It’s about to be that time again.
Every four years, athletes from hundreds of countries around the world prepare to try out and compete in the Summer Olympic Games. This summer they will be held in Rio de Janeiro from August 5-21. But before competing in the actual games, one must qualify at the Olympic Trials. These meets started as early as December 2014 and take place in several different locations across the country.
Three members of Lehigh’s swim and dive team will have the opportunity to attend the Olympic Trials this June in Omaha, Nebraska. They are the first qualifiers from Lehigh in the last 40 years.
Juniors Justin White, Jamal Willis and Kaitlyn Ruffing all met the qualifying times for the 50-meter freestyle. White and Willis qualified at the AT&T U.S. Winter National Championship last December, where Willis competed in Heat 7 and came in first with 23.29 seconds — the exact time needed to qualify. White swam in Heat 8 and tied for third with 23.16 seconds. White tied for 31st at the meet overall and Willis came in 38th.
At the Patriot League Championship this past February, the duo was a part of the 400-meter freestyle relay team that placed third with 2:58:48 and were the first team to finish the event in under three minutes in school history.
Willis described the season as successful for the team.
“Our preseason starts in the fall, and we begin going to meets in October,” he said. “Everyone swam really well. We won around half of our meets, and we placed second in the 50 freestyle. When I actually qualified, I touched the wall and couldn’t see my time at first, but when I did it was shocking. In the video I was clueless because I couldn’t see but once I realized it, I was excited.”
Ruffing boasts many accomplishments as well. She qualified for the 50-meter freestyle at an Olympic Trial qualifying meet at the Navy in February with a time of 26.14 seconds. At the Patriot League Championships, she set a school record when she finished in second place in the 50-yard freestyle in 22.88 seconds.
She also assisted in setting three more school records with the 200 and 400 free and 400 medley relay teams. She won all eight 50-yard freestyles and all seven 100-yard freestyles she competed in during the regular season and garnered Second Team All-Patriot.
Ruffing said the story of how she qualified for the trials is an emotional one. She said at first, she didn’t think she made it.
“I was swimming against the girl who had beat me in Patriots,” she said. “My touchpad wasn’t working, but they were running three different watches, and they all said that I had cut the time. But the judges weren’t going to count it because the touchpad didn’t work. In the end they ended up counting it, but it was such a whirlwind of emotions. I was celebrating at first because I thought I made it, then crying because they weren’t going to count it, then happy and relieved because they gave it to me.”
Though swim season is over for most of the team, Ruffing, White and Willis will continue to train until they travel to Omaha for the trials.
But their training will be a little bit different than normal. College swimming is focused on the short course, which is 25 yards, but in international competitions they have to swim the long course which is 50 meters. This means they will have to hold their breath for a longer amount of time before they turn.
Ruffing also runs for the Lehigh track team and competed in the Patriot League Championship this past weekend. After that, she will be training in the pool full time again while simultaneously preparing for the MCATs, which she will take a week after the trials.
Willis is staying in Bethlehem for the summer and training with some other team members and the coaches, while White and Ruffing will go home and train until the trials.
White said he looks forward to the experience and hopes to perform well.
“I was 31st in the country at nationals, so I would hope to make the top 30 at the trials,” he said. “Just to get down there would be cool. Making the qualifying time would be incredible, but just to be in the top 30 would be a great accomplishment.”