre deck four hours a day, pacing his swimmers as they dig and claw through 120 laps in the 100-meter pool. He clutches a stopwatch as he clocks them at each turn, yelling "superb job!" when they're tight, bellowing "your elbows are out!" when someone hits the wall a second too slow.

Quick, whose swimmers practice during the same hours, smiles at Kenney's exaggerated show of spirit, then whips off his own red "Stanford" cap to flag in a winning relay team.

The two Stanford coaches have been best buddies since 1989, when Quick was recruited from the University of Texas, where his teams had won five NCAA championships. A three-time Olympic coach, Quick also has served three times as head coach for the U.S. World Championships.

Quick's honeyed Texas drawl is clipped short when he talks about the frustrations of dealing with "significant levels of cheating" at the Olympics because of steroid use. But in his coaching, he depends on praise to motivate swimmers.

"I tell them to imagine what the [winning] times are going to be like in 10 years," he said. "And the great athletes among them will say to themselves, 'Well, why can't I do that now?' "

VanDerveer rebounds

VanDerveer, head women's basketball coach at Stanford since 1986, took a leave this year to train the U.S. national team. Exhibition games took the women to China, Russia and Australia, and on her 70,000-mile odyssey VanDerveer even jogged with President Clinton in Washington. The team compiled a stunning 22-0 record against NCAA opponents and shut out international teams 28-0. At the team's final Bay Area game, played June 9 at the Coliseum Arena, the Stanford Band led the celebration of the team's 80-62 rout over Team Canada.

In the course of leading the Cardinal women to six Pac-10 championships and four appearances in the NCAA's Final Four tournament, VanDerveer frequently invited Kenney and Quick to talk with her players about supporting one another. Recently all four Stanford coaches sat down in a dining facility on the Georgia Tech campus to talk strategy and to learn from Olympics logistics guru Sherry Posthumus, head women's fencing coach at Stanford.

Posthumus, the only female fencing team leader in the history of the sport, competed nationally in women's foil for two decades and is looking forward to her third Olympic Games. Once the first "touché" is scored in Atlanta, she will be the liaison between the fencing team and the U.S. Olympic Committee.

"One of the problems with fencing is that it's not very spectator friendly," Posthumus said of the difficulty of spotting points as fencers lunge, retreat and parry.

That's why technicians have installed prominently displayed panels of red and green lights to signal whenever a fencer's electrically wired lamé jacket is hit and a point is scored by his or her opponent.

"The TV people are doing all they can to make the current system more visual," Posthumus said.

As officials in Atlanta continue to gear up for the opening ceremonies, the four Stanford coaches and team leader say their responsibilities are about to peak.

"I always tell athletes that my role as an educator is to prepare them and them remove myself," says Kenney, who has been swamped with invitations to speak at motivational seminars this year. "I tell them they're going to the Olympics with the same talent they were born with, and the only thing they can really control is their attitude.

"Then I say, 'You need to go to Atlanta with the attitude that you want to be the best in the world.' "

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