Local Olympic swimming hopefuls face trials, tribulations
Matthew Buerger is one of two brothers from North Allegheny High School with thoughts of London heading into the start of the Olympic swimming trials that begin Monday.
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Allison Schmitt knows that the Olympic experience isn't always gold.
Four years ago, it was bronze for Schmitt, who joined Natalie Coughlin, Caroline Burckle and Katie Hoff on the medal podium in Beijing after placing third in the 4x200-meter freestyle relay at the 2008 Summer Olympics.
Schmitt remembers the bittersweet moment like it was yesterday. It was the first time the United States had taken anything but gold in the event since it was first contested in 1996.
Today, Schmitt, 22, is hungry for a return trip to the Olympics. But for Schmitt and a host of aspiring swimmers across the nation, the largest hurdle in the road to the Olympics is the next one: the 2012 Olympic team trials in Omaha, Neb., Monday through July 2.
Schmitt, who was born in Pittsburgh but moved to Canton, Mich., as an infant, has been preparing for the Olympic trials since she left Beijing.
"We've been training for it, not only this whole year, but since 2008," she said. "Definitely excited for it and ready to see what the summer brings."
Entering her senior year at the University of Georgia last fall, Schmitt -- a four-time NCAA champion -- took a redshirt to train with the North Baltimore Aquatic Club and focus on her Olympic goal.
That goal? Schmitt gave a small laugh. It's what she just missed out on in Beijing. "Every athlete will say the same thing: Bring home gold to the U.S.," she said.
Schmitt enters the Olympic trials with international experience. For her, advancing to the Olympics is an expectation. For a handful of other swimmers with Pittsburgh roots, it's still something of a pipe dream.
Jonathan Buerger set his sights on Omaha six years ago. As a freshman at North Allegheny High School, he made it his goal to reach the Olympic trials in 2012.
Buerger missed his cut in the 200-meter freestyle by three-tenths of a second last summer. After five years of training, the University of Virginia sophomore had one last chance -- and he made it count.
At the 2012 Swim and Tri Olympic trials qualifying meet in Knoxville, Tenn. -- a "last chance" qualifying meet, as Buerger put it -- he hit the 152.8-second qualifying mark to punch his ticket to the Olympic trials.
And he had company.
Minutes later, his brother Matthew, a senior at North Allegheny, made the qualifying time in the 100-meter backstroke.
"It felt awesome getting my cut, but when Matthew got his I was probably more proud of him than I was of myself," Buerger said.
While the Buerger brothers are making it a family affair in Omaha, three Pitt freshmen are hoping to make a real splash at the Olympic trials.
Luke Nosbisch, a Monroeville native, will be competing in the 100- and 200-meter breaststroke. Jon Lierley is in the 200-meter butterfly and Austin Caldwell is in the 50-meter freestyle.
Lierley made his cut in July and was also one-hundredth of a second away from qualifying in the 100-meter butterfly. He called the Olympic trials a "lifelong dream," but that dream isn't realized without enormous dedication.
"You can't take a break at all," he said. If you don't make it the first time you try, you have to train nonstop for the next four years, just dedicate your life to it until you get where you want to be.
"The Olympic trials are probably the biggest event in a swimmer's career outside of the Olympics."
First Published June 20, 2012 12:22 am