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Karen Turner, 13, already dreaming of Olympic berth

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Karen Turner competes in 50 freestyle at the recent national swimming championships in Atlanta. Turner, who is just 13 years old, recorded a blazing fast time of 23.65 seconds. That mark would have been good enough to win last year’s state high school title.

Meet Karen Turner, the fastest teenage female swimmer in the state.

That would be saying a lot for a high school senior, but Turner isn't in high school. Yet, as an eighth-grader at Waluga Junior High, she's already posting better freestyle sprint times than any high school swimmer in Oregon.

Turner is so fast and improving so rapidly that she could be on pace to qualify for the U.S. Olympic team within two or three years, maybe even sooner.

No one would guess Turner's prowess as a swimmer just from looking at her. The 13-year-old, who stands between 5-foot-3 and 5-foot-5 (depending on who you talk to), is very quiet and unassuming. And her ego is virtually non-existent.

'I don't like talking about myself,' she said in a recent interview. 'I've always been quiet.'

She's so quiet that Coley Stickles, her coach at the Lake Oswego Swim Club, had to help her through that interview. The coach never had to tell his star pupil what to say, but he did have to coax an occasional response from her.

Turner would rather let her accomplishments speak for themselves, and there's plenty to talk about in that regard.

She currently holds a total of 10 state records in three different age groups. It's hard to say what event is her best. Last year, as a 12-year-old, she was ranked in the top five in the nation in the 200 individual medley. She was also in the top 10 in the 100 butterfly and the 100 freestyle.

While competing in the national championships in Atlanta last week, she broke an Oregon state record for her age group when she recorded a time of 23.65 in the 50 freestyle. That time was so fast that it would have been good enough to win a title at last season's state high school meet.

It doesn't matter what race is being contested. Just put her in the water and she'll swim fast.

'The bigger the meet, the better she does,' Stickles said.

At Atlanta, Turner easily could have been intimated by the level of competition she faced. There were 13 past and current Olympians there. She was the second-youngest swimmer in attendance.

In the 50 freestyle, Turner had one of the slowest qualifying times among the 103 entrants. By the end of the event, she had moved halfway up the list for a 56th-place finish.

Needless to say, Turner has been capturing a lot of attention lately.

'She's already making times that would bring a full scholarship to any (college) she wants to attend,' her coach said.

A scholarship would be nice, but Turner's first goal is to secure an Olympic qualifying time or two. Right now, she's seven-tenths of a second shy of the qualifying mark in the 50 freestyle and she's two seconds back in the 100 freestyle.

'It won't take much more time' to get there, Stickles said.

As it is, she's already on the verge of making the national junior team. After that, an entry into the Olympic Trials will almost certainly follow.

'It's one of my goals (to make the national team),' she said. 'I'll drive myself pretty hard.'

With national success knocking at her door, one has to wonder what Turner plans to do when she reaches high school. The question many people are asking is whether she will compete for both her club team and her high school team.

At this point, she seems torn over the decision. If she does both, it will obviously require more of a time commitment, but it would allow her to spend more time with friends and classmates. However, her greatest competition and her best chance for development will come at the club level, especially when she travels to national meets.

But that's not something Turner wants to think about right now. She just wants to swim faster.

'I know I can get better. I just don't know how much better,' she said.