UCSB alumnus Jason Lezak, 32, might not be the only Gaucho swimmer to ever experience the glory of Olympic gold.
Eight current UCSB students and one 2007 graduate will join Lezak in the Olympic trials event in Omaha, Neb. that begins June 29. According to Head Swimming Coach Gregg Wilson, UCSB has not been represented this well in the trials since 1988, when the school had 13 students and alumni partake in the event.
“We really think we have a chance for one or two more to qualify,” Wilson said. “And if you make it to the trials, anything can happen.”
Over 1,000 men and women across the country have qualified for the trials. Each event requires a specific time in order to qualify. The most recent Gaucho to make the cut, junior Travis Jepson, qualified for the 200-meter breaststroke last weekend by 8/100th of a second. The United States will take the top six men and women to Beijing for the 100-meter freestyle, but they only take the top two in each of the other 12 swimming events.
Already the winner of two gold, one silver and one bronze medal, Lezak heads into the trials ranked fourth in the 50-meter freestyle and second in the 100-meter freestyle behind Michael Phelps. Junior Katy Freeman holds the highest rank of all the current Gauchos at #16 for the 200-meter breaststroke. Last weekend, she swam her three best times at an event in Northern California and qualified for the 100-meter breaststroke.
“Right now, Katy’s at the top of her game,” Wiggins said. “She’s just swimming great.”
Pat Carey, a 2007 UCSB graduate, also stands a chance to advance with a #13 ranking for the 200-meter butterfly event. Carey also qualified for the 100-meter butterfly.
Current Gaucho volunteer assistant coach and Santa Barbara native Mark Warkentin, 28, has already qualified for the Olympic Games after finishing seventh with a time of 1:53:37:1 at the FINA. Open Water World Championships in Seville, Spain.
“We include him in almost everything we do,” Wiggins said, laughing. “He’s America’s first swimmer to qualify for the event. He’s a pioneer.”
Since the Olympic Trials occur after the regular season, the athletes are forced to pay for all of their own travel expenses to and from meets while undergoing extensive training regimens.
“Swimming doesn’t have an off-season,” Freeman said. “We’ve [taken] our training up a lot compared to what we usually do, lots of dry land stuff, spinning classes, weights three or four times a week so far, tons of swimming, mornings.”
With the success of the Gauchos this year, Wiggins plans to found Gaucho Aquatics this summer, in order to establish the identity of a formal club that Gaucho swimmers can take to the Olympic trials and beyond.
“It’s a really good group,” he said. “But a lot of stuff can happen. These kids are all training well, but it’s all about how they handle the pressure and how healthy they stay.”