Mitchell splashes into 2004 U.S. Olympic Trials

This story is the first in a summer-long series focusing on Minnesota athletes aspiring to compete in the 2004 Olympic Games in Athens, Greece.

Dan Miller

Adam Mitchell bent his body toward the water in lane four of the University Aquatic Center on Friday night, awaiting the first step in his journey toward the Olympic Games in Athens, Greece.

Two minutes and three seconds later Mitchell came out of the water almost a pool-length in front of the other swimmers and over three seconds faster than the U.S. Olympic Trials qualifying time of 2:06.99 in the 200-meter individual medley.

Mitchell will swim at the trials in Long Beach, Calif., which begin July 7.

Kiel Ochalek, who arrived a half-hour early to watch his teammate attempt to qualify, shook his head after Mitchell emerged from the pool.

“That was very fast,” Ochalek said. “I don’t understand that kid. He has something. If I knew what it was, then I would do it, but it’s just something he has.”

Minnesota men’s swimming coach Dennis Dale strolled next to the pool keeping track of the race’s pace. Dale said Mitchell was too ambitious at the start.

“He was out, what I thought, a little too fast,” Dale said. “He was about a second ahead of where I thought he would be, but about halfway down the pool in the breaststroke I knew he had the time. That’s when I started smiling.”

Dale has been smiling a lot during Mitchell’s time with Minnesota. The sophomore placed eighth in the 200-meter individual medley and seventh in the 400-meter individual medley at the 2004 NCAA Championships and earned first-team All-American honors.

These accomplishments now put Mitchell into an elite echelon of swimmers in the nation and open the door to his Olympic dreams.

But the next step is considerably more daunting. He will have to finish in the top two in the 200 individual medley at the trials to earn a spot on the U.S. Olympic Team.

The trials in Long Beach will arguably have the best athletes in the world and will give Mitchell one of the most challenging events of his career.

“It will definitely be a new experience for me,” Mitchell said. “The best swimmers in the world will be there and I just want to try to do the best I can.”

Gaining muscle and experience, Mitchell has been dropping time off of all his performances since he arrived at Minnesota. Dale said Mitchell has even more room to improve and might have an even better shot at the 2008 Olympic Games.

But Mitchell is gaining ground here and Ochalek said his teammate’s hard work has put him into a position where anything can happen at the trials – maybe even a trip to Athens.

“He’s making his way (to the nation’s top swimmers),” Ochalek said. “He was in the top eight at the NCAA (Championships), and when you get up there you are competing with some of the best swimmers in the world.”

Mitchell said he is just concerned with making his way to Long Beach and improving his time enough to give him a shot at a top-two finish. But he is well aware of the amount of effort it will take in the next couple weeks to solidify his Olympic dreams.

“I know how difficult it is to drop time,” he said. “But I am ready to do whatever it takes to do that.”

Two fall short

Minnesota swimmers Katy Coombe and Travis Beckerle also attempted to qualify for the trials this past weekend but both came up short of their qualifying times.