Kukors Set to Make Splash at Olympic Trials This Summer

May 6, 2008

By Erica Metzler
The Daily

Every athlete strives and aspires their whole career to reach the pinnacle -- qualifying for the Olympics. It takes years of strenuous training and hard work, and for 18-year-old swimmer Ariana Kukors her dream is finally about to become a reality.

Kukors will be competing in the Olympic trials -- an eight-day meet, starting June 29 in Omaha, Neb. She ranked second in the nation in the 400-meter individual medley and is ranked 5th in the 200-meter individual medley. She can technically swim 11 events at the Olympic trials, but will probably swim only five.

'I feel pretty confident about going into the trials, but there are always going to be some nerves,' Kukors said. 'I feel like I have prepared myself in the best way I possibly could have.'

Kukors, a freshman sensation, has had national swimming experience. She competed in the World Championships in Melbourne, Australia, last year. She also competed in the 2004 Olympic trials, swimming in five events, with her best performance being in the 200 IM -- she placed 10th.

'I know what to expect going into this year, so hopefully I will go in with a lot more experience and hopefully will perform better that way,' she said.

It takes hard work and dedication to reach Olympic status, she said, but she has been blessed with good coaches who have nurtured her stroke and helped her improve along the way.

Kukors has been training with King Aquatic Club, located in Federal Way, under coach Sean Hutchison for the past six years.

Hutchison said that when he first started coaching her, Kukors was a regional champion in the 100-yard breaststroke and considered herself a backstroke specialist. After moving her into the IM, a year later, she was a consolation finalist at U.S. Nationals in the 400-meter IM. The following year she won her first U.S. national title in the same event. And in the next four years, she won other national events, qualifying for the Pan Pacific Games and the World Championships.

'Each of those accomplishments and events have built a very strong ability to perform at the highest levels,' Hutchison said. 'Ari is a great student of success. She has willed herself to the top but has done it through using her intelligence and ability to change -- not just blind desire that often falls short of the mark.'

In addition to her coach, Kukors' family has also been very influential throughout her swimming career.

Besides her parents being former swimmers, her sisters both swim competitively. Kukors' older sister, Emily, 22, swims for Auburn University, and their younger sister, Mattie, 15, swims for King Aquatic Club as well. All three sisters will be swimming in the Olympic trials, which will be an exciting event for the family.

'My sisters have supported me in everything I have done and accomplished and I have done the same for them,' Kukors said. 'My parents are also huge role models for me -- my mom especially.'

Although Kukors' parents live in Auburn, she doesn't go home very often. She is extremely busy with school and swimming, so she has little time. The transition from high school to college has been difficult, considering the amount of work demanded, but Kukors has been successful in balancing the two.

This quarter, Kukors is taking a smaller course load, with classes only on Monday, Wednesday and Friday. However, swimming and training seem to dominate her life.

On Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays, she practices for three-and-a-half hours, in addition to working out with a personal trainer for an hour. On Tuesdays and Thursdays, she has a two-hour morning practice and a three-and-a-half-hour afternoon practice. On Saturdays, she trains for three hours and she swims for an hour-and-a-half on Sunday.

'I do most of my studying on the weekends,' she says. 'Managing my time has been a huge factor for me this year and I think I finally have it down.'

Although her main focus has been training for the Olympics, Kukors was still a member of the UW women's swim team. She trained with her club coach but attended Washington swim meets.

'Although it was a weird situation, I knew the girls on the team really well and it wasn't a big deal not to be at practices,' she said. 'I worked it out with the coaches and everyone knew the situation coming into the year, so it wasn't a surprise. There were never any problems.'

Teammate and junior Kim Jasmer said Kukors brought a higher level of expectations to the team because of her experience.

'She was really supportive,' Jasmer said. 'I feel like her doing so well around us and being supportive was really good for the team. We improved drastically from years past.'

The Huskies placed 12th in the team standings, their highest finish in history, at the NCAA Championships this year. Individually, Kukors set school records in the 100-yard backstroke, 100 and 200 breaststrokes, 200 butterfly, and 200 and 400 IMs. She also helped the 400 and 800 freestyle relay teams and the 200 and 400 medley relay teams set new UW school records.

In addition, she earned three All-American awards, took home two Pac-10 Championship titles (200 and 400 IM) and was named the Pac-10 Female Swimming Newcomer of the Year award.

Kukors plans on being retired by the year 2012 and doesn't see herself swimming much later than that, although things can change. She is still young and is hoping to attend the Olympics one more time.

'Her chances to make the Olympics are very good,' Hutchison said. 'All she needs to do is hold her spot within U.S. rankings to make the team.'

But, for now, Kukors will continue her intense training and compete in a few meets with her club team until the Olympic trials in June.

'I have trained so hard, so I am going into it with the highest of expectations,' she said. 'I have a lot of confidence I will succeed with my dreams and be able to compete with the U.S. in the Olympics.'

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