Hutchinson laps up shot at Olympic glory, high school memories

Swimming: Claire Hutchinson wants to represent her country and school, so she balances Trials training with being on the McDonogh team.

January 30, 2004|By Katherine Dunn | Katherine Dunn,SUN STAFF

When Claire Hutchinson qualified for this summer's Olympic Trials, McDonogh coach Scott Ward thought it might be time for his star freestyler to give up high school swimming.

"You have to put so much work and so much emotion into training for the Olympic Trials, and once you make it, you want to do well," said Ward. "It comes around only every four years and it can be a one-time shot."

Ward even suggested that the junior, who trains with the North Baltimore Aquatic Club, might want to skip this high school swimming season, but Hutchinson wouldn't think of it. She wanted to help McDonogh go after its first outright Interscholastic Athletic Association of Maryland championship at UMBC Sunday morning.

Hutchinson, 17, helped the Eagles to victory in four events at last season's IAAM finals, but the Eagles tied Notre Dame Prep, which had won the eight previous team titles outright.

By the time she made the Olympic Trials cut at the U.S. Summer Nationals in College Park in August, Hutchinson had a career that included school records and IAAM meet records in the 200-yard freestyle and the 500-yard freestyle as well as high school All-America status in both.

While Hutchinson enjoys the competition and the camaraderie at McDonogh, those aren't the only reasons for staying.

"It's really the only chance I have to be part of McDonogh, because I can't stay after school for clubs or SGA," said Hutchinson. "By swimming, I get to represent my school. I'm so lucky to have this experience. A lot of my [NBAC teammates] don't have the opportunity to swim for their schools."

In the Jan. 8, regular-season meet against NDP, Hutchinson lowered her own school records in the 200 freestyle (1:53.84) and the 500 freestyle (4:59.8).

Hutchinson's temporarily split allegiance works primarily because Ward allows her to train at NBAC with coach Bob Bowman. That way she can easily keep up her 20 to 24 hours of pool time, missing only a few days for meets over the 10-week high school season.

"I'm really lucky to be able to balance the two," she said. "Coach Ward understands my commitment to NBAC, but he knows I really want to do this. The girls on the [McDonogh] team are really close. At NBAC, we have team spirit, but it's not like our high school team."

She and two other Eagles teammates who train with NBAC, Kelly Peloquin and Anne Marie Botek, are as much a part of the team as anyone else, said McDonogh senior Medley McGuire, a co-captain with Stacey Klein.

"Claire's so down to earth and focused, but at the same time, she can be crazy and hyper," said McGuire. "You would think these were her big meets. If you just talk to her, you would never know she was the girl going to the Olympic Trials. These meets are just as important to her as they are to the rest of us."

Said Ward: "She's a first-class young lady. She's always paying attention to other people and what they're swimming. When a race is over, she makes it a point to go over and say, `Good job.' "

This summer, her Eagles teammates will certainly be cheering for Hutchinson as she heads to Long Beach, Calif., for the Olympic Trials July 7-14.

A competitive swimmer since age 6, Hutchinson dropped about nine seconds off her previous personal best time in the 800-meter freestyle to make the cut at Summer Nationals.

She swam 8:42.4, easily under the qualifying time of 8:50.4.

"I was really shocked at myself. Doing my best time and being able to go for it when the pressure is really on was a really good achievement for me. For the people in my training group [which includes Michael Phelps], the Olympic Trials is our goal and I didn't want to be left behind," said Hutchinson, one of about a dozen NBAC swimmers to qualify for the trials so far.

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