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Michael Phelps is one of the most storied athletes in Olympic history. He cemented himself as a true sports legend in 2008 after winning a record breaking 8 gold medals at a single Olympic games, but had already been dominating the swimming circuit for years prior. Phelps holds 27 international titles, 16 Olympic medals — 14 of which are gold, and a plethora of awards ranging from World Swimmer of the Year to Sports Illustrated's Sportsman of the Year. Michael's meteoric rise to success and perennial spot atop the pedestal are true marvels of modern sport, but his story started out like any other young swimmer's — by getting comfortable in the water.
Despite growing up in a swimming family — his sisters were collegiate swimmers and Olympic Trials competitors — 5-year-old Michael was terrified of dunking his head under water. By age 7, however, he had become an avid swimmer. Diagnosed with ADHD at an early age, Michael used swimming as a way to channel his extra energy. At age 11, Phelps met his longtime coach Bob Bowman. Bowman saw enormous potential in Phelps, and quickly began preparing him for serious competition. Determined to accomplish things that had never been done in the sport, Michael's passion and drive were unparalleled. He and Bowman, however, would have been hard pressed to predict just how celebrated Phelps's career would become.
When he's not training, Phelps keeps busy by championing swimming as a crucial element of a healthy lifestyle. He wants to get kids to fall in love with the sport; kids who might be hesitant about swimming just like he was as a child. That's why he used his $1 million bonus from Speedo for winning 8 Gold medals to found the Michael Phelps Foundation, a non-profit designed to encourage young people to swim and get active. Speedo has vowed to donate $10k to the foundation for every world record that Michael breaks; a number Phelps himself will personally match. Additionally, Phelps started the Michael Phelps Swim School, which teaches kids to approach swimming from a mental and physical standpoint, and is set to release his first ever video game, "Michael Phelps - Push the Limit", on the Kinect for Xbox 360.
Michael Phelps may very well be the greatest swimmer to have ever lived. It's only fitting that he is now growing into one of the sport's finest ambassadors.
It's no secret in the swimming community that Ryan Lochte is a bonafide free spirit. Between appearing at the Golden Goggle Awards in an all-white leisure suit and posing on the podium with a blinged-out grill, Lochte makes it clear that he's out to have a good time. In Lochte's case, however, there's no point in playing hard if you don't precede it with some serious hard work. Ryan has 6 Olympic medals to his name, including 3 golds, as well as 7 NCAA championships, 51 major international medals and a handful of world records. He's also got a pet Doberman named Carter, whom Ryan certainly considers man's best friend.
Lochte started his swimming career early under the tutelage of his father Steven and mother Ike, who claimed that their son had an amazing feel for the water by the time he was 5 or 6. Ryan was prone to goofing around, however, and has stated in the past that his goal at practice was to get kicked out of the pool. Ryan continued perusing swimming with a heavy dose of horseplay until his junior year of high school, when it dawned on him that he had a real shot at being a professional swimmer. He attended the University of Florida, where he honed his skills with coach Gregg Troy, and took home numerous awards and honors.
Flash forward to today. Ryan Lochte is considered by many to be the best swimmer in the world, known for his incredible short course ability, overall well roundedness and amazing talent for travelling incredible distances while kicking underwater. It's only fitting that Ryan is well known for his kick, given that he designed his own pair of custom shoes for Speedo. Neon green, covered in rhinestones and complete with Ryan's signature exclamation "Jeah!", this footwear could have come from no one else. The same can be said for Ryan's performance in the pool.
Natalie Coughlin is driven in just about everything she does. For proof of her will to succeed, look no further than her storied swimming career. At age 15, she was the first swimmer to qualify for summer nationals in all 14 events. By her 3rd year at the University of California, she had won 12 National Collegiate Athletic Association Swimmer of the Year honors. Then, in 2004, she went to Athens and returned home with five Olympic medals. In 2008, she became the first modern female athlete to win six medals at a single Olympic games. She has swum in 11 Olympic races and won 11 Olympic medals. Natalie Coughlin gives her all in the water, but her determination doesn't stop there. She makes time to pursue passions in every facet of her life.
Outside of the pool, Natalie can be found exploring one of her many hobbies. An avid cook, Natalie champions the importance of healthy eating and living a balanced lifestyle. She is a board member for MOVE, an organization dedicated to improving kids' physical and emotional wellness through exercise, and also supports other organizations working to promote awareness for childhood obesity. Known for her green thumb, Natalie grows her own organic fruits and veggies for use in her cooking. She has appeared on the Today Show to prepare a meal with Al Roker and even served as a judge on Iron Chef America.
Coughlin also loves to dance, having appeared alongside Alec Mazo on ABC's Dancing with the Stars. In addition to her passions for surfing and photography, Coughlin's zest for sport was showcased during the 2006 Winter Olympics, where she served as a guest analyst with Tucker Carlson for MSNBC. Though it seems impossible that Natalie would have a moment to relax given her busy schedule, she finds time to wind down with her husband Ethan by watching shows like Lost and Heroes or listening to her favorite music.
From her early days at the YMCA to her 11th Olympic medal, Natalie Coughlin has shown unparalleled commitment, endurance and poise. No wonder she's the world's most decorated female swimmer in World Championship history. With London's 2012 Olympic Games quickly approaching, even more stands to be written in Natalie's already impressive tale.
Christine Magnuson has said that it took her a lot longer to believe she could make it than everyone else around her. It wasn't until her junior year of college that she really thought she had a shot at going pro. The signs, however, had been there for years. Her father, one of her biggest influences, was a swim coach and guided Christine in the pool from an early age. By the time she graduated from Andrew High School in Tinley Park, IL, Christine was a six-time all American and had won the 100-meter freestyle state Championship twice. At the University of Tennessee, she set 8 school records, was named SEC Female Swimmer of the Year as well as Co-Scholar Athlete of the Year and was a 23-time All American.
Nobody, not even Christine herself, could question her performance at the 2008 Olympic Games. She took home 2 silver medals that year, one in the 100 m butterfly and one in the 4x100 medley relay. Call her a late bloomer if you will, but Christine, who considered herself a part time swimmer until college, is poised to make an even bigger splash at the 2012 games. This time, she's as sure as everyone else.
Dana Vollmer excelled from a very early age. At 12, she was the youngest person to ever compete at an Olympic trials, and by the age of 16 had won her first Olympic gold medal and helped her relay team break a world record. In college, Vollmer was named NCAA Swimmer of the Year, Pac-10 Swimmer of the Year, and won the Honda Sports Award for swimming. Amazingly, Dana accomplished all of these things after undergoing a major heart surgery in 2003. She was required to have a defibrillator on the pool deck for every race.
It just goes to show that swimming can come with it's own unique mix of trials and tribulations. Take Vollmer's 2008 season, where she failed to qualify for the Olympics after struggling with various injuries. Showing true poise and determination, Dana used the setback as a springboard to improvement. She exploded out of the gate in 2009, capturing national titles in the 100 and 200 m freestyle, winning an individual bronze and a relay silver at the World Championship, and even setting her first individual American record. Fittingly, Vollmer was awarded the 2009 Golden Goggles Perseverance Award for her amazing performance, and continue to persevere she will. After all, 2012 is just around the corner.
2-time gold medalist Garrett Weber-Gale started his Olympic career with a bang. As part of the 2008 Olympics 4 x 100 m freestyle relay team, Garrett took home a Gold medal and an Espy award for what is considered by many to be the best relay ever swum in the history of the sport. At the very same games, Garrett broke the America record for the 100 m freestyle, as well. Quite a feat for his very first dance.
Garrett grew up in Wisconsin and started swimming at his local YMCA. While attending Nicolet High School, Garrett became a 4-time state champion, and set a national public high school record in the 100y freestyle with a time of 43.49. Garrett then attended the University of Texas, where he took home the NCAA Title in the 100y freestyle in 2006.
Around this time, however, Garrett was diagnosed with high blood pressure. Refusing to let it set him back, Garrett took to the kitchen and fell in love with cooking as an exciting and creative way to control his health. He went on to found AthleticFoodie.com, a site devoted to promoting healthy yet tasty eating. Recently, Garrett was invited to tour Rome and France and learn from top international chefs like Daniel Boulud. To this day, Garrett's health tips and recipes are gaining popularity in the blogging community.
Currently, Garrett is training — and cooking - in Austin, Texas, and is hungry for success at the 2012 Olympic Games.
Jessica Hardy set a world record as a high school senior. It's an amazing thing to accomplish at such a young age, and a tough act to follow. Jessica was up to the task.
Her breakthrough performance came in 2005 at the World Aquatics Championships in Montreal, Québec, where she took home three silver medals in addition to setting the world record in the 100 m backstroke. On the strength of her showing at the competition, Jessica was named USA Swimming's Breakout Performer of the Year. She went on to attend the University of California, Berkeley, where she was a 4-time NCAA champion and set 4 American records.
After deciding to go pro in 2007, Hardy began training with coach Dave Salo in Southern California, a man she considers one of her biggest influences. Under Salo, Hardy went on to win 17 medals in major international competitions, qualify for the 2008 Olympics in 4 events and be named the Top Female performer at the 2009 FINA World Cup. In her spare time, Hardy enjoys playing water polo and watching Planet Earth, but right now her sights are set on the 2012 Olympics. London's calling, and Hardy is eager to answer.
Kara Lynn Joyce had a self-proclaimed disappointing 2009 season. Then again, just about anythingwould be considered disappointing when compared to her incredible swimming career to that point. In high school, Kara swam under prestigious coach John Urbanchek and set 4 National records. In college, at the University of Georgia, Joyce became the first swimmer ever to win the 50 m, 100 m, and 200 m freestyle events at the Women's NCAA Championship Meet. She was also the first swimmer in women's NCAA history to win the 50 and 100 m freestyle for four consecutive years. Along with her Swimmer of the Year honors and multiple national championships, many consider her to be one of the greatest NCAA sprinters to ever swim.
Joyce went on to take home 4 silver Olympic medals, 2 in 2004 and 2 in 2008. Then, uncharacteristically, she failed to qualify for the 2009 World Championship Team. Determined to not let the setback get her down, Kara took matters into her own hands. She moved out to California, began training with the folks at FAST Elite Swim team, and qualified for the 2010 Pan Pacific Championships. Committed to her progress, Kara's already made another bold move by packing up and settling in Colorado to train with the Colorado Stars under coach Todd Schmitz. Kara's experienced both the highs and lows of professional swimming, but thanks to her drive and willpower, looks on track to make a serious statement at the 2012 Olympic games.
Nathan Adrian is one of the newest additions to the Speedo team, but is no stranger to setting the pace to beat on the competitive swimming circuit. Adrian, a 22-year old student at UC Berkeley is the current American record holder for the 50 m and 100 m short course freestyle. Nathan is the top-ranked sprinter in the US and has 12 medals from major international competitions to his name, including ten gold, one silver and one bronze.
Nathan was raised in Bremerton, Washington as part of a multicultural family; his Chinese mother was born and raised in Hong Kong. Nathan became interested in swimming at an early age due to his older siblings' interest in the sport. Flash forward to 2011, where Nathan took home gold medals in the 50 y and 100y freestyle at the NCAA Championships. After his recent freestyle win at this past summer's ConocoPhillips National Championships, his 2 National Titles and 4 Pan Pacific gold medals in 2010, you can see why Nathan feels right at home in the Speedo family.
Texas Longhorn coach Eddie Reese once said of Brendan Hansen, "Brendan isn't fast. His gift is the ability to not slow down." That drive, that singular determination, is exactly what has defined Brendan's already storied career. At age 5, he was already in the pool developing his love for the sport of swimming. By age 12, he was making waves in his community, attracting the attention of top coaches. By the time he was in high school, Brendan had found his calling in the form of the breaststroke. His mastery of the stroke helped him take home numerous state championships, and secure a lauded spot on the University of Texas swim team in Austin.
It comes as no surprise that Brendan's success is, in part, attributed to his strong sense of self. He knows where he comes from and he knows where he wants to be. This inner confidence is reflected in Brendan's now-signature breaststroke technique. His kick is far narrower than that of his competitors, but understanding and embracing this unique approach has allowed him to excel. And excel he has. Brendan has won a total of twenty-three medals in major international competitions, including seventeen gold, four silver, and two bronze spanning the Olympics, the World Championships, and the Pan Pacific Championships. In 2006, he set three world records in the span of 20 days, breaking the 100m breast WR once and the 200m breast WR twice. In college, he also took home 13 NCAA titles, in addition to Big 12 Swimmer of the Year and Big 12 Conference Newcomer of the Year accolades.
When questioned about what it was like to win an Olympic medal, Brendan said, "It's like the heaviest thing you've ever put around your neck. Then you're singing the national anthem, then the place goes crazy���and you realize you've finally reached that moment." Brendan may have reached "that moment", but his journey to greatness is far from over. Bring on 2012.
For Katie Hoff, swimming success came at an early age. By the time she was 15, Katie had already made it to the 2004 Olympics in Greece as the US team's youngest member. In 2005, Hoff set a World Aquatics Championship record in the women's 200 m individual medley, quickly following it up with two more gold medals at the same competition. Just two years later, Katie broke her own Aquatics Championship Record, and complimented it with 3 Olympic medals the following year.
Hoff put off college for a year so she could properly train for the 2008 Beijing Olympics, after which she settled down in California to continue her education and begin focusing on the 2012 Games. She is extremely thankful to have swimming as her calling, and hopes to one day compete in 5 Olympic Games. Understanding what it's like to be a young girl with big dreams, Katie has taken a keen interest inspiring kids everywhere. She's been featured in ESPN Rise magazine, a publication aimed at encouraging high school athletes, and is currently a National Youth Leadership Committee member for the Ronald Reagan Presidential Foundation.
Katie has been heralded as one of the most talented and versatile swimmers in the sport, and is eager to continue building her legacy in London come 2012.
Sometimes it takes a little hardship to bring about change. For the majority of her swimming career, Kate Ziegler was used to success. She brought home two gold medals at the 2005 World Aquatics Championships, and 2 more two years later at the same event 2 years alter. In high school she was awarded Washington Post All-Met honors, and was named Swimmer of the Year on more than one occasion. Kate also holds numerous school and American records, including a world record in the 1500m freestyle. Then, at the 2008 Olympics in Beijing, things changed.
The timing was terribly unfortunate. Her rigorous training up to the event left her physically and mentally drained. She simply couldn't compete at the level she wanted to, and didn't even medal in events she was favored to win. Kate took the disappointment pretty hard. She was burnt out on the sport and had a hard time getting back in the water. Realizing that she was at a serious crossroads, Kate rose the occasion and began making the changes she needed to get her on the right path. First, she took some time off, and headed over a Spain to refresh herself. She began changing her training regiment, incorporating more days off to keep her happy and rested. Biggest of all, Kate made the decision to move to California and leave her coach of 10 years. He was like a father figure to her, and it was an extremely tough, but necessary, decision.
Kate relocated to California, and is finding that the laid back lifestyle and her new coach, Jon Urbanchek, are rejuvenating her love for the sport. When you do something so much, it's easy to get burnt out. Kate did what it took to bounce back from a hard loss and continued her training, but more importantly, she did what it took to fall in love again.
Peter Vanderkaay has 3 brothers, all of whom are competitive swimmers. Chalk it up to sibling rivalry or brotherly love, but coming from a swimming family has served Peter well. A Michigan boy through and through, Peter was a three time state champ at Michigan High School, and went on to bring home five NCAA titles and 14 Big Ten Conference titles at The University of Michigan. While there, Peter not only found himself appointed senior co-captain of the Michigan Wolverines, but was awarded 2006 Big Ten Athlete of the Year. He went on to bring home 3 Olympic medals, one for each brother, including two relay golds and a personal bronze in the 200 m freestyle.
Peter's strong family ties have also made him appreciate the importance of lending a helping hand. An avid environmentalist, Peter supports the Blue Planet Network charity, which looks for new ways to provide communities around the world with safe drinking water. Peter also devotes time to the C.S. Mott Children's Hospital. Just recently, Peter moved out of Michigan for the first time and down to Florida, where he began training at the Gator Swim Club, home to fellow Speedo athlete Ryan Lochte. This move marks a new phase of Peter's journey towards the 2012 Olympic games.