There always are kids with teddy bears on the pool deck during frantic events such as swimming's Olympic trials. Kids with braces. Kids who don't yet weigh 100 pounds. Kids who do homework in their hotel rooms between races that earn them trips to the Olympics.
This year's "forever young" U.S. Olympic swimming poster kid is Amanda Beard, 14, of Irvine. She is 5 feet 3 and 92 pounds. That's soaking wet, of course. The way she got started in this business, she said, was, "My older sisters swam, and I was the team mascot. We used to joke around about going to the Olympics and silly stuff like that."
She saves $1 a week of her $6 allowance to give to an animal shelter since she already has her own quota of pets at home: a dog, two cats, two rabbits, two parakeets and two love birds. She wants to be an interior decorator, and has started with her own bedroom, painting each wall a different color. Purple, pink, green, yellow.
Also, she has her own "wall of fame," reserved for swimming posters and a couple of newspaper clippings about herself.
Speaking of which, Beard won the women's 200-meter breaststroke at the trials Saturday night in 2:26.25. Only one American ever has gone faster--Anita Nall, whose national record 2:25.35 was recorded when Nall was 15, at the 1992 trials. On Saturday, two lanes over from Beard, Nall could manage only 2:30.77 for fourth place, in what Nall said would be her last competitive race.
After all, Nall is 19 now. The second Olympic team berth in the breaststroke went to another 14-year-old, Jilen Siroky of Charlotte, N.C. That makes three 14-year-olds on the women's Olympic team so far; Beth Botsford of Baltimore qualified in the 100-meter backstroke Friday night.
So, while the average age of Olympic swimmers has gone up noticeably in recent years in this era of semi-professionalism, which allows athletes to stay in the sport beyond college, there still is no getting rid of the kids. Saturday's victory was Beard's second in the trials, despite the fact she is coming down with a cold. She won the 100-meter breaststroke Thursday.
"She's a little kid," said her coach, Dave Salo. "I'm glad she's a little kid. When you're that young, you don't have the perspective of time that you put into it, so it's all fun. She's only been swimming for two years seriously, year-round. Nothing is taken away from her life with this, so she can just enjoy."
In other finals, University of Michigan swimmers Tom Dolan (3:48.99) and John Piersma (3:51.41) both qualified for a second Olympic event by going 1-2 in the 400-meter freestyle; 24-year-old Floridian Tripp Schwenk (54.94) and 26-year-old Virginia native Jeff Rouse (55.15) both qualified for their second consecutive Olympics in the 100-meter backstroke; veterans Angel Martino (59.63) and Amy Van Dyken (59.94), already on this year's team, qualified in the 100-meter butterfly.