After more than a decade on the job, Ukrainian swimmer Yana Klochkova, the 2004 FINA swimmer of the year, felt the need to clock out and take a break.
Klochkova, 22, had spent most of her life preparing to become a top-echelon swimmer. Since age 8, her training included five hours of daily workouts, four in the pool and one lifting weights, 11 months a year.
“I’ve never really thought of doing anything else,” Klochkova said Friday through a translator. “I’ve trained for a long time, but you have to if you want to be recognized as a top swimmer.”
The results paid off at the 2000 Olympics in Sydney, when she won the 200-meter individual medley and 400 individual medley, breaking the world record with a 4:33.59 finish. She became the first female swimmer to win two medleys in consecutive Olympics when she swept the events again at Athens in 2004.
After the Olympics, Klochkova stepped away from the pool for the longest period of time since she began swimming competitively.
She has been in Southern California for seven months, brushing up on her English and visiting such tourist attractions as Disneyland, Universal Studios and Magic Mountain.
For the last five weeks, Klochkova has trained with the Nadadores Swim Club of Mission Viejo.
“I think she just wanted to take a deep breath and enjoy herself,” said Nadadore Coach Bill Rose.
The 6-foot-2 Klochkova is competing with the host Nadadores this weekend at the TYR Swim Meet of Champions. She finished eighth in the 200-meter backstroke on Friday and participated in the 200 preliminaries on Saturday.
Klochkova will swim in the 100 backstroke and 200 IM today.
“It’s going to take a while to get back into competing shape,” she said.
“I should be ready in about six months.”
Klochkova has been compared to a female Michael Phelps. Besides the Olympic golds, she has won also 10 titles at the swimming world championships and was awarded the Hero of Ukraine, the country’s highest award.
“She has strength and size,” Rose said. “She also has a competitive spirit. She’s a true athlete.”
After Athens, Klochkova’s celebrity status skyrocketed in Ukraine, and she was recognized virtually everywhere she went. Klochkova enjoys her relative anonymity in Southern California.
“I can go wherever I want without people asking to take my picture,” she said. “It’s nice.”
Klochkova will head back to Ukraine in August, reuniting with Nina Kozhukh, her longtime coach, and preparing for the World University Games in Turkey.
“It’s hard to take seven months off and come back in the shape you were in before,” said Rose, noting that Klochkova had to work herself into the Nadadores’ regular rotation. “When she came here, she blended in with everyone else. I think she likes it that way.”
Klochkova already has her eyes set on the 2008 Olympics in Beijing. If she medals there, she would become the third female swimmer to accomplish the feat, joining Australia’s Dawn Fraser and Hungary’s Kristina Egerszegi.
“I think I can do it, but it gets more difficult every time,” Klochkova said. “It’s easier for the younger swimmers because they’re more powerful. But the older swimmers have the experience.”
Japanese world championship team members Genki Imamura (2:13.12), Kosuke Kitajima (2:13.75) and Daisuke Kimura (2:14.56) bettered the meet record in the men’s 200-meter breaststroke. Kaitlin Sandeno won the 400 individual medley at 4:44.87 and the 200 freestyle at 2:01.05. Jason Lezak won the 50 freestyle in 22.61.