Gophers hit pool to prepare for Olympic trials

Monica Wright

It’s been a breakthrough year for women’s athletics at the University. Two new stadiums were dedicated, there were Big Ten and national titles to brag about, and five teams competed in NCAA tournaments.
Now, with school out for the summer, the women’s department hopes the success of its athletes carries on. In the next couple of months, a record 13 women athletes will participate in the Olympic trials.
“We’re about athletic excellence, and carrying the University of Minnesota name is very important,” Associate Athletic Director Donna Olson said. “I think any time we have our athletes going on to do great things, it is positive for their department and the University.”
Great things are clearly happening for the swimming department as 10 of the 13 Olympic trial participants come from the pool.
Coach Jean Freeman shares Olson’s feelings that such a strong showing from Minnesota reflects well on women’s sports.
“We’re definitely excited about it; it’s more than we thought we would have,” Freeman said. “There is truth to the idea that there is power in numbers, and hopefully when people see how many we have, they’ll see that we train seriously.”
Freeman, who guided her team to consecutive Big Ten titles in 1999 and 2000, is coaching 20 Olympic hopefuls at the University Aquatic Center in a regimen different from typical Big Ten training.
The pool, which is normally set to a short course of 25 meters for Big Ten events, will be switched to the Olympic-sized long course of 50 meters.
And without school commitments to worry about, Freeman feels the athletes are better rested and more focused on the trials, which are set to take place Aug. 9-16 at Indiana University’s natatorium in Indianapolis.
However, not all of Minnesota’s Olympic contenders remain in Minneapolis to train. Several of the swimmers choose to practice with club teams closer to home. Freeman said it’s similar to her program in preparing the athletes for Olympic-caliber competition.
“The Big Ten is pretty intense and exciting, and it’s one of the steps to get there,” Freeman said. “There’s a big step from the Big Ten to NCAA’s and from NCAA’s to the Olympic trials, but if they are exposed to enough steps, they will feel prepared.”
Each of the Gophers swimmers — which include Katy Christoferson, Amy Cottrill, Dana Baum, Emily Deppe, Kelsey Hegener, Jenny Hennen, Terri Jashinsky, Elizabeth Pierce, Jinny Smedstad and Andrea Simakova — will compete in several events at the trials.
Most of these events overlap and force the teammates to compete against each other. And for Simakova, who is the top-ranked swimmer in the Czech Republic, it means competing for a separate country.
But according to Christoferson, such intersquad contention is far from unusual.
“It’s something that has always been understood,” Christoferson said. “Andrea would compete for her country and then would go for us. We’d be proud of her if she did well; it’s something we always expected.”
Christoferson points out that having so many teammates, even as competition, means a bigger cheering section and more attention for the school.
“I think its great for us. It really shows that we have strong swimmers and a good organization,” she said. “We have swimmers that are not only top in the Big Ten, but top in that nation. A lot of schools can’t say that.”

Monica Wright welcomes comments at [email protected]