5 local swimmers qualify for Olympic trials
Dan Eckel, 20, and Doug Dietrich, 17, work on their butterfly stroke at the Mt. Lebanon municipal pool. Both qualified for the 200 butterfly at the Olympic trials next year.
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Ears perk when you tell people around here you play football. Swimming does not draw nearly the same reaction.
"It's different from everybody else when you don't play football or basketball or a few other sports," swimmer Doug Dietrich said. "People don't know anything behind the scenes or how it goes."
Folks might not understand the early morning plunges, miles of training laps and the shaving and tapering that are common with swimming, but it is pretty easy to decipher these accomplishments:
Dietrich, a Central Catholic High School senior, is one of five local swimmers who have qualified for the 2008 Olympic trials.
He and Mt. Lebanon Aqua Club teammate Dan Eckel, a junior at Princeton, met the trials standard in the 200-meter butterfly while competing earlier this month at the ConocoPhillips USA Swimming national championships.
Dietrich's sister, Mallory, a sophomore at Navy, was eighth in the 100 breaststroke at nationals in 2006, qualifying her for the trials.
Two others are qualified in multiple events.
Patrick Mellors, a Central Catholic grad, Virginia senior and longtime member of the Jewish Community Center Sailfish, has met the trials times in the 200 and 400 individual medleys, the 200 butterfly and the 200 freestyle.
Kristin Brown, who finished her career at Pitt last season as a two-time Big East champion and swims for Team Pittsburgh Aquatics, qualified in the 100, 200 and 400 freestyle -- including a 16th-place finish in the 200 last month at nationals.
This is believed to be the largest Pittsburgh area contingent to qualify for the trials.
"We've produced some real good swimmers over the past 10 to 15 years," said Jeff Berghoff, Team Pittsburgh coach and an assistant at Pitt. "There's certainly some talent in the area."
Mt. Lebanon Aqua Club coach Don Wagner said while this is not the first good crop of swimmers from the area, it will not be the last, either.
"There are some good clubs and some good coaches who are getting the most out of our kids," he said. "Given the limited pool space we have, it's all the more impressive.
"We're certainly getting there. We have a good group of 15- and 16-year-old boys who are very talented. You're going to see that in the next few years."
Doug Dietrich, 17, became the youngest of the local trials qualifiers after he cut two seconds off his time over the past year, to 2 minutes, 3.95 seconds. He expects he will have a comfort zone at the meet next summer in Omaha, Neb., with his sister and teammate there.
"It's going to be so much fun having him there," Mallory Dietrich said. "I've been waiting for him to get this cut. Now he can just enjoy his senior year."
Mallory Dietrich, whose demands at Navy usually have her up past midnight and in the pool before 6 a.m., plans to alter her training over the next several months to emphasize distance, aerobics and strength.
Doug Dietrich and Eckel, who also dropped two seconds over the past two years and qualified at 2:02.52, have been challenging each other in their event.
"When you have someone just as fast as you right on your tail, it really pushes you," Eckel said. "But the best thing is how we can push each other."
Eckel has improved this summer despite a hectic schedule in which he swam at 5:30 a.m., then took a bus to Duquesne University, where he got a year of physics out of the way in summer school before he returns to Princeton, plus had workouts with the Mt. Lebanon club on weekends.
Brown and Mellors have been able to tailor things so they can focus specifically on the trials.
Brown deferred the start of graduate school a year and, with financial help from her parents, will work part time and devote the next several months to training.
"I don't see a reason to do this halfway," she said. "I want to give it everything I can."
If Brown can move up from 16th at nationals this year to the top six at the trials, she'll make the Olympic team for the 2008 Games in Beijing.
Mellors said he and the staff at Virginia have agreed he should redshirt this season and return as a fifth-year senior in 2008 so he can concentrate on national and international competition.
He started his year countdown to the trials well by winning the World University Games 400 IM gold medal in a meet-record and personal-best 4:12.94 earlier this month in Thailand.
"I think in the past year I've really gotten to where I've felt relatively effortless during some of the big swims I've had," Mellors said.
Mellors, who has been coached by the JCC's Al Rose for more than a decade, said no one at national and international meets thinks twice about good swimmers coming from the Pittsburgh area.
"I don't think it really matters where you're from," he said. "Yeah, there's a lot of development going on in Florida and California just because there's a lot of good facilities and it's pretty popular, but all you have to do is surround yourself with great coaches."
Mike Ginsberg, general chairman of Allegheny Mountain Swimming, said the local affiliate of USA Swimming has about 3,700 members and is doing several things to boost the sport.
Those include holding clinics, starting a senior circuit with meets against other regional branches for those 15 and older, and sending some swimmers to altitude camp at the U.S. Olympic Training Center in Colorado.
"We've had good swimmers in the past, and our numbers tend to go up in Olympic years or post-Olympics, so there's no reason that can't continue," Ginsberg said.
First Published August 27, 2007 12:04 am