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Santa Barbara’s Mark Warkentin Ready to Dive Into Olympic Trials

The swimmer and his coach head to Omaha, Neb., for Sunday's selection meet for the Beijing Olympics. Another local, Rachel Rys, will compete Wednesday.

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Santa Barbara native Mark Warkentin, second from left, competes in Seville, Spain, in May against Evgeny Drattsev of Russia, left, and Ky Hurst of Australia. Warkentin finished seventh. Drattsev and Hurst tied for fifth. Warkentin now heads to Omaha, Neb., for the selection meet for the 2008 Beijing Olympics. (John Dussliere / Santa Barbara Swim Club photo)

Every year, we proclaim the “world champion” team in football, baseball and basketball. Only once every four years do we get a chance to hear the stories and wave the flag behind the Olympian — an athlete who inspires even the best professional athletes. You can’t help but be inspired by the struggle of the common man in his quest to achieve uncommon results.

In Omaha, Neb., on Sunday, USA Swimming will begin its selection meet for the 2008 Beijing Olympics. You will see Michael Phelps do the impossible, you will see the relative unknown overcome their fears and nerves by rising from nowhere and surprising the world by taking down the favorite.

At this Olympic Trials, there is one thing you won’t see, and that is a nervous, fearful Santa Barbara native Mark Warkentin.

Warkentin has been through this selection meet three times before — three times without making the team, that is. He gets to go to this one to enjoy the 400-meter freestyle. He, along with one other American, Chloe Sutton, already has made the team.

On a beautiful spring morning in Seville, Spain, Warkentin had his day of nerves, confidence, gut-wrenching effort and, finally, glory as he qualified as the only American for the first 10k Marathon Swimming event held in Olympic history. It was history in the making for Warkentin and his coach, John Dussliere, head coach of the Santa Barbara Swim Club and the first U.S. 10k Olympic marathon coach.

“Mark and I are both going to this Trials to enjoy the atmosphere and gain inspiration along the way,” Dussliere said. “He’s not only the first 10k Olympian, he’s the first swimmer in history that can honestly go to the Olympic Trials with no pressure and get there in the middle of very hard training.”

Warkentin will be introduced to the sold-out Qwest Center crowd on Sunday, the first night of the Omaha Trials. “It will be a fun night. I made the team in May, but we were in Spain. Only my team, family and coaches were around us. I have always wondered what it’s like to be introduced as an Olympian,” Warkentin said. After Sunday night, he will know.

On Wednesday, another Santa Barbara native, Rachel Rys, will compete in the Trials for the Santa Barbara Swim Club in the women’s 200-meter butterfly event. Rys will be a junior next year at Northwestern University.

“Rachel has had her share of adversity this year as she was struck by an automobile near school and suffered a severe sprain in her wrist just over a month ago. It was touch and go for a few weeks as we did not know if she would be cleared to train or compete,” Dussliere said. “Sheer determination has been the key to Rachel’s success thus far, and she was not going to let this sideline her chances of competing in the Trials.”

Dussliere and his two swimmers will arrive in Omaha on Saturday for the competition. In Santa Barbara over the Fourth of July weekend, the Santa Barbara Swim Club will host the Semana Nautica Swim Meet at Dos Pueblos High School. The annual event is usually held at the Los Banos Del Mar pool, but it has been relocated because of the replacement of the deep-end wall project this summer.

“The city has done an outstanding job of helping us relocate all of our programs this summer during construction,” Dussliere said. “The school district and the Santa Barbara water polo foundation have also been very good to us in relocating a few of their programs so we can have a place to swim and compete this summer.”

Check out the TV schedule for the swimming Trials on www.sbswim.org.

After the holiday weekend, Warkentin and Dussliere will head to Stanford University, where Dussliere spent six years as a volunteer assistant coach, to meet up with the U.S. Olympic Team as they begin an intense training camp for Beijing. The 10k marathon swim event will be Aug. 21 in the new Olympic rowing venue about 40 kilometers outside of Beijing.

John Dussliere is head coach of the Santa Barbara Swim Club and Santa Barbara Masters.

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