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Wednesday March 14, 2012Beisel Hopes to Add NCAA Crown to Her Illustrious Resume`

Scott Carter
By SCOTT CARTER
GatorZone.com Senior Writer

GAINESVILLE, Fla. – Gators sophomore Elizabeth Beisel has already been a member of the U.S. Olympic Team – four years ago as a 15-year-old in Beijing.

Sure, Beisel remembers narrowly missing an appearance on the medal stand by finishing fourth in the 200 individual medley and fifth in the 200 back. But trips to the Olympic Village’s cafeteria remain perhaps her most vivid memory from the time in China.

And it has nothing to do with what she ordered in a place far from where she grew up in North Kingston, R.I.

One day it would be Yao Ming at the table next to her. The next day she might be standing in line behind Kobe Bryant and gymnast Shawn Johnson waiting on a bagel. She met LeBron James and Dwyane Wade long before they became teammates on the Miami Heat.

The bubbly Beisel talks like the excited 19-year-old she is when recalling her time in Beijing.

“I can name drop all these people I met,’’ she said. “They won’t remember me but I remember them.

“It’s so cool just to be with all those people and it’s sort of crazy to believe like I was one of them. I was still looking at them as, ‘Oh my God, these iconic athletes.’ It was so weird because I was at the same event.”

Beisel has accomplished a lot in her 19 years, including winning gold in the 400 IM last summer at the FINA World Championships in Shanghai, joining former Gators swimmer Ryan Lochte as a world champion in the 400 IM.

Two weeks ago at the University of Tennessee, Beisel added more memories to her growing collection, flirting with Julia Smit’s American record in the 400 IM by recording the second-fastest time in NCAA history (3 minutes, 58.85 seconds) at the SEC Swimming and Diving Championships. The next day Beisel won the 200 back with a mark of 1:49.82, only the fifth woman in NCAA history to finish under 1:50.

Oh, and Beisel also won the SEC title in the 200 IM including a school-record time of 1:54.89 to round out one of the most memorable weekends of her career.

Beisel will try to duplicate some of her recent success starting Thursday at the NCAA Swimming and Diving Championships at Auburn University’s Martin Aquatic Center. She has won a lot, but Beisel has yet to win an NCAA title.

Her first event at the meet is the 200 IM; she’ll compete in the 400 IM on Friday and the 200 back on Saturday.

Her performance at the SEC Finals wasn’t really a surprise, but then again, you can never bank on some of the times she posted heading into the NCAAs.

“I went in with no expectations at all,’’ Beisel said. “For me to come out with the times that I did, I was really excited about that. I had been swimming pretty well in those events all season. I had no idea I was going that fast. I touched the wall and I was like, ‘What?’ ”

Beisel enters the NCAA Championships as the clear favorite in the 200 back. While she is only the fifth female to swim the even in under 1:50, no other swimmer at Auburn has finished in under 1:52. In the 200 IM Beisel is considered one of the favorites along with defending national champion Katinka Hosszu of USC, Caitlin Leverenz of Cal and Stanford’s Maya DiRado.

Getcha popcorn ready in this one,’’ is how CollegeSwimming.com’s Chris Harrell summed up the event in his preview.

Beisel will be matched up with Hosszu, Leverenz and DiRado in the 400 IM, with all of them closing in on Smit’s NCAA record time of 3:58.23 in recent performances.

Gators coach Gregg Troy isn’t surprised by anything Beisel does anymore. Well, sort of.

“She has been pretty good in training,’’ Troy said. “From what I had seen [entering the SEC meet], I knew she was going to be pretty good – I didn’t expect her to be that fast. She is not a real speed merchant. She has to swim exactly right to do that.”

Unlike former Gators swimmer Gemma Spofforth, the NCAA record-holder in the 200 back (1:48.34), Beisel isn’t long and lean like many of the world’s top swimmers. She has a more compact body.

“From a statuesque point, she is kind of normal-sized athlete,’’ Troy said. “Her biggest natural attribute is she is not afraid to work, a big heart, and great race instincts. You put those together and you get some pretty good results.

“I think the thing that is kind of unique is that she continues to improve.”

Beisel is one of the more decorated swimmers to enter the program under Troy. There are not many 15-year-old Olympians splashing around the pools of America.

With this being another Olympic year, Beisel is training like no other time in her career. Stronger physically and more mature, Beisel has her sights set on London following her collegiate season. With Troy the head coach of the U.S. Olympic Team, Beisel has developed a comfort with the intense training that helped her make headlines at the SEC meet.

She said the decision to come to UF and train with such elite swimmers like Lochte, Spofforth, Conor Dwyer and current teammate Teresa Crippen has helped her tremendously. She has never shied away from the competitive nature of even the most routine practice.

“Everybody knows how hard it is here,’’ she said. “Only a select few decide to come here. We have a lot of pride in that. That’s only something we can experience and attest to how well it works. It’s so competitive.”

The intense environment hasn’t altered Beisel’s outgoing personality. She has yet to meet a stranger and when she gets a chance – like when she returned home for Thanksgiving – Beisel still likes to pull her surfboard out and tackle a wave.

Troy can imagine the scent in Beijing as the 15-year-old Beisel made her way around the cafeteria meeting teammates much more famous and older than she was.

“She has to talk to everyone when you go to a swim meet, because she knows everyone,’’ Troy said. “If she hasn’t talked to everyone in the building she is not ready to get in the water. I kid her a little bit about that.”

But once she hears the gun, Beisel is all business. Troy is optimistic Beisel can add an NCAA title to her list of accomplishments this week at Auburn.

“She is a player in all three [events],’’ he said.

Her performance at Tennessee two weeks ago showed just how much.

“I definitely like going in with these really fast times but I’m not so sure if I like the spotlight of it,’’ she said. “That just puts more pressure on myself to compete up to the hype that they’ve given me. But it’s cool to be recognized.”

 

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