OMAHA, Neb.—On Tuesday night, Texas A&M junior Christine Marshall (Newport News, Va.) became the Aggies’ first-ever Olympic Trials finalist in swimming. On Wednesday night, for all intents and purposes, she has become the program’s first-ever United States Olympian.
Marshall beat both nine-time individual NCAA champion Kara Lynn Joyce and 2004 U.S. Olympic gold medalist Dana Vollmer to finish in sixth place in the 200-meter freestyle. Marshall swam a lifetime-best time of 1:58.16 to clinch what, in all likelihood, will be the final spot on the United States’ 800-meter freestyle relay team.
“The plan was wanted to go out a little bit faster than yesterday,” Marshall said. “I tried not to use my legs on the first 100 and then started pounding them on my third 50. After I hit the wall, I looked up and saw sixth and I was like ‘Did I really get sixth?’ So I looked again and, sure enough, it said sixth. Then I started freaking out! I can’t put this feeling into words! I am so happy!”
The United States’ women’s team has 26 spots on its 2008 Olympic roster, however the more athletes that qualify in multiple individual races, the more opportunities are opened up for swimmers to be on relays (up to six). With U.S. stars such as Katie Hoff, who has qualified in four individual races, and Natalie Coughlin, who is at two and counting, performing at their peak and dominating the trials, it is all but official that the top six swimmers in the both the 100 and 200-meter freestyles will be U.S. Olympians. The U.S. has -- without exception -- taken the top six Olympic trials swimmers in the 100 and 200-meter freestyles to the Olympic Games.
“It’s been exactly 20 years since I’ve been fortunate enough to have the honor of coaching a U.S. Olympian,” A&M head coach Steve Bultman said. “Christine didn’t even qualify for the Olympic trials until March because of a shoulder issue last summer and the previous spring. She was outstanding in the way she got faster in each race, just like she did at NCAA’s this year. I told her from the get-go that I wanted her to descend her last three 50’s (getting faster each of the last three 50’s) and she came close to doing that.”
While the full team will not be officially announced until Sunday, the USA Network went so far as declare onscreen that Marshall will be a member of the 2008 U.S. Olympic Team in Beijing on Wednesday night.
It took an American record time just to qualify individually for the Olympics in the 200-meter freestyle. Both Katie Hoff and Alison Schmitt became the first Americans to break 1:56, finishing in 1:55.88 and 1:55.92 to claim the top two spots. Stanford’s Julia Smit was third in 1:56.73 while 2008 NCAA champion Caroline Burckle of Florida was fourth in 1:57.93.
Former UCLA swimmer Kim Vandenberg, swimming in Lane 2 next to Marshall, was fifth in 1:58.02 while Marshall, in Lane 1, was sixth in 1:58.16. Marshall and Vandenberg were in seventh and eighth place for the entire first 150 meters of the 200 meter race however both had enough left in the tank to surpass Joyce and Vollmer at the end to likely qualify for their first U.S. Olympic Team.
“The neat thing is that before the race they are announcing all the accolades of who she is racing against – U.S. Olympians, American record holder, NCAA Swimmers of the Year, world championship medalists – and I’m thinking to myself ‘Please don’t listen to that…just tune that out.’” Bultman said. “When the race was over she told me she was kind of laughing about it. She has no fear and gets up and races regardless of who is in the pool with her. Now she’s one of those people.”
The U.S. Olympic Trials will continue at the Qwest Center in Omaha though Sunday evening.
A&M Results from Wednesday:
Women’s 200 Freestyle – Final
6. Christine Marshall, 1:58.16
Men’s 100 Freestyle – Prelims
78. Ozzie Gardner, 51.26
80. Scott Newmann, 51.28