Twelve Gauchos have earned the right to compete for the gold in the 2008 Summer Olympics in Beijing — if they can get past the competition at the United States Olympic Team Trials next month.

The Gauchos will send 11 swimmers, comprised of both current students and alumni, to the trials. The eight men and three women will swim in Omaha, Neb. during a week-long event that begins June 29. Additionally, UCSB Judo Club co-coach and alumnus Derek Alef will also compete in the Judo Olympic Trials in Las Vegas, Nev. from June 13 to 15.

According to Head Swimming Coach Gregg Wilson, UCSB had a large number of swimmers qualify for the trials this year, and he said he believes many of them stand a chance to advance. Wilson said alumni Jason Lezak, a freestyle specialist and four-time Olympic medalist, as well as Pat Carey, a butterfly specialist, have a particularly good shot at appearing in Beijing.

“UCSB will be very well represented by swimming at the trials,” Wilson said. “We have a number of kids who we think can make it to at least the semifinals or the finals [and] maybe even make the [Olympic] team. Our best shot is Jason Lezak, because of his veteran status. His speed is unbelievable, and he’s really experienced — the kid has already been to four Olympics, and has two golds, a silver and a bronze. Pat Carey is also knocking on the door, and I have high hopes for him.”

In addition to the 11 swimmers who have already qualified, Wilson said the three remaining meets of the season could admit up to three more Gauchos to the Olympic trials.

“This is just a great opportunity for a number of Gaucho swimmers,” Wilson said. “We’re just hoping that our group is going to be even bigger by the time the trials take place. We’re all working really hard, and we’re really excited. Things are falling into place, because everyone is putting so much effort in.”

Meanwhile, Judo Olympic hopeful Alef will also compete to secure a spot on the U.S. Olympic Team. Weighing in at 260 pounds, the 36-year-old will fight in the heavyweight category, which starts at 220 pounds and has no weight cap. Alef recently finished third in the recent U.S. Senior National Judo Championships, which ranked him fifth in the nation.

Alef graduated from UCSB with a business economics degree in 1998, and came back to UCSB last year to help coach the Judo Club alongside his father, Daniel Alef.

Daniel Alef said despite the fierce competition, he feels his son has a realistic chance of qualifying for the Olympic games.

“Derek started when he was eight, and he’s now ranked fifth in the nation,” Alef said. “He has a shot to make it — he is really strong and dedicated — but in the trials, it’s single elimination for him, so if he loses once, he’s out. The thing I’m proud of is that he’s going for it.”