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Originally published Sunday, June 15, 2008 at 12:00 AM

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Olympic hopeful Margaret Hoelzer makes smooth transition onto King Aquatic squad

In the King Aquatic Club in Federal Way, where a dozen swimmers have qualified for the Olympic trials, Margaret Hoelzer is the new kid on...

Special to The Seattle Times

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Beijing Summer Games, Aug. 8-24

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In the King Aquatic Club in Federal Way, where a dozen swimmers have qualified for the Olympic trials, Margaret Hoelzer is the new kid on the blocks.

She's a 2004 Olympian but recently left her coach of seven years, David Marsh, to train here under Sean Hutchison — a big move a couple of months before the trials, which are June 29 to July 6 in Omaha.

This could have been a disaster. But not at King Aquatic, Hoelzer is happy to report.

"I wasn't worried," said Hoelzer, 25, who swam for Auburn and finished fifth in Athens in the 200-meter backstroke. "It's fantastic. Sean and I communicate really well. It's definitely the highest level club team I've ever been part of.

"I feel like I fit in. It's been such a great match."

That's music to the ears of Hutchison, hired in 2002 to make the club one of the best in the nation. He's the head coach and recently became the owner of the club, based in the King County Aquatic Center, a venue for top national and international meets.

At King, there's no question there's something in the water. Hoelzer joins Megan (Quann) Jendrick, two-time gold medalist in the 2000 Olympics; Ariana Kukors, the University of Washington star; Svetlana Karpeeva, who earned a berth on Russia's Olympic team for Beijing; and Heather Brand, who will swim for Zimbabwe at the Games.

"It's great," said Jendrick, training for her third trials. "We really motivate each other. Everyone gets along so well. There's no animosity if someone goes faster than someone else. We're all really good friends. I really enjoy it."

Among those King swimmers, those who qualified for the trials include Pac-10 champion Kim Jasmer, Kukors' UW teammate, as well as up-and-comers Kevin Munsch, 16-year-old Mattie Kukors (sister to Ariana and Emily who started at King but now swims at Auburn), Andie Taylor of Skyline High School, Leona Jennings of Mount Rainier High and Gig Harbor's Lindsey Marchand.

"Not that I don't like having international-level swimmers, but most of our top swimmers are homegrown," Hutchison said. The club, under Hutchison's guidance, is known for emphasizing resistance training and less-is-more approach to yardage. Swimmers sometimes employ an unusual pulley system, in which they swim attached to weights, to build strength. They also swim connected to an underwater parachute for drag.

But the club also provides something more than pulleys and parachutes — an atmosphere where dreams can be as close as the gold medalist swimming in the next lane. When it comes to making the Olympic team, achievement can be contagious, Hutchison said.

"The environment is a big deal in terms of — if you believe that you can do something and you see people around you accomplishing those same things, it seems a lot more real and attainable," he said.

McGee completes Olympic journey

Sometimes, the fates engineer a makeup call. How else to explain the four-year journey of rower Portia McGee from frustrated near-Olympian to Olympic team member on Thursday?

In 2004 on the same lake, in the same boat class and from the same seat, McGee missed making the Olympic team by two-tenths of a second — in each of two races — at the Olympic trials with Brown University teammate Liane Malcos.

Then last year at the world championships in Munich, friend and U.S. teammate Megan Cooke, rowing with Washington alum Anna Mickelson, injured her back two days before the event. A coach greeted McGee, a member of the non-Olympic women's four, at the shore.

"We need to try you in the pair this afternoon," he said.

The pair. With Olympic silver-medalist Mickelson. In a boat the U.S. was highlighting for the next year's Olympics in Beijing.

"It was my shot," McGee said. "We just clicked. It was a unique and awesome opportunity for me. I needed it to catapult me into a good year."

That year culminated with Mickelson (now Anna Cummins) and McGee, 29, winning the pairs Thursday at the trials in Windsor, N.J., and earning a spot on the Olympic team.

McGee, who started rowing at 13 at the Mount Baker Rowing Club, said the wait served a purpose.

"I'm just a better athlete and older athlete, now that I've been around four more years," she said. "The best thing is now I'm in a position to do really well at the Olympics. It was different in 2004 [when] I just wanted to make the team."

NOTES

• Duvall's Amy Tryon, a 2004 Olympian, is on the short list of riders in contention for the 2008 U.S. Olympic team in equestrian eventing, where horses and riders compete in a multidimension competition involving dressage, cross country and show jumping. A maximum of five teams (person and horse) will be announced July 15.

• With last week's American record pole vault, UW alum Brad Walker is inching closer to Sergey Bubka's all-time outdoor mark of 20 feet, 1 ¾ inches. Walker, of Mountlake Terrace, was named USA Track & Field's athlete of the week with his jump of 19-9 ¾. If the weather's right at the Olympic trials June 27-July 6, Walker could make history along with a spot on the Olympic team.

Mike Day won the U.S. BMX trials in Chula Vista, Calif., on Saturday, a dominant performance that secured a spot on the three-man team that will represent America when BMX makes its Olympic debut in Beijing this summer.

Jake Deitchler, an 18-year-old from Minnesota, pulled off two major upsets Saturday to win the U.S. 145 ½-pound Greco-Roman trials and become the first high schooler on the Olympic wrestling team in 32 years. Many of the top wrestlers are well into their 30s. Also making the Olympic team were Henry Cejudo at 121 pounds and Doug Schwab at 145 ½ pounds in freestyle, and repeat Olympian Brad Vering at 185 pounds in Greco, in which holds below the waist are not permitted.

Ryan Reser, long one of America's top judo athletes, made the Olympic team in his third attempt at qualifying by winning at 161 pounds Saturday night in the U.S. trials. Reser and 21-year-old Ronda Rousey are seen as the top U.S. judo medal hopes. Others who made the team: Valerie Gotay, Taraje Williams-Murray, Brian Olson, Sayaka Matsumoto and Travis Stevens.

Meri-Jo Borzilleri: merijoborz@hotmail.com

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Copyright © 2008 The Seattle Times Company

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