By Bob Schaller//Correspondent
Just when the world thought the amazing young talent in the U.S. was fully cycling through, another group of teens is moving onto the scene. Still a year from high school graduation, Kathleen Baker medaled at the Mutual of Omaha Duel in the Pool, and at the 2013 Phillips 66 National Championships had a fourth and two sixth-palaces finishes. While her National Team spot came in the backstroke, she is also working on other events, as the North Carolina-based Baker explains in this week’s 20 Question Tuesday.
1. What did 2012 Olympic Trials do for you?
Kathleen: I don’t know who goes there and doesn’t feel more motivated and want to do more. It was eye opening to see how fast people were at that meet.
2. How did that help you moving forward?
Kathleen: I focused a lot on the little things and I think that carried over into 2013.
3. What specifically?
Kathleen: Probably learning how to strategize a little more. I was known for just going for it and hanging on toward the end. Now I am making sure I swim the races better, like a mature swimmer, not how I was (laughs) as an age grouper.
4. How about technically?
Kathleen: Turns are something I have gotten better on but I am trying even harder to get better at that this year.
5. You are in the backstroke with quite a cast, led by Missy Franklin and Elizabeth Pelton, among others – isn’t that a deep field of talent in the U.S.?
Kathleen: The backstroke is a competitive event in both the 100 and 200. I just like the competition, it’s good for the U.S. to have that, and to make all of us better.
6. So you have them to train with and compete against, yet you get to learn from them?
Kathleen: Absolutely yes. And they are really great friends, too. That’s the great thing about swimming, you get to make friends across the country. They are not just competitors.
7. Your sister Rachel is swimming at Washington and Lee, what’s that like?
Kathleen: She loves it there. I switched to SwimMAC and she didn’t, which was hard at that time. But she’s my best friend – which I am sure she doesn’t appreciate being in college and me calling her all the time! I just like to talk to her. She’s the most supportive sister ever, which is great. When we are home, she gets what I am thinking and feeling. And that’s awesome.
8. You still have a year, but how’s the college selection process going?
Kathleen: I am already looking but it is pretty much wide open. I love them all already. It’s going to be hard to say no. I like learning about what each college has, and how each college works.
9. What will you study?
Kathleen: Definitely something in the medical field. I am leaning toward nursing; that is something I always wanted to do.
10. So you are more inclined to that area?
Kathleen: I am definitely more of a science person. Biology is definitely my favorite subject. I am hoping to take anatomy next year. I also like learning about history.
11. That kind of field is always exciting and changing, is that part of the appeal of such a career?
Kathleen: For sure. I just think that I have grown up being so active and having something to do, I couldn’t see myself in a job where I am ever not doing anything. Also, I love to help people.
12. You mentioned what you learned at Trials, how did you feel in the moment?
Kathleen: It was just like that atmosphere blew my mind. I don’t think I have ever been that nervous in my life. I was sitting in the ready room and I remember Missy being all cheerful and happy, and what an amazing person she is. Meanwhile, I was (laughs) shoving my goggles into my face because I wanted them to be perfect!
13. What was the goal going in?
Kathleen: I just wanted to make semifinals and I did that, so I accomplished my goals at that time. I really wanted to take in the moment, because I knew this wouldn’t happen like this again – my first time around these athletes, and all that went with it. I wanted to enjoy the experience this time because it will be more serious when I get older.
14. So you expect to be even more ready for 2016 Trials?
Kathleen: I would hope so. It’s at the same pool and that will be great. That was my first meet ever being walked out in prelims, first time having to be checked in, so I have that down and I am used to that now. It was new to me. You feel more comfortable because you have been there before.
15. What event did you like the most?
Kathleen: Probably the 100 back, maybe, I don’t know, maybe both (200 back) – I enjoyed both of them and went two best times. I really wanted to do a best time at Olympic Trials, because I heard only about 30 percent of people actually go best times at Trials. So I think my 100 back was my better race, though the 200 back was good.
16. You also had success in the IM at the Mutual of Omaha Duel in the Pool, what was that like?
Kathleen: Oh, that was great. The 200 IM was my best race probably even better than backstroke – I just swam it better than I did before. I am focusing on that more, and I like training all four stokes, not just sticking to one stroke.
17. How has the year been since you started training with Coach David Marsh at SwimMAC?
Kathleen: It was maybe the most fun year I had ever swim-wise. It was my first year training with Coach Marsh. He is such a detail person and you constantly learn so much from him when you are paying attention and doing things right. I just want to be a sponge and learn all I can, though I think even I was surprised how much I learned in a year.
18. You mentioned doing both backs and an IM race at meets, how do you balance that with having a program that works for you?
Kathleen: Right now I just want to see what I am good at. I am going to swim the 200 fly at a meet, and I have only swum that once at short course. So we are just mixing it up and seeing what I can be good at. I don’t just train backstroke, that sort of came to me when I started swimming, and then I moved onto learning the other strokes.
19. So that keeps it interesting?
Kathleen: I obviously train a lot of freestyle, too. I like doing other strokes because I would get bored just doing one thing. Doing IM training gets me in all of the strokes, and for me each stroke helps something about the other strokes, whether it’s the catch or kicking or other things. And the more I swim the 200 fly, the less hard the 200 back feels, so that’s something that helps me.
20. When you are at Trials or with these U.S. swimmers on teams, how does that affect you?
Kathleen: It’s super surreal because these are people I have looked up to since I was a little kid. I have reviewed their races; I like to learn from them. And a lot of thought goes into what they do as swimmers. I learn from watching them swim, and being around them. They do a good job being good role models, too. A lot of the attention comes from them being great swimmers, which I understand, but they are even more incredible as people.