Past, Present and Future of Jayhawk Swimming on Display at Olympic Trials
LAWRENCE, Kan. – Chelsie Miller will forever be listed among KU’s best. Her name is etched on the walls inside Robinson Natatorium – a fact recently discovered by a co-worker at her newly acquired part-time gig as a lifeguard.
“On the third day when he walked in to relieve me, I asked him if he had fun over in the competition pool and he said, ‘Yeah, I was just reading all of your records over there. I knew you said you swam here but I didn’t know you were the best one here.'” said Miller, who has been on the job for only a week. “I was like, ‘No, no, it’s not like that.’ He said, ‘Chelsie, you have like five records up there.’ I said, ‘Well, technically it’s like seven, but who’s counting?'”
Miller, and four other swimmers with Kansas connections, find themselves on another elite list – the 31-page heat sheet for the US Olympic Trials which opens Sunday at Omaha’s CenturyLink Center and runs through July 3. Miller and sophomore-to-be Libby Walker make up KU’s contingent of swimmers from the 2015-16 roster, and will be joined by former Kansas swimmer Danielle Herrmann and signees Haley Downey and Jenny Nusbaum in the field of Olympic hopefuls.
The top amateur and professional swimmers in the country, including USA Swimming regulars Katie Ledecky, Missy Franklin, Ryan Lochte and Michael Phelps, among others, will share the water during 15 sold-out sessions expected to draw nearly 200,000 spectators.
“It’s every swimmer’s dream so we’re seeing five athletes live out their swimming dream of going to compete at the highest level,” Kansas swimming and diving coach Clark Campbell said. “The Olympic Trials is actually a faster meet than the Olympics. It’s harder to make our team. If you look at the composite, the top eight people will be faster at the US Olympic Trials than they will be at the Olympics. It’s a very deep competition so they will be swimming against the best of the best here in the US to represent the US in Rio.”
Miller and Walker will each open the meet with Sunday swims in the 400-meter individual medley prelims shortly after 10 a.m. CT, the first of several events for each current Jayhawk. Miller was a 2016 NCAA First Team All-American in the event and has the 18th-fastest qualifying time. The duo will also compete in the 200-meter butterfly later in the week, and Miller will swim the 200 IM.
Herrmann, a two-time NCAA participant who last swam for Kansas in 2010, will compete in the 100-meter breaststroke on Monday, and event which she holds the second-fastest time for in school history.
Downey, from Bartlesville, Oklahoma, and Nusbaum, from Cary, N.C., were among six student-athletes to sign National Letters of Intent with Kansas in the fall. Downey will swim the 200 breast on Thursday and Nusbaum will compete in the 200 free on Wednesday.
Miller headlined a senior class that led Kansas to its first two runner-up finishes at the Big 12 Championships in the last three years and contributed significantly to the team’s highest ever point total at the Big 12 meet in 2016. It was all part of a performance that earned her the title of Big 12 Swimmer of the Year from the league coaches. The Houston, Texas native will be hard to replace, but Walker, Downey, Nusbaum and a handful of other returning Jayhawks who were painfully close to achieving Olympic Trials cuts, point towards a continued surge for Kansas swimming and diving.
“They are really excited about it,” Campbell said. “Their teammates are excited for them as well and there are many more who want to aspire to that level. When you have the three that will be Jayhawks next year in the meet it bodes well and it helps motivate the team to expand their horizons competitively. It’s a great experience. I know they will come back and tell great stories about their experiences and get a lot more people swimming at the highest level.”
Each day at Olympic Trials begins with preliminary heats at 10 a.m., with qualifying swimmers advancing to finals, which are set to begin at 6:45 p.m. each day. While only the top two in individual events earn a spot on the US Olympic Team and a chance to compete with the best in the world in Rio, making finals and swimming a personal-best time would complete the journey for Miller.
“She wants like we talked about, last one fast one,” Campbell said. “This is her last meet and she’s likely going to retire. She wants to go in there and compete at a high level and know that she finished her career on an up-swing and then go into the next chapter of her life. It’s going to be great to be there with arguably the best swimmer that has ever been in Lawrence at KU. She’s excited about that, she’s excited about the meet, she’s excited about the next chapter. She has three races, let’s focus on three really good races, and call it a career.”
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