Mortimer fourth in 400-meter

by Kent Erdahl

Although he has nearly lost his chance to make the trip to Athens, Justin Mortimer is looking forward to a less flashy trip – the one back to Minnesota.

Mortimer, who took the last year off to train for the Olympics, was one of three returning Minnesota swimmers that participated in the Olympic trials last week in Long Beach, Calif.

Now he is the Gophers’ final remaining representative and will finish the last of his three events tonight – the 1,500-meter freestyle.

Mortimer finished just short of the Olympics in his other races. He finished ninth in the 200-meter freestyle and fourth in the 400-meter freestyle.

His time of 3:50.43 in the 400 was a new personal best, but only the top two finishers advanced to the Olympics.

Despite his finishes thus far, Mortimer is not discouraged by his decision to take a year off from collegiate competition.

“It’s been a fun meet,” Mortimer said. “I’ve had some of my best times, and it’s cool to know that in America I have the fourth best time.”

Mortimer admitted that it has been emotional swimming in front of so many people and seeing his training partners advance.

But Minnesota coach Dennis Dale said that Mortimer should not regret taking a year off.

“He told me he had to do it in order to give 100 percent of his time to his goal,” Dale said. “He should be fine with himself because he knows he has given it his best shot.”

After the trials, Mortimer, a Massachusetts native, is excited about returning to Minnesota. He will rejoin the Gophers for his senior year in the fall.

“When I’m upset about a race I’ll look forward to my next big race, and that’s the NCAAs, which Minnesota hosts,” Mortimer said. “I’m really excited to win some national titles in my own pool. I think we’re going to be awesome.”

Mortimer said he is also looking forward to joining teammates Adam Mitchell and Terry Silkaitis, who also participated in three events at the trials.

Silkaitis, who will enter his senior season with the Gophers, competed in three freestyle events – the 50, 100 and 200 meters. His best finish was 12th in the 100.

Mitchell, a Minnesota junior next season, participated in the 200- and 400-meter individual medleys, and the 100-meter backstroke. His best finish was 18th in the 200-meter individual medley.

Dale said he was encouraged by the performances of all the Gopher swimmers, and said Silkaitis and Mitchell swam well in unfamiliar waters.

“Most of our swimmers were swimming at or above their lifetime bests,” Dale said. “The times they improved were in ideal conditions indoors.”

Dale added that it will be nice to see the three returning Gophers improve, and said he will be glad to welcome Mortimer back.

“This is a fine venue (in Long Beach), but it’s certainly not our facility,” Dale said. “It will be very nice to have Justin (Mortimer) back. He’s a great swimmer, a great leader and just a great person.”

Two in top 20

Former Minnesota swimmers Keri Hehn and Todd Smolinski placed in the top 20 of their events at the Olympic trials in the last week.

Hehn placed 20th in the 200-meter women’s breaststroke with a time of 2:34.73. She also placed 14th in the 100-meter breaststroke in a time of 1:11.36.

Smolinski finished 13th in the 100-meter men’s backstroke.