Mortimer takes year to train, joins Gophers competing at Olympic Trials

Twelve former and future Gophers will participate today in Long Beach, Calif.

Justin Mortimer has been training since May of last year in preparation for the next seven days.

The senior took time away from Minnesota’s men’s swimming team to practice with the Mission Viejo Nadadores in Mission Viejo, Calif.

After a year of concentrated preparation, he hopes to make a big splash at the 2004 U.S. Olympic Trials which begin today in Long Beach, Calif.

“This is the best move I could have made to prepare realistically for the Olympics,” Mortimer said. “It all comes down to this.”

Eleven other swimmers connected to the Minnesota men’s swimming program will be competing today in the recently completed Charter All Digital Aquatic Centre.

Terry Silkaitis, Adam Mitchell, Brian Gettelfinger, Todd Smolinski, Chad Krastins, Ryan Plummer, David Plummer, Keri Hehn, Juleen Rodakowski and Matt Engle have all qualified for the trials.

Minnesota coach Dennis Dale noted the large number of swimmers.

“We are really excited,” he said. “Having the number of athletes we do representing Minnesota is special.”

Mortimer, after spending a year swimming only in the “long-course” pools that are used in the Olympic Games, may be the best prepared for the trials. He has also been training with some of the best freestyle swimmers in the country, who are also members of the Mission Viejo team.

Two other Nadadores, Larsen Jensen and Chad Carvin, have qualified for the trials in the same events as Mortimer – the 200, 400 and 1500-meter freestyle. Jensen, 18, currently holds the national record in the 800 and 1500-meter freestyle for ages 17-18.

Mortimer also brings experience. He competed in the 2000 Olympic Trials and knows the hectic atmosphere of the event.

“It will be really exciting,” Mortimer said. “Television cameras and 10,000 fans will really get your blood pumping. I think it will help me swim faster.”

The stage for the trials is broad. The best swimmers in the country will be on display during the eight days of competition.

NBC plans prime-time coverage of the competition on July 9 and 11 and also plans to televise taped action on July 18. Along with the television audience, the newly completed arena seats 10,000 spectators.

Even with Mortimer’s experience and training, many of the other swimmers will have more experience competing in the trials and other national events. The average age of U.S. athletes in the 2000 Olympics was just under 28 years.

Unlike Mortimer, the rest of the Minnesota swimmers have no trials experience.

Dale said the task of making the U.S. Olympic Team is daunting but not impossible. He explained the focus will be getting his swimmers past the opening rounds.

“Our goal is to get our guys into the finals,” Dale said. “Then anything can happen.”

Unique Arena

Construction was recently completed on the Charter All Digital Aquatic Centre which will feature two Olympic-sized 50-meter pools.

For the first time in U.S. Olympic Trials history, swimmers will compete today for Olympic berths in above-ground pools. The two pools were shipped from Italy and assembled along with the arena in the month-long construction.

Facility officials said that the 10,000 seats offer unique vantage points and all views are high above the pools’ plane.

The format of the eight-day competition will entail a morning session beginning at 10 a.m. CST and an evening session starting at 5:45 p.m.