Mortimer beats Olympic medalist in Grand Prix 1,500

Former Gophers men’s swimmer Justin Mortimer is shooting for the 2008 Olympics.

David McCoy

Former Minnesota men’s swimmer Justin Mortimer has Olympic dreams.

After barely missing out on last year’s Olympics, Mortimer is dedicating the next three years of his life to the Summer 2008 games, training in Mission Viejo, Calif.

And if his performance during the weekend at the Speedo Grand Prix Challenge in Irvine, Calif., is any indication of his chances, Mortimer would seem to be on his way.

The 13-time All-American won the 1,500-meter freestyle race with a time of 15:31.44, beating 2005 NCAA Champion and 2004 Olympic silver medalist Larsen Jensen by approximately 10 seconds.

“Coming out here,” Mortimer said, “I just wanted to make a statement that even though Larsen and Chris Thompson are going to World Championships in Montreal, which is basically USA’s top priority for its swimmers, and I’m going to World University Games, that I’m still shooting to be the best in America.”

Mortimer also took third in the 400 freestyle, fourth in the 400 individual medley and sixth in the 200 medley.

Mortimer’s former Gophers teammate Terry Silkaitis, who took seventh in the 100 freestyle and 15th in the 50 freestyle in Irvine, said Mortimer is “probably the most focused I’ve ever seen in a swimmer.”

Mortimer said beating Jensen only makes him feel more confident of achieving his Olympic goals.

“I think it’s just a sign that I’ve only been (training) here for two weeks and I’ve already been performing this well after not even being in great shape,” Mortimer said. “So a couple months down the road I should be really at my top form.”

Honors for hockey pair

Minnesota women’s hockey players Natalie Darwitz and Krissy Wendell were honored with two of the more prestigious annual awards given to women’s hockey players.

Darwitz was named the Bob Allen Women’s Player of the Year, an award recognizing the accomplishments of the most outstanding American-born women’s hockey player. Darwitz put together 114 points on 42 goals and 72 assists, breaking the NCAA record for points in a single season.

Wendell, also a junior, earned the Bob Johnson award, which recognizes the most outstanding women’s hockey player in international competition. Wendell finished the year with 43 goals and 61 assists for 104 points. It was Wendell’s second Bob Johnson award, with her first coming in 2000.

Both Wendell and Darwitz likely have more accolades to look forward to, as they compete for Team USA in the 2006 Winter Olympics in Torino, Italy.

Two academic awards

Mortimer and senior gymnast Guillermo Alvarez were named first-team ESPN The Magazine Academic All-District II At-Large.

Mortimer finished his career with Minnesota this season, earning four All-America citations at the NCAA Championships, bringing his career All-America total to 13. Mortimer is a physics student with a 3.43 grade point average.

Alvarez capped off his career with the Nissen-Emery Award as the nation’s top senior gymnast. A 2005 All-American on the pommel horse, vault and in the all-around, Alvarez carries a 3.84 GPA as a psychology student.