Scott Weltz competes in the men's 200-meter breaststroke on Tuesday. (Jae C. Hong / Associated…)
LONDON---If the United States swim team were to present a Pierre de Coubertin Award, to the athlete who most exemplified the Olympic founder's motto that participating in the Games was more important than winning, Scott Weltz would win in a landslide.
He placed fifth in Wednesday's finals of the 200-meter breaststroke, with Daniel Gyurta of Hungary setting a world record.
"I feel like a part of history," Weltz said. "I’m just happy with this whole Olympic experience. I don’t have any regrets."
To say Weltz was a long shot to make the Olympic team would be a severe understatement. He never had won any event in a major meet. He swam four events in the 2008 Olympic Trials, finishing 30th, 38th, 65th and 67th.
In 2010, after Weltz had concluded his NCAA career at UC Davis, the school cut its men's swim team. While Olympic-caliber swimmers generally train with one another, and with a club team, Weltz trained with the UC Davis women's team.
USA Swimming did not include his biography in its media guide for the Olympic Trials. Weltz stunned the swimming community by winning the 200 breast, and with it a ticket to the Olympics.
"I’m just enjoying the ride," he said. "Obviously, I wanted to medal. But I’m not going to hang my head. I did the best I could. I had fun with it."
Before the trials, Michael Phelps had no idea who Weltz was. Before Weltz swam here, Phelps wished him good luck.
"It’s pretty cool," Weltz said. "I’ve watched these guys swim my whole life, all these fast guys. Now they’re my teammates. There is so much energy now, and being able to say they’re my teammates has fired me up."
Weltz, 25, was about ready to call it a career and pursue his teaching credential. Not now.
"I don’t want to have any regrets," he said. "I want to keep going until I start getting worse. I never want to say, what if I could be the next guy who gets a world record? I’m going to keep working at it until I start going backwards."
Phelps is something of a god in the swimming world, setting Olympic records that might stand forever. Weltz could be the kind of grinder that coaches could use to motivate the vast majority of swimmers lacking the extraordinary talent Phelps has and the abundant financial resources he enjoys.
"I have a whole different story than he did," Weltz said. "If that can inspire someone down the road, that would be great.
"If someone could look up to me and say, ‘People always told me I couldn’t, but I think I can,’ and they end up doing it, man, that would be amazing."