Ariana Kukors earns spot in London Olympics in 200 individual medley
Auburn Mountainview graduate shakes off a nervous day to qualify for her first Olympics.
Special to The Seattle Times
OMAHA, Neb. — It was almost too much to overcome. The memories of a gut-wrenching loss in the same event four years ago in the same pool that cost Ariana Kukors a trip to the Olympics.
But with the help of her younger sister, Mattie, holding her hand overnight in an attempt to suppress Ariana's nerves, Kukors from Auburn finished second to Caitlin Leverenz (2:10.22) in the 200-meter individual medley at CenturyLink Center and punched a ticket to London for her first Olympics.
"Nothing can bring me down right now," said Kukors, who turned 23 on June 1. "I'm no way happy with that time (2:11.30), but considering that people have said for years and years that this is the most stressful meet in the world — I was feeling the stress — I will take it."
Leverenz, who captured the NCAA title in the 200 IM last spring for California, will also be competing in her first Olympics.
Leading up the race, it wasn't so pleasant for Kukors.
"The last 24 hours have been the most painful 24 hours of my life. I was an absolute nervous wreck. My family, they're my absolute rocks," said Kukors.
Elizabeth Pelton set the early pace by leading after the butterfly and the backstroke over the first 100 meters. Then Kukors made her move in the breaststroke in the third leg before a strong finish in the freestyle.
Since moving to Jacksonville seven months ago to work with Sergio Lopez Miro, the coach of the Bolles School Sharks, Kukors concentrated on improving her breaststroke and it paid off.
"She's a very good breaststroker, but I felt I could change a couple things to make her more fluid," said Lopez Miro.
Though Kukors didn't make the 2008 Olympics in Beijing, she's had plenty of international competition and said she used that experience down the stretch.
"To be honest, I breathed away from the other girls in my last 50 (meters) and I closed my eyes and prayed for the wall," said Kukors who edged Pelton for the second of the two spots for the Olympics.
Kukors knows Pelton's feelings. Four years ago, Kukors finished third by eight-hundreths of a second to Katie Hoff and Natalie Coughlin in the 200 IM. "The funny thing was right before I got on the blocks I had a vivid image of four years ago. I was like, 'Get that out of here!' " said Kukors.
If she had not qualified, Kukors acknowledged that her swimming career was probably over. But now she's ready to take the next step. The one that she has dreamed about.
"I don't think we've seen the Ariana that we're going to see in the Olympics," said Lopez Miro.
The men's 100 free Friday shapes up to be an entertaining sprint with Bremerton native Nathan Adrian posting the best time in the semifinals (48.33 seconds). Adrian is shooting for his second Olympics competition.
• Michael Phelps stayed on course to swim eight events with a dominating win in the 200-meter butterfly. Also, Allison Schmitt broke her own American record in winning the 200 free in 1:54.40, the best in the world this year.