UT women’s soccer player Natalia Gaitàn is gearing up for another action-packed summer squaring off against the best competition in the world.The Bogota, Colombia, native will represent her home country in the Summer Olympics from July 25 through Aug. 11 in London. It will be the first-ever Olympic appearance for the Colombia women’s soccer team.
“This is the first time Colombia has qualified for the Olympics so it has been a bit of a shocking experience for all of us, but our main goal is to win a medal,” Gaitàn said. “Obviously we have to get there one step at a time, so our first task is to get past the group phase.”
Gaitàn, who will be a senior in the fall, is in the process of wrapping up her spring semester at UT and will fly home Friday, May 4. The following day, she will begin training with her national teammates in preparation for London and the XXXth Olympiad. The squad is expected to train together for the ensuing three weeks, take a weeklong break, then reconvene for three more weeks of practice before leaving for London.
The three-year soccer letterwinner is one of four current NCAA Division I student-athletes on the Colombia national team roster, which includes Austin Peay’s Tatiana Ariza, Indiana’s Orianica Velasquez and Kansas’ Liana Salazar.
Colombia, which will field one of 12 women’s soccer teams in the Summer Olympics, will find out its draw Tuesday, April 24. They qualified for the showcase event by reaching the finals of the 2010 South American Women’s Soccer Championships in Gaitàn’s hometown.
Due to an intense schedule, the soccer competition actually kicks off two days before the opening ceremony of the Olympic Games with the first group matches. The competition will begin with a group stage. The teams will be divided into groups of four, and the best eight teams will qualify for the quarterfinals. From there, the competitions are a knockout format: The two winning semifinalists will play for the gold medal at Wembley Stadium, with the two losing semifinalists facing off for the bronze.
The soccer competition at London will be staged at City of Coventry Stadium (Coventry), Hampden Park (Glasgow), Millennium Stadium (Cardiff), Old Trafford (Manchester), St James’ Park (Newcastle) and Wembley Stadium (London).
Gaitàn possesses a wealth of national team experience. Last summer she served as a captain for Colombia at the 2011 FIFA Women’s World Cup in Germany.
She is coming off an outstanding 2011 fall campaign for the Midnight Blue and Gold. Gaitàn was named second-team National Soccer Coaches Association of America (NSCAA) All-Great Lakes Region, first-team All-Mid-American Conference and third-team NSCAA Scholar All-America.
Gaitàn was an integral part of a Toledo defense that posted nine shutouts. She played every minute of 20 matches and finished fourth on the team with eight points (one goal, six assists), tied for fourth in the MAC in helpers.
“UT has been a wonderful experience. Being here and being with the team really has been life-changing,” Gaitàn said. “It also has been a helpful learning experience on the field. The style of soccer here is much more fast-paced and physical. I try to take what I learn here back to Colombia.”
The Rockets finished with a 14-7-2 overall mark, 9-1-1 in the conference. UT successfully defended its MAC regular-season championship and captured a league-record fourth tournament title, advancing to the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2008.
UT Head Soccer Coach Brad Evans said Natalia’s passion for the game, her consistency, and her soccer instincts are impressive to observe on a daily basis.
“Coaching Natalia has been an amazing experience and has helped all of us become better at what we do,” Evans said. “What makes working alongside her even more special is that as talented as she is as a soccer player, she is an even better person and teammate.”
Gaitàn also excels off the field, holding a 3.95 GPA while double majoring in marketing and international business.
“Natalia is dedicated to leading an exemplary lifestyle: She trains hard, she takes care of herself off the field, and she is fully committed to getting the most out of her educational opportunities,” Evans said. “She is one of the most humble people I have ever encountered in athletics, and she chooses to face every challenge on and off the field with great courage. For our team, Natalia serves as a vivid example of how to constantly strive for excellence in all facets of life.”
For more information about the 2012 Olympics in London, visit www.london2012.com.