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LOSC swimmers make Olympic bids

by: Matthew Sherman, 
Karen Turner, left, and Grace Carlson, both members of the Lake Oswego Swim Club, will compete in the Olympic swimming trials which will be held in Omaha, Neb. starting on June 29 and running through July 6.

By MATTHEW SHERMAN

Sports Editor

A poster of elite American swimmer Michael Phelps adorns the wall in Grace Carlson's room and both Carlson and Karen Turner have admired Olympic medalist Natalie Coughlin for years.

Now the two members of the Lake Oswego Swim Club will get the chance to rub shoulders with the best of the best in their sport, competing alongside them for a trip to Beijing and this summer's Olympic games.

It's almost hard to believe when looking at the two unassuming girls sitting on the deck of the dimly lit Lake Oswego pool. But, just add water and they turn into greased lightning.

Turner is 14 years old and will be a freshman at Lakeridge High School next year while Carlson is only 12 and will be an eighth grader at Portland's Jackson Middle School next year.

Carlson just recently hit her Olympic trial qualifying time to the hundredth of a second in the 50 freestyle on her last attempt at a meet at Mt. Hood Community College.

In doing so, she became the youngest athlete ever to make the trials in U.S. Olympic swimming history.

'It's a little nerve-wracking but it's pretty exciting,' Carlson said.

Turner qualified for the trials in the 100 backstroke earlier in the year and then recently bested her time and is currently ranked 37th in the nation in that event.

Then, at Mt. Hood Community College, Turner hit the automatic qualifying time in the 200 individual medley in her final attempt at it and will race in both of those events at the upcoming trials in Omaha, Neb.

Both girls actually had the opportunity to swim at the Omaha facility in a meet just a few weeks ago, which gave them familiarity with the pool and the surroundings.

It will be a much different scene from June 29 to July 6, however.

Over 1000 elite swimmers will compete in the trials with over 100 participants in each event.

'It's very rare for a 12 and 14-year-old to go. Just we few weeks ago we weren't really talking about this. I was planning on going for just two days and now I'll be there for the entire meet,' Lake Oswego Swim Club coach Coley Stickels said.

For Turner and Carlson, the Olympic trials has been a dream ever since they started swimming competitively. But realistically, they had both targeted the 2012 trials until fairly recently.

'I didn't really think about it until I hit the trial time. My coach said he knew I could do it but I didn't really believe him,' Turner said.

No matter what the outcome, the girls know that they will gain invaluable experience at the trials that will help them further their swimming careers.

'The competition is so high and to be there swimming against athletes you've seen on TV is exciting,' Turner said.

Turner hopes to qualify for the B finals in the backstroke at the trials, meaning she would have to place in the top-16. And Stickels believes that is imminently possible.

'I think she's going to put up a fight. She definitely has room to improve her time,' Stickels said.

Carlson's race, meanwhile, is always one of the most exciting and unpredictable. The 50 freestyle is nothing short of a mad sprint where a fraction of a pause on the start or a hiccup in technique can cost a swimmer dearly.

'I think it will be a successful meet if I can just (lower) my time,' Carlson said.

With so many swimmers competing in such a short race, the difference between qualifying for the Olympics and finishing in the middle of the pack is generally decided by a few tenths of a second or less.

'It's crazy. When you watch the heats it's impossible to tell who touched the wall first,' Stickels said.

Ironically, Dara Torres will compete in the 50 freestyle as well and, at 41, is the oldest competitor in the history of the U.S. Olympic swimming trials.

It is a remarkable achievement for the Lake Oswego Swim Club, which already put itself on the national map recently when it set numerous national records.

The club's reputation continues to grow and Turner and Carlson's presence at the trials will only enhance the club's résumé.

The girls both admit that a long-term goal of theirs is to qualify for an Olympic team in the future and while Stickels doesn't want to get ahead of himself, he admits that the dream isn't entirely far-fetched.

'They're both really driven and very technically sound. I think they work hard enough to compete at that level,' Stickels said.