By Mike Watkins//Correspondent
As an accomplished but relatively unknown swimmer on the national and international swim stage, Scott Weltz came to Omaha last month with an unpolished resume but a lot of drive and determination. He didn’t even have a page in the USA Swimming Trials media guide.
But when he left Nebraska in early July, he went home not to unpack from his Trials adventures but to prepare for trips to Knoxville, Tenn., France and ultimately London to swim for his country.
In the 200 breast finals, Weltz made the improbable probable by beating favorites and Olympians Brendan Hansen and Eric Shanteau to make his first Olympic team – giving other swimmers hope that they, too, can be an Olympian. ‘
“Never count an Aggie out,” Weltz said following his unexpected but commanding win in the finals of the 200 breaststroke at Trials. “I came into the meet with a little chip on my shoulder and had something to prove to people.
“Herb Brooks (coach of the 1980 gold-medal-winning 1980 U.S. hockey team) is one of my sports heroes, and I’ve watched Miracle every time before big meets. He proved you can play someone 10 times and they might beat you nine times, but if you put yourself out there, you have a shot at winning. That’s what I did.”
Weltz’s Olympic journey began with humble, largely unrecruited beginnings.
The only Division I program to look at him out of high school was UC-Davis, where Pete Motekaitis, then head coach of the men’s swim program, saw raw ability and fire in Weltz. Originally an individual medley swimmer, over time, Motekaitis convinced his pupil to focus more on breaststroke – mostly out of need.
“We were short of breaststrokers on the team, and Scott was so versatile, we decided to focus on improving his breaststroke,” Motekaitis said. “When he joined the program, his breaststroke was probably his weakest stroke in the IM. He was a stronger backstroker.
“His hands waffled out and he dropped his elbows too much, but he worked at it and improved more and more with each meet. He is a student of the sport and watches a lot of video. He always strives to improve.”
Near the end of his senior year, due to budget cuts, the men’s program at UC-Davis was suspended. Rather than leave to train elsewhere or stop swimming competitively altogether, Weltz stayed with Motekaitis, who joined the Aggie women’s program, as a volunteer assistant to keep his Olympic dream alive.
While his win at Trials might have been a surprise to many in the swimming world, Motekaitis said anyone who followed Weltz’s results in the Grand Prix events leading up to Trials shouldn’t have been all that shocked by his performance in Omaha.
In the first Grand Prix event – the Minneapolis Grand Prix last November – he made the finals of the 200 breast but was disqualified. He took the next few events off – focusing on his training and dryland workouts – but returned to competition in March for the Indianapolis Grand Prix. There, he was third in the 200 breast – beating Hansen in the process.
In Charlotte in May, he made the B final of the 200 – a disappointing result but a good time considering he was in the heart of his training at the time – and he came back strong at the end of May to finish second to Olympic and world champion Kosuke Kitajima in the finals of the 200 in Santa Clara.
As time inched closer and closer to the start of Trials in June, Motekaitis said he and Weltz felt more and more confident that he was going to make a big splash.
“We knew he would be a contender, but when he went 2:10.90 in morning prelims and made the semis, I told him he would make the finals,” Motekaitis said. “When he went 2:10 again in semis, I told him he had a great shot at making the top two and the team and to go for it in the finals.
“He blew me away when he went 2:09 in the finals. He really came into his own, and he deserved it because he worked his butt off over the past two years to put himself in the spot he’s in now – an Olympian.”
For Weltz, who has been training individually with Motekaitis since 2010, his spot on the Olympic team is definitely the culmination of many years of hard work and dedication.
“After graduation and with the UC-Davis men’s program gone, I went back to Pete, and he asked me if I was serious about making a push for the next Olympic team because he didn’t want to mess around and waste his and my time,” Weltz said.
“I told him I was serious, and we sat down and put together a plan to get me there. Now I’m here, and it still doesn’t feel completely real, but I’m excited for London.”