Beijing 2008: Silver Lining


Peter Hudnut ’99

For school president Thomas C. Hudnut, his son’s Olympic medal was not the main cause of his pride. He was already proud of Peter’s ’99 commitment to the sport of water polo throughout Harvard-Westlake, Stanford, three years playing professionally in Europe, three major surgeries, and being the final player cut from the 2004 Olympic men’s water polo team. He was proud of Peter’s determination to make it onto the 2008 team and he was especially proud when he found out his son had secured a spot to represent his country in the Beijing Games.

“I know how much work has gone into it over the years,” Hudnut said. “That wouldn’t have been any different if the team had come in 12th or if they had won the gold medal.”

But the United States did win a medal. The men’s team entered the Beijing Games carrying hopeful but mild expectations after finishing ninth in the 2007 World Championships. They fought their way to the semifinals and scored a stunning victory over Serbia, then lost in the final bout against 2004 defending champion Hungary. For the first time in 20 years, the American water polo team came away from the Olympics with the silver: a feat of such great magnitude that Hudnut compared it to the 1980 “miracle on ice” men’s hockey team.

“Nobody ever, ever thought this team would be in the last game,” he said.

While at Harvard-Westlake, Peter Hudnut was a three time All-American, three time All-CIF, four-time All-League, and two-time league MVP. In past years he has helped coach the Wolverine boys’ water polo team during the off-season from European league play. From 2005 to 2007, Hudnut played for S.S. Lazio in Italy and the past year he has played for C.N. Barcenoleta in Spain.

Peter was not scored on in any of his Olympic appearances, the primary goal of his position as two meter guard. His father got to see him score his first and only Olympic goal in a preliminary match against Italy.

“He doesn’t get paid to score,” Hudnut said. “So seeing him score in the Olympics was a big treat.”

But the most vivid memory he could recall of his son was seeing him emerge from the pool in the middle of the semifinal game against Serbia with a bloody gash above his left eyebrow that required stitches to close, and then seeing him rejoin the action, despite his vulnerable injury, only to be targeted by the Serbs’ violent elbow throwing. Peter finished the game, but needed stitches above his lip as well.

“I’ve always thought that a little blood and a little injury enhances the image of the tough guy position that he plays,” Hudnut said. “I frankly thought it was pretty cool.”

Dara Torres ’85

In the summer before her senior year at Westlake, Dara Torres ’85 swam in the Olympics and helped the United States win a gold medal. Twenty-four years later, she is still doing the same thing.

Torres competed in her fifth Olympics last month in Beijing and won three silver medals. The 41-year-old Westlake graduate is the oldest swimming medalist in Olympics history. Furthermore, her 12 career medals ties her with Jenny Thompson for the most medals of any U.S. female Olympian.

Athletic Director and head of the school’s swimming program Darlene Bible coached Torres from seventh through 10th grade at Westlake and was in Beijing for the Olympics last month. Bible got to spend a moment with Torres after her silver medal winning 50 meter freestyle race and 4×100 meter medley relays on Aug. 17.

“I was tearing up, and she said, ‘Stop, you’re going to make me cry!’ I was so proud of her,” Bible said. Torres had previously won silver in the 4×100 meter freestyle relays on Aug. 10.

Although she trained for the Olympics at Mission Viejo High School during her junior year, Torres had a far-reaching impact on Westlake athletics during high school. She played on successful volleyball and basketball teams at Westlake while she was already a world-class swimmer. She continued to play volleyball at the University of Florida.

“One of the things about Dara that sets her apart from others is that she is an amazing athlete,” Bible said. “See how many Olympic swimmers played another sport in college. At 41, she is an amazing story of fortitude, courage and desire.”

President Thomas C. Hudnut was also in Beijing for these Olympic Games.

“Staying in shape all those years, and proving that you’re not necessarily over the hill at a certain age- it speaks to her dedication and hard work,” Hudnut said. He continued, referring to the school’s motto, “Throughout her career she has persevered and done well because she thought she could do well.”

Head of Athletics Audrius Barzdukas said that current students had much to gain from Torres.

“Dara embodies the idea that you can be a good student, person and athlete for life,” he said. I think she got her foundation for all three areas at her school. She is a lifelong learner.”