This weekend, Shorewood’s Rachel Munson will hit the pool with the likes of Olympic gold medalists Michael Phelps, Dara Torres and Ryan Lochte.
The 14-year-old Shorewood High School sophomore is among 1,500 to 1,800 swimmers who will compete for a chance to represent the USA at the 2012 London Olympics.
Munson will be one of the youngest competing in Olympic trials in Omaha, NE June 25 through July 2. Just 52 — 26 males and 26 females —will be selected to the team.
“This will be one of her first experiences seeing that level of competition,” said Munson's coach at Shorewood Swim Club, David Westfahl.
Munson qualified for the trials with a time of 1:11.54 in the 100-meter breaststroke, in a competition hosted by the Shorewood Swim Club two weekends ago. Her time placed her at the top of national rankings for her age group this year and was the 14th best time ever for a 14-year-old in the U.S. As a 12- and 13-year-old, Munson has been in the top 10 nationally for her swim times.
"Since she was 10 years old, she has been one of the top swimmers in her event in the nation," Westfahl said. "She is at a pretty incredible point right now.
“She has been a very diligent learner and trainer. It’s not just Rachel; her family has made a huge commitment to swimming.”
She will be the first swimmer from Shorewood's club to swim in Olympic trials since 2000, but Munson and Westfahl said they aren’t overly optimistic about the trials. Munson said she’s just excited for the opportunity.
“I’m not too nervous because I know it’s mainly just for experience; that’s why I’m going,” Munson said. “But I am very excited.”
Westfahl said he hopes the experience serves as a building block for Munson.
"We have aspirations of her doing really well, but I think four years from now, she can really take this experience and be in a better position," he said.
Westfhal said Munson qualified at Shorewood club's competition on June 10-12, her last chance to qualify for the trials. With the Summer Olympics only coming around every four years, he said he would have regretted not allowing her to prepare, and allowed Munson to take a two-day break from her training.
She lowered her lifetime best by four seconds during the competition.
“We were a little bit surprised,” he said. “That’s a quantum leap. She is so mentally tough though, that the rest was all she needed to push her to this level.
“We knew she was capable, but we were actually expecting that at her main meet, which is the Junior Nationals in August, she would peak.”
For Munson, competing in Olympic trials is the culmination of nearly a decade of honing her craft.
"I've been swimming since I was five," she said. "It's a pretty big part of my life; and I love it."
Munson also swims on the high school’s team, which took second at the WIAA state tournament and garnered the Woodland Conference Championship title this year. Munson was on the winning 200 medley relay team for Shorewood and took fifth in the 100-yard breaststroke at state. She also grabbed the 13-14 age group title for the 100 breaststroke last February with the Shorewood Swim Club.
Westfhal said at the state meet there were roughly 2,000 spectators, but next weekend, Munson will swim in front of a crowd of 16,000.
"After this event, everything will seem at a different level," he said. "She has raised the bar quite a bit for herself."