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RIO BOUND

May 14, 2016 04:48PM ● Published by Lynn Carey

Gallery: LOCAL OLYMPIANS [3 Images] Click any image to expand.

WATER POLO PLAYER MELISSA SEIDEMANN

Melissa Seidemann is no stranger to having a gold medal draped around her neck. After helping the USA Water Polo Women’s Senior National Team secure gold at the London 2012 Olympic Games only four years ago, the Walnut Creek native promptly put her medal in a safe deposit box and got back in to the water. Seidemann, along with rest of Team USA, have been training since then to repeat their win. In March they qualified for the Rio 2016 Olympic Games. 

Seidemann and her sisters Lauren and Natalie spent summers in their neighborhood pool at Larkey Park. A swim coach noted they were strong and tall––the perfect combination for water polo. All three mastered the sport. Today Natalie is on the University of California, Irvine water polo team, and Lauren, after playing for University of California, Davis, coaches water polo at College Park High School, their alma mater. Seidemann played water polo for Stanford University, but took a leave of absence in 2012 to train full-time with Team USA. 

Describing her 2012 Olympic training experience, Seidemann says she was like "a deer in the headlights." Now with only four competitors from the 2012 gold-medal-winning team returning to compete in Rio, she finds herself in a better position to help younger players. "It's a different perspective now. I have a lot to be thankful for within my athletic career, it's provided me with many opportunities.”

Team USA trains twice a day starting at 7am in Long Beach, where Seidemann lives with three teammates. Her day begins at 6am with a breakfast consisting of toast with turkey, yogurt and coffee. During a three-hour break, lunch is poolside, and because the sport is now getting well-deserved attention— thanks to the 2012 gold medalists—the meals are catered. “This was previously unheard of in the water polo world!" she says. Seidemann returns home around 5pm to "walk my dog with my eyes closed, and go to bed." These days, there’s not much free time to visit Walnut Creek.

Eventually Seidemann hopes to return to school, focusing on a degree in psychology, but doesn't have specific plans for after the Olympics. “I'm most proud of the opportunities I have to inspire young athletes within the sport.  I love to see how excited they get as their passion for the sport grows.”   For now, she’s focused on the roller-coaster ride of preparing for Olympic-level competition. "The highest highs are phenomenal, and the lows are painful sometimes. I'll have to give some thought to where I am with the sport and with myself after the Olympics," she says adding, "but once an Olympian, always an Olympian." 

 SYNCHRONIZED SWIMMER MARIYA KOROLEVA

 Mariya Koroleva performed rhythmic gymnastics and swam in her native Russia before moving with her family to Walnut Creek at the age of nine. So when a flyer from the Walnut Creek Aquanuts synchronized swim club arrived in the mail, she jumped at the chance to combine both sports. "I didn't speak English at first, but it was fun," she says. "I stayed for more than a decade!" After graduating from Las Lomas High School, Koroleva went on to swim at Stanford University. Now the 26-year-old is taking a break from pursuing a master’s degree in sports management from the University of San Francisco to train for the Olympics.

The Rio 2016 Olympic Games will be Koroleva's second, after taking 11th place in the synchronized swimming women’s duets with former partner Mary Killman at the London 2012 Olympic Games. Now with duet partner Anita Alvarez, Koroleva will again be a part of the only duet to represent the United States in the synchronized swimming competition. Their chances look good––the duo placed first in April at the China Open in the duet free competition. "Our current ranking in the world is 10 or 11," Koroleva explains. "You don't jump that many spots in a season. Russia has been leap years ahead of everyone. Mexico and Australia, too, but we’re inching toward them."

Preparing for the Olympics requires incredible stamina: 10 hours a day of training beginning at 7am each morning in the pool at Campolindo High School in Moraga. "I don't think you ever get used the feeling of jumping into a cold pool,” she says. That's only part of the challenge––holding her breath for long periods of time requires significant cardiovascular strength. "It's like running a sprint, my whole body is screaming out, and I have to suppress the natural instinct to breathe," Koroleva explains. "I have to think of ways to deal with it mentally." And that's not all. "We have to wear nose plugs and they’re uncomfortable, plus you can get an annoying nose clip tan." 

Koroleva eats oatmeal before practice and a shake during. Along with the pool work is ballet and pilates in the afternoons. She does have time for a boyfriend, because he conveniently works at her gym. He'll be going to cheer her on in Rio, along with her family. The duet will be performing to a violin piece by David Garret for their technical performance, and a more intense song by Brand X for their freestyle. "I'm sure I'll be nervous, especially since it's my second go-round with the Olympics. I recognize the pressure a little more. But I try to look at it like every other competition." The Rio 2016 Olympic Games take place August 5 to August 21.

 BY LYNN CAREY

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