Swimming: Olympic Trials appearances mean different things to locals

While Missy Franklin has 2012 Olympics on radar, Trials experience could be valuable to futures of other local swimmers

By COURTNEY OAKES, Sports Editor
Clark Smith, Hennessey Stuart

Regis Jesuit's Hennessey Stuart (left) and Clark Smith (right) take a break from swim practice Wednesday afternoon, June 20 at the Lowry Pool in Denver. Stuart and Smith are among a strong contingent of swimmers from Colorado - which includes Missy Franklin - headed to compete in the U.S. Olympic Swim Trials June 25-July 2 at CenturyLink Center in Omaha, Neb. (Marla R. Keown/Aurora Sentinel)

Clark Smith

Regis Jesuit's Clark Smith signs autographs Wednesday afternoon, June 20 at the Lowry Pool in Denver. Smith is among a strong contingent of swimmers from Colorado - which includes Missy Franklin - headed to compete in the U.S. Olympic Swim Trials June 25-July2 at CenturyLink Center in Omaha, Neb. (Marla R. Keown/Aurora Sentinel)

Caroline Piehl

Members of The Aurora Sentinel 2010-11 All-City Girls Swim Team Smoky Hill's Caroline Piehl poses April 5 at Regis Jesuit High School. (Heather L. Smith/The Aurora Sentinel)

Missy Franklin is the standard bearer for Colorado swimming, but there’s a strong legion behind her to the U.S. Olympic Swim Trials in Omaha, Neb.

The 17-year-old phenom from Regis Jesuit High School is all but a lock to make the U.S. delegation headed to the Summer Games in London in multiple individual events and relays, while a number of other athletes from Aurora and Colorado will get into the water and see what they can do during the Trials on June 25-July 2.

Clark Smith signs an autograph at a Denver Swim Academy practice on June 20 at the Lowry Pool in Denver. (Marla R. Keown/Aurora Sentinel)

Two other Regis Jesuit students will compete at the CenturyLink Center, as senior-to-be Clark Smith and junior-to-be Hennessey Stuart — teammates on the Raiders’ Class 5A state championship team in the spring — are just part of the state’s talented group of qualifiers from the high school and college ranks.

Franklin’s Colorado Stars teammate Caroline Piehl, a Smoky Hill grad, and former Grandview state champion John Martens of Mission Aurora Colorado Swimming give Aurora a few more ties to the meet.

“Colorado has such a huge presence in Omaha, which is so awesome; it’s slowly increased in the past years and now there are so many great swimmers coming out of the state,” said Nick Frasersmith, Smith’s coach at the Denver Swim Academy.

“It’s going to be fun to see all the different coaches and swimmers on deck. It’s great for Colorado swimming,” he added.

While Franklin — who competed in the 2008 Olympic Trials as a 13-year-old — is grabbing headlines all over the country and is expected to make a big splash in London, other swimmers enter the Trials with different goals.

Smith went into the Trials as the highest-seeded Colorado swimmer behind Franklin and Mission Aurora Colorado Swimming standout Bonnie Brandon.

The lanky 6-foot-8 senior-to-be at Regis Jesuit was seeded 12th overall in the men’s 200 meter butterfly, and only one swimmer — 18-year-old Seth Stubblefield of Texas — under 20 had posted a better time than Smith’s 1 minute, 59.33 seconds. That factor could come in handy with the selection of the U.S. Junior Pan Pacific Championship team, which is made up of swimmers 18 and younger who haven’t qualified for the Olympic Team.

Smith — a three-time Colorado Class 5A state champion in the butterfly — has a good shot at one the slots for the Pan Pac team, which will compete Aug. 26-30 in Honolulu.

Smith doesn’t even have to leave his house to get advice on swimming in the Trials as his mother, Tori (formerly Trees), swam in them in 1980 when they were at Cal-Irvine and in 1984 when they were in Indianapolis. As a 19-year-old, she made the 1984 Olympic team and went on to place fifth in the 200 meter backstroke at the Summer Games in Los Angeles.

Smith’s father, John — who was a standout at the University of Texas — also swam in the Trials in 1980 and 1984.

Tori Smith isn’t worried about her son, who will get plenty of chances to race, as he’s qualified in the 100 and 200 meter freestyles and the 100 and 200 butterflies.

“Clark is intense; he likes to race and always gets his best times when he tapers for certain meets,” she said. “He’s good about doing what he needs to do and he always steps up.”
An advantage for Smith is that he got to attend the previous Trials, which were also in Omaha. The meet generally changes venues every four years, so having it in the same place bodes well.

Frasersmith, Smith’s coach at the Denver Swim Academy and also during the high school season at Regis Jesuit, doesn’t discount the small edge of comfort, which can be key in races with times and places separated by mere hundredths of seconds.

“Clark was able to go down and walk on the pool deck and see the warmup pool, so he took that all in,” Frasersmith said. “It definitely gives you an advantage because it’s not that deer-in-the-headlights-type thing. He knows what he’s walking into. He’s also had the opportunity to swim some pretty good meets lately.

“Two weeks ago we were in Texas and he was in two heats right next to Michael Phelps. It was a good opportunity to be right with the big boys and it was a good chance to see what it is like on that stage.”

No matter what his results at the Trials, Smith’s impact on the other Denver Swim Academy swimmers has been immeasurable.

“It’s great for young kids to be able to see that kind of person on deck and in the water,” Frasersmith said.

“A couple of kids have asked him to sign autographs and they are getting excited. Those kids will be focused on watching the Trials and the Olympics and it allows them to open their minds and think about their dreams and goals.”

Stuart shares a training lane with Franklin for coach Todd Schmitz’s Stars team and he’s looking forward to the experience of being on deck at the Trials.

He holds no illusions that he’s going to make the Olympic Team, but he’s thrilled to have a chance to compete in a venue he visited in 2008. Stuart stayed the whole week, keeping a keen eye on his favorites, Phelps and Ryan Lochte. Now, he’ll have a chance to rub shoulders with them and see what he can learn.

“When I was 13 years old, I looked at those guys like ‘whoa, they are really fast’ and it was too overwhelming for me,” said Stuart, who swam in the 100 meter backstroke prelims on June 26 and races in the 200 backstroke (as the 74th seed) on June 29.

“Now, I’m 17 years old and swimming in the same meet as they are,” he added. “I’m able to be on deck with them and watch their habits and fine details and what they do under these circumstances. It’s the small things that make the difference at this level and so I’m hoping to find some things that can help me.”

Caroline Piehl, a Smoky Hill High School graduate who swims for the Colorado Stars club team, is in three events in the U.S. Olympic Team Trials. (Aurora Sentinel file photo)

Besides Franklin and Stuart, Schmitz has a few more of his Stars in the field, including Piehl, a two-time state champion at Smoky Hill who is qualified in the 100 and 200 freestyles and 200 individual medley. She is former star at the Piney Creek Pool, where she still holds 22 team records and has a big following.

Piehl was part of a talented freshman class which helped the Cal Bears win the women’s NCAA championship and she’ll try to ride the momentum into her swims in Omaha. Two were scheduled for June 27.

Martens — a 5A state champion in 2011 in the 200 yard freestyle and a University of Texas signee — is one of the busiest Colorado swimmers at the Trials, as he is in four events. The first state swim champion in Grandview High School history, Martens didn’t compete with the Wolves as a senior and focused on his preparation.

Reach Sports Editor Courtney Oakes at 303-750-7555  or sports@aurorasentinel.com

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