Youth Swimming: Pacific Swim ready for San Diego Imperial Junior Olympics
By Michael Bower
While today’s top swimmers in the world prepare for the start of the 2012 Olympic Games in London Friday, some of the future’s best swimmers will be competing in the San Diego Imperial Junior Olympics in Coronado.
Pacific Swim, which consists of swimmers from all over San Diego County and often holds practices in 4S Ranch and Poway, will be one of several teams sending athletes to the Long Course Junior Olympics, which starts Thursday at the Brian Bent Memorial Aquatics Complex in Coronado and will conclude Sunday with the finals.
Pacific Swim will have some 81 swimmers competing, including a few of the top-ranked swimmers in the nation for their age group. The fact that the annual meet is taking place at the same time as the Olympic Games has everyone at Pacific Swim fired up.
“We get to watch the Olympians and see their technique and what they do that makes them so fast,” said 12-year-old Brendan Santana, who is ranked in the top-10 in the nation in seven events. “Hopefully, that will push us to go even faster.”
“I think it motivates all of us,” Pacific Swim coach Owen Molenaar said. “It gets us fired up. We want our kids to swim like that.”
Most of these kids train like they are preparing for the Olympics. The 12-and-under group practices two hours per day, six days per week in the pool. They do between 6,000 and 8,000 yards of swimming per workout. Many also do dry-land workouts on the side.
“You definitely can feel that pain in your muscles,” Santana said. “I like it, though. I love being in the water. It is my element.”
“I like doing the hard work because my goal is to become a famous swimmer,” said Alexander Santana, brother of Brendan. “I want to get to the Olympics one day and win a medal.”
The 13-and-up group does eight workouts in the pool and three dry-land workouts per week. Each workout is between 5,000 and 7,000 yards of swimming.
Austin Nguyen, a 13-year-old out of Rancho Bernardo, will be competing in the 13/14-year-old group for the first time. Last year, he broke two records (200-yard breast stroke and 100 breast stroke) at the Far Western Regionals, a prestigious event for only the fastest swimmers on the West Coast. He is considered one of the top swimmers in the country for his age.
“It took me quite a while to be one of the best,” said Nguyen, who started swimming at the age of 6 and is also an outstanding violin and piano player. “I started getting fast around age 10.”
Nguyen will be competing in the 100 and 200 breast stroke, 100 and 200 back stroke, 200 individual medley and the 50 free.
Brendan and Alexander will be racing for the last time at the 12-year-old level. The two said they are looking forward to aging up after this event. But first they will compete against each other for the 400 freestyle and 200 individual medley titles.
“We are training partners, but once we step on those blocks it is a different mindset,” Brendan said. “Whoever wins gets the bragging rights.”
Brendan has won high points in the last four straight Junior Olympics. High points goes to the top individual swimmer — an honor Alexander hopes to take away from his brother this year.
“My goal is to beat [Brendan],” Alexander said with a smile. “I want to get high points.”
Brendan will be racing in the 50 and 100 butterfly stroke, 50 and 100 back stroke, 200 individual medley and the 400 freestyle. Alexander will be competing in the 50 and 100 freestyle, 200 and 400 freestyle, 100 back stroke and 200 individual medley.
There are several other names to watch for, including 10-year-old butterfly specialist Leanna Gharbaou. She is one of the nation’s best and has a strong chance to break several records this weekend.
“She has a shot at breaking three San Diego records,” Molenaar said. “She will probably do it.”
As a team, Pacific Swim captured first place in the Junior Olympics Short Course in February. The team hopes to make it a sweep with the Long Course title this weekend.
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