By land, Ben Lovell said he has limited coordination. In fact, he has some difficulties at times playing Ultimate Frisbee.
Put the 2012 Lewis and Clark High graduate in the water, though, and a metamorphosis occurs.
“I was born for water,” Lovell said. “In everything else I’m pretty uncoordinated. Swimming has helped me be athletic.”
The sport is Lovell’s ticket to college. He signed a letter of intent in November to attend Stanford University. He graduated with a 3.85 grade-point average and wants to study bioengineering.
First, though, Lovell will see how he stacks up against the best of the United States, including Olympic gold medalist Michael Phelps.
Lovell is headed to the Olympic Trials later this month in Omaha, Neb., where he will race in the 100-meter butterfly.
That’s the event many remember most from the 2008 Olympics in Beijing. Phelps, who has dominated the sport since 2004, pulled off a memorable come-from-behind win to capture gold. Phelps wasn’t the first to the finish line, but he was the first to hit the punch pad. He won by one-hundredth of a second.
Phelps hasn’t officially announced which events he’ll do at the Olympic Trials, but it’s suspected that the 100 butterfly, in which he holds the world record, will be one of them.
About 160 will have qualified for the Trials by this weekend, but only about 80 to 100 will actually head to Omaha, Lovell said. That means there will be anywhere from 10 to 12 heats (with eight in a heat). The top 16 will qualify for two semifinal heats and the top eight will vie for berths on the Olympic team in a final race.
He ranks about 70th out of the 160 qualifiers.
Lovell’s trip to Omaha is all about the experience. He has his long-range sites set on the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro.
To say Lovell is a long shot to make the semifinals is an understatement. But he doesn’t think it’s as unlikely as most would believe. He knows he’ll have to pull off an all-time best swim.
“This is more for me to go in there and get used to how it’s going to go and get a taste of the pressure and the competition,” Lovell said of the Trials. “If I can do something, then great. If not, I want to have fun doing it.”
He qualified for the Trials at the Speedo Senior Sectionals in March in Federal Way, Wash. He finished second in his preliminary heat in a time of 54.94 seconds. The qualifying time he had to beat was 55.29. The heat winner was a silver medalist in Beijing.
Lovell tried for the qualifying time last December at the Speedo Junior Nationals at the University of Texas. He fell short in a time of 55.49.
“That told me I had a shot,” Lovell said. “That put it into reality for me.”
His best competitive time prior to that was in the mid-56s.
Lovell will be among the boys swimming against the men, literally and figuratively, at the Trials. Lovell is 5-foot-11, 170 pounds. Most of the older competitors are at least 6-4 and weigh 190 to 200.
“I will look tiny next to those guys,” Lovell said. “I’ll have a V-shaped body. Most of those guys will look like logs but not have an ounce of body fat.”
The only athletic endeavor Lovell did prior to middle school was soccer. He gave that up for swimming in the seventh grade.
He swam in the novice division through eighth grade before joining the Spokane Area Swimming team in ninth grade.
“He hardly knew how to do a flip turn back then,” his former coach, Todd Marsh, said. “That’s when he really started to get serious about the sport. He’s always been a really hard worker and a fun kid to coach.”
Marsh coached Lovell the last four years before Lovell switched to the Coeur d’Alene Area Swimming team in April.
About 5 seconds separate Lovell from Phelps. To make the semifinals, Lovell figures he needs a time in the high 51s.
“I think I have a shot at the semifinals,” he said. “I have to swim amazingly harder than ever before.”
He’s been practicing twice a day three times a week and once a day three other times for the past month and a half. His day off is generally Sundays, but he often jumps in the pool even on those days to take a few laps.
Lovell will race on June 30 in Omaha. He’ll begin tapering his preparation 10 days before.
“I’ve been getting in a lot of great work,” he said. “I come out of the pool completely exhausted. That’s a good sign.”
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