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The long road to Beijing

Grant's Jessica Embick has 2008 Olympic breaststroke dreams

Jessica Embick is doing what a lot of elite high school swimmers do every four years Ñ dreaming of a spot on the U.S. Olympic team.

Embick, a junior at Grant High, is at least realistic enough to know that she's perhaps too young and not quite physically developed enough to find her way to Athens next year.

She's thinking about the Beijing Olympics in 2008.

Her first step is earning a spot in the U.S. Olympic Trials, July 7-14, in Long Beach, Calif.

'Qualifying for the Beijing Olympics seems like such a long shot,' she says. 'That's the best swimmers in the world there. But that's my goal. So, I'm hoping to get to the U.S. Trials. I think I can do that.'

Embick's efforts might seem foolish given that she hasn't even won an individual state championship at the high school level. Last winter, she swam on Lincoln's state champion 200 medley relay team and finished third in the 100 breaststroke.

But her coach at the Portland Aquatic Club, Beth Winkowski, says Embick, 17, is a tough competitor with the qualities to at least get to the trials.

'She's very humble about her swimming,' says Winkowski, the former Grant High coach. 'But she's intense, she's dedicated. She's got the total package that you look for in someone who has this idea.

'And she has great confidence in herself.'

A magical time

The 5-7 Embick transferred from Lincoln to Grant this fall and decided to skip the prep season to concentrate on making the trials. She is focusing on the 100-meter breaststroke as her potential Olympic event.

Her personal best is 1:14.70 seconds. She needs a 1:12.59 to be eligible for the trials.

Winkowski is hoping that Embick will get that mark in Orlando, Fla., during the national indoor championships Feb. 10-14.

Embick, who started swimming at age 9, got serious about aiming for the trials after competing in a junior event in Texas last summer. After that event, she was named to an all-star team, which qualified her for an international meet held last weekend at the Tualatin Hills Swim Center. At the meet, she took third in the 100 breaststroke against junior national teams from Germany and France.

'After the high school season last year, I started dropping a lot of time,' Embick says. 'And swimming in Texas, that really opened my eyes a lot. Finishing third last weekend is probably the biggest thing I've done.'

Embick also swam at the U.S. Open in Federal Way, Wash., earlier this month, finishing 61st against the best swimmers in the nation.

She trains six days a week and works out twice a week in the morning at Sports Lab, the North Portland gym that creates regimens for many of Portland's elite athletes.

Winkowski also holds a 30-minute sports psychology session once a week for Embick and other swimmers.

Age and size, especially in the breaststroke, are not the key advantages they are in such sports as football and basketball. Too many muscles can cause problems with technique, and too much size can create drag.

'Michael Phelps, who is the best swimmer in the world now, was in high school when he went to Sydney,' Embick says. 'Amanda Beard (a breaststroker) was 14 when she swam in the (Barcelona) Olympics.

'I don't think I'm the next Michael Phelps, but I'm pretty good.'

Others dream, too

Embick isn't the only area high schooler thinking about making a trip to Long Beach. Several swimmers have already posted U.S. Trials qualifying times.

Genevieve Patterson, a Westview High senior, and Felecia Castaneda, a senior at Barlow and the state champion in the 100-yard breast stroke, have both hit the mark in the 100-meter breaststroke. Caitlyn Shortt, a Reynolds High senior and multievent state champion, is qualified in the 200 breaststroke and 200 individual medley.

Getting to the trials is a major goal for Winkowski, who has never coached a swimmer to that level.

Embick is mindful that even if she reaches the qualifying time, she would need to further lower her time by as much as six seconds to be first or second during the trials and be eligible for the Olympic team.

'There's only 52 people in the nation that get to go to the Olympics,' she says. 'It's pretty special to be on that team. I would be happy just being at the trials.'

Contact Cliff Pfenning at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..