July 31, 2008
AUSTIN, Texas -- Texas head women's swimming coach Kim Brackin and volunteer assistant coach Kirsty Coventry took off on their road to the 2008 Beijing Olympics on Saturday, July 26 by trekking to Osaka, Japan from Austin, via San Francisco. One day and a 13 time-zone leap later, it was all business for Brackin, who will serve as Zimbabwe's head coach in Beijing, and Coventry, the star of the African nation's two-member swim team.
Coventry heads to Beijing as a triple medalist (1 gold, 1 silver, 1 bronze) from the 2004 Athens Games, and, as Brackin notes, her prior Olympics experience will enhance her chances at further success at the 2008 Games.
"There are different expectations from the public on what she can do as a defending Olympic champion, but she will go to Beijing as an experienced veteran," Brackin said. "No one can take away that experience of getting through the preliminaries, semifinals and finals in multiple events at the Olympic Games. She will start right off the top with the 400 IM, and although she is not seeded in the top three, one of her goals is to get off to a great start and medal in that event."
Coventry trains at UT's Lee and Joe Jamail Swim Center, often sharing the pool with members of the current Texas women's swimming team. Coventry leads by example in team workouts, and her work ethic and expertise continue to rub off on the Longhorns.
"(UT rising senior) Rebecca Orr is a perfect example of someone who is taking the time to get to know Kirsty outside of the pool as a mentor," Brackin said. "She has watched her swim, she sees how Kirsty trains, and a lot of Rebecca's improvement has come as a result of shadowing Kirsty. People like Kirsty, Brendan Hansen, Ian Crocker and Aaron Peirsol ...they humanize the highest level of swimming."
Incoming Freshman Hersey Readies for Beijing
Incoming UT freshman Kathleen Hersey will join her eight new classmates on the Texas swimming and diving team in Austin next month, but she will have business to take care of first as a member of the U.S. Olympic Team.
Hersey (Roswell, Ga./Marist H.S.), who placed second in the 200-meter butterfly at the Olympic Trials earlier this month to earn her spot on the U.S. Olympic Team, continues to train in Singapore with Team USA before heading to Beijing on Monday, Aug. 4.
Hersey holds the world's 10th-fastest time of the year in the 200 butterfly, and coincidentally, that mark of 2:07.13 set a new pool record at UT's Lee and Joe Jamail Swimming Center during the All-American Long Course Invitational last March. Hersey was just off of her personal best at the U.S. Olympic Trials, but, having dealt with the pressure of making the U.S. Olympic Team, even better performances may await Hersey in the near future.
"I think Kathleen learned immensely from Trials," Brackin said. "I wouldn't say she felt like it was a perfect meet for her, but it was one of her best meets. I think there is more to come now that she has made the team. She has vaulted over what was nearly the biggest hurdle (the Olympic trials), and now she feels free to perform.
"Kathleen is getting better in the pool and she feels really good about this positive point in her life. She's excited about going to the Olympic Games but she also is excited about coming back to the U.S. and starting school at UT. It's kind of a new era for her. She has a lot of positive energy, and I would not be surprised to see her have a major shift in performance at the Olympic Games."
Gingrich, Riefenstahl Ride Momentum to Austin
Incoming UT freshmen Leah Gingrich and Katie Riefenstahl, like Hersey, enjoyed outstanding meets at the U.S. Olympic Trials. Gingrich, who counts victories this week in the 200-meter individual medley and the 100-meter butterfly at the YMCA Long Course National Championships, joined Hersey in the 200 butterfly finals at the Olympic Trials and added a finals berth in the 800-meter freestyle at Trials.
"Leah got out there and raced and wanted her own moment out there," Brackin said. "It was exciting to watch her compete in that 200 butterfly final, and she swam a great, great 800 free, especially in prelims."
The meet was equally productive for Riefenstahl, who reached the finals of the 100- and 200-meter backstroke events and the 200-meter freestyle semifinals.
"What I loved about her was that every time you saw her behind the starting blocks, she looked like the girl who was most ready to race," Brackin said. "I think she knew there were some good things to come at that meet. She will be an outstanding collegiate swimmer because of her versatility. She is one of the most competitive people I've ever met, and I've been around some really competitive people."
Incoming freshman Karlee Bispo was unable to reach the finals in her events at the Olympic Trials, but, as is the case with Hersey, Gingrich and Riefenstahl, Bispo's versatility and desire bode well for her success as a college swimmer.
"Karlee swam a personal-best time in the 100 free at Trials, which was great, but she has higher expectations for where she finished at Trials. When she develops more power and explosiveness and transfers that to the water, she will be an outstanding 50 freestyle swimmer. But, I don't want to take anything away from her meat-and-potatoes event, the 200 freestyle.
Bispo set a new national high school record in the 200-yard freestyle in May with a mark of 1:45.14. Hersey holds national independent high school records in the 100-yard butterfly and 200-yard individual medley, and Riefenstahl joined three others to set the existing national independent high school record two seasons ago as a sophomore at Germantown (Pa.) Academy.