Flaherty sprints into contention for '92 Olympics Towson teen pushes timetable after tying record in 400 IM

July 17, 1991|By Bill Glauber | Bill Glauber,Sun Staff Correspondent

LOS ANGELES -- Daria Flaherty was accustomed to the stubborn persistence of her daughter, Mikey. But this demand was just a little different.

Fourteen months ago, Mikey said she was treading water in her swimming career and needed to leave Towson and train full time in Hightstown, N.J. Daria Flaherty didn't flinch. A day after her daughter finished her ninth-grade exams at Notre Dame Prep, she packed up the family station wagon and drove to New Jersey.

"I unloaded all of the things at the coach's apartment," Daria Flaherty said. "Then, I put on my Olympic music and cried all the way home."

Now, terror has replaced tears after Mikey's record-tying performance in the 400-meter individual medley at the recently completed swimming competition at the U.S. Olympic Festival. Suddenly, Mikey Flaherty's Olympic timetable has moved forward four years from Atlanta in 1996 to Barcelona in 1992.

"The Olympics are so frightening for a parent," Daria Flaherty said. "I can't even think about it. It's so frightening when you see someone so close to you who is so determined."

But Mikey Flaherty has few fears now that she has sprinted her way into Olympic contention. She is a head- strong 15-year-old who is still trying to absorb the meaning of her new accomplishments.

Flaherty tied a 10-year-old festival record by winning the 400 IM in 4 minutes, 53.45 seconds, a time that places her in the top eight nationally and top 27 internationally. Since she was neither shaved nor tapered -- the swimmer's version of peaking -- the time is especially impressive. Mikey also took home a gold medal in the 200 IM. In a pressure-free athletic laboratory, the two victories yielded a career breakthrough.

"This hasn't hit me yet, that I've won," she said. "It will probably hit me on the plane going home. This has been a great experience. A lot of athletes from here have gone on to greater and faster races."

Michael, that's the name her parents gave her but rarely use, learned to swim at 18 months, and began competing as an 8-year-old. She spent a good chunk of her career training with coach Arthur "Reds" Hucht of the Knights of Columbus Orchard (KCO) swim team. During the school year, she worked out at Calvert Hall to the dismay of some of the members of the all-boys team. Hucht named her the team's manager and let her work out with the boys.

Hucht emphasized crisp workouts based on speed, and Flaherty quickly progressed locally. But she decided she needed a change last year and enrolled at the Peddie School in Hightstown, N.J. Working with Chris Martin, Flaherty has increased her training from 2,000 yards to 20,000 meters a day.

"I thought that I needed a more intense training program," she said.

The intensity has helped Flaherty shave four seconds off her time in the 400 IM, an event that tests swimmer's skills in the backstroke, breast stroke, butterfly and freestyle. Others may have a smoother swimming style or excel at sprinting, but Flaherty is considered a fighter with the endurance to win longer races.

"Mikey has the right perspective about swimming," said Daria Flaherty. "She is very private about the sport. All of her friends aren't swimmers. She is a universal friend. Swimming means a lot to her, but she knows it isn't everything."

Flaherty's perspective helped her deal with a difficult first summer in New Jersey. According to Martin, Flaherty consistently finished last in team workouts, but she refused to quit.

"She wasn't used to the kind of work we did in practice," Martin said. "But she hung in. She never complained."

Flaherty also struggled with homesickness that first summer. She missed her parents, her friends, even the Inner Harbor, for goodness sakes. But she was thrilled to be part of a team.

"It was hard," she said. "It was intense. You get homesick. You live through it. But it's worth it to sacrifice everything to be fast."

Flaherty said she is prepared to sacrifice even more to make the 1992 Olympic team. Her long-range goal is to swim fast enough to earn a college scholarship. But short-term, she will aim to peak at the U.S. Olympic trials next March in Indianapolis.

"Swimming is an experience that helps you," she said. "You meet new people and prepare for the future. It forces you to set goals and accomplish them, and then go on to things you thought you could never do."

But the Olympics? In 1992?

"Sure," Flaherty said.

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