By Jim Rusnak//Director of Media Properties
GOLD COAST, Australia – Of the 60 swimmers competing for the United States at the 2014 Pan Pacific Championships, 20 of them – a full third of the team – are rookies, meaning they are competing with the National “A” Team for the first time.
In addition to the honor of wearing the Stars and Stripes on their cap, they are gaining valuable international experience that should benefit them greatly in the years to come.
A few of these rookies took time out to talk about what this experience means to them, and what they’ve learned so far:
Katie McLaughlin, 17, Pan Pacs Bronze Medalist, Women’s 200m Fly
“I feel a little bit nervous for this. It’s a big deal, and I really like it. It’s good to have all these other experienced swimmers on my team being able to help me out through the meet. I’ve learned a little bit about taking care of myself during a meet, and how to handle certain things. “
Reed Malone, 19, 200m free and 100m free
“I was at Junior Worlds in 2011, but this is my first National Team meet. It’s pretty exciting. It’s kind of surreal. I remember when I was 9 years old, watching the Athens Olympics and watching Lochte and Phelps. Then when I was 13, I was watching them in Beijing, and now I get to swim with them. It’s kind of surreal swimming with my idols, but I’m happy with the opportunity. I’m taking it all in, and they’ve done a good job of showing me the way on the National Team. It’s been a lot of fun so far, and I’m so happy to be here.
“I think I’m learning how to be more… I guess professional is the word. If you have a bad event, brush it off, or if you have a good swim, you roll with it. Just how to prepare. I’m watching Phelps and Lochte, and McLean and Dwyer, the guys in my events, and just seeing how they prepare for races, and how they take care of themselves for meets. I think it’s helped me grow up a lot in the week that I’ve been here.”
Cierra Runge, 18, 400m free and 800m free
“It’s been amazing just being with all these people that I’ve grown up watching and swimming against. It’s just fantastic. I love it. It’s all about the experience and listening to the veterans and seeing what they have to tell me, and what I figure out on my own. It’s just kind of getting the hang of things and hopefully being able to do it again next summer and the summer after that. The biggest thing I’ve learned so far is how to warm up and go to the ready room, because it’s about a 20-minute wait until you race, and so figuring that out is kind of difficult, but you learn.”
Michael Weiss, 23, 200m free and 400m free
“I’ve been to Short Course Worlds and Duel in the Pool and World University Games, but this is my first major meet with the National “A” Team. You learn a lot. This is the big meet with the biggest names in swimming – the names that I’m planning on seeing in 2016, so it’s great to race them, see my competitors’ race strategies, and see how they perform under harsh conditions like this. That’s what I’m learning most. I’m learning a lot about myself in terms of how I can compete under these conditions and also how others react to them.
“It’s a lot of fun. There’s not really any feeling comparable to putting on a cap with the American flag on it with your name. It’s always a dream of kids growing up. To be able to do that is absolutely amazing.”
Lisa Bratton, 18, 200m Back
“It’s been great. All the girls have been really welcoming, so it really helps the transition into the big team. A lot of it is just getting used to swimming internationally, because I’ve never been out of the country before. So it’s learning how to deal with the nerves, and it’s great having the team support with you and learning how that feels, too.
“The biggest thing about competing internationally is you don’t know the people around you. A lot of times at home, my coach kind of has an idea of how my competition swims. But I don’t know these girls yet, so it’s going to take some time to get used to it.
“I thought the rookie skits were pretty funny. That was a lot of fun, just kind of an ice-breaker kind of deal.”
Kathleen Baker, 17, 200m Back
“It’s beyond amazing. I’m really trying to soak in everything that’s going on, because it’s like a once-in-a-lifetime thing with these people and all my friends. I’m just learning a lot and having a great time. Definitely the biggest adjustment is the warm-up to the ready-room. You have to be there 20 minutes early, so that’s something we’re not really used to. Also, you’re really racing your own team at this meet to try to get in that third or second spot.
“We tried vegemite last night, and that was really interesting. It’s a little bit salty. I’m not a huge fan of it.”