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Water Polo Olympian KK Clark on her aunt, swimmer Marybeth Dorst

On March 21, 1980, President Jimmy Carter announced that the U.S. would boycott the Olympic Games in Moscow.

While many Americans supported the boycott, athletes across the country dealt with shattered Olympic dreams.  One of those athletes was Marybeth Dorst, who qualified for the 1980 Olympic team in the freestyle swimming events.  The U.S. coaches told the swim team to support the country and support the president in his decision. The swimmers were persuaded to be silent in their disappointment of the Boycott with the media.  Dorst recalled to Excelle Sports that they were told the “need to support our country and support our president.”

At the time, Dorst had goals of qualifying for the 1984 Olympic Games and believed her Olympic dreams would be put on hold for just four years. However she failed to make the 1984 Olympic team by just three-hundreths of a second.

Greatness for Dorst, but no gold

When she missed the Olympic team in 1984, she said that it “was the end of my life”.  An eight-time NCAA champion, Dorst was a member of Stanford’s first NCAA Championship team in 1983. She dominated the middle to long distances in the early to mid-1980s, winning three NCAA titles in the 500 and 1650 freestyles and two titles in the 200 free. She was also a part of three collegiate champion relay teams.

Never experiencing the Olympics haunted Dorst in the years following the 1980 Boycott and into the 1984 Los Angeles Games. The disappointment she faced at the pinnacle of her swimming career abated, however, as she has watched her her family flourish in the sport of water polo.  She married Olympian water polo goalie Chris Dorst, whom she affectionately calls “Mr. U.S.A. water polo”, and together raised three daughters who played at Stanford, UCLA, and Cal.

Adding to the family athletic excellence is Dorst’s niece KK Clark, who made the Olympic team in Water Polo and is currently in Rio.  KK told Excelle Sports that she believes her aunt’s life experiences in sport have allowed her to appreciate the opportunity to represent the United States on a much deeper level than other Olympians would. 

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2016 Water Polo Olympic Team (Photo by Richard Corman)

Clark on Durst

“Marybeth Dorst has been a great inspiration to me throughout my journey of chasing this Olympic Dream. Not only did she spark an Olympic fire in me with just the sight of her Congressional Gold Medal (whether it was actually won at the Games or not bore no consequence in my youthful eyes), but she also gave me a purpose in my times of struggle. She did everything right. She was fast. She was really fast. And she swam long distance, which is something to this day I can never wrap my head around. She is gracious and humble. She is a true role model.

“There have been a number of occasions when I catch myself dreaming, with a gold medal in my hands, placing it over her head and onto her shoulders. Marybeth was fast enough to win gold in 1980.

“I believe she deserved to win gold in 1980. She chased her dream and fulfilled her dream only to have it taken away. The Congressional Gold Medal that my aunt and uncle were awarded in 1980 symbolizes a lot of things to me. While the medal itself is a huge honor, for me, it’s a symbol of a tragic mistake our country made in turning Olympic athletes into political pawns.

“The Olympics are the greatest and closest thing we have to world peace, and I believe that should be celebrated! The medal is also a symbol of hope, because it gave a little girl a dream. My greatest wish is to win a gold medal for my aunt, as well as all of the American men and women who were stripped of their opportunity to represent and compete for our great country at an Olympic Games.”

Carrying family lineage forward

Dorst knows victory and defeat, allowing her to connect with her family through sport regardless of outcome. Dorst said that “achievements are great, but that doesn’t define you” and added “even though you have big goals, it is important to find balance from family, god, education, and other passions.”

Now, Dorst will have the opportunity to watch her niece KK play for the gold medal this week in Rio.

The U.S. water polo team next faces China Thursday morning, August 11.

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