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On the morning of April 1, York High sophomore swimmer Danika Katzer learned she had qualified for the Olympic Trials in the 400 individual medley.
But this was no April Fools’ Day joke.
Katzer, a 15-year-old who was competing in a 400 IM preliminary heat during the 2016 Speedo Eastern Zone Championship Meet in Richmond, touched the wall of the pool, pulled off her goggles and read her time: 4:54.48.
The Olympic Trials qualifying time for women in the 400 IM is 4:54.99.
Disbelief and confusion clouded Katzer’s mind until she saw her coaches and parents cheering and celebrating on the pool deck. That’s when the reality of her situation set in: Katzer will be competing in the USA Swimming Olympic Trials held in Omaha, Neb. from June 26 through July 3.
“It doesn’t really feel real yet,” Katzer said. “Going out I felt pretty good. I knew that it hurt and [the time] would be close, but I wasn’t sure because in my heat I didn’t have anybody to race really. I wasn’t sure if I was on pace or just tired.”
Katzer was slotted in lane four of an eight-girl preliminary heat of the 400 IM during the morning session of the Eastern Zone Championship Meet. Heading into the day, Katzer was hoping to hit the Olympic Trials cut during the finals of the 400 IM in the night session. With the fastest swimmers pushing her during the finals, Katzer thought that would be the best chance to qualify for the Olympic Trials.
Instead, Katzer found herself being pushed early in her preliminary meet. The competition helped sustain Katzer throughout the race until she reached the freestyle portion, by which time she had pulled away from the rest of the field and was solely competing against the clock.
The final stretch of her 400 IM in the Eastern Zone Championship Meet resembled Katzer’s performance at the Group 3A State Swimming and Diving Championship in February. Katzer won individual state championships in the 200 IM and 100 breaststroke with ease during the state meet, as she was not worried about losing to another swimmer and instead focused on logging the best time possible.
“At states, I kind of felt like I knew I was going to win that,” she said. “I wasn’t as sure I was going to get the trials cut. I didn’t know how fast I was going to go.”
As it turns out, Katzer pushed herself enough to qualify for the Olympic Trials by roughly half a second. It’s a small window of time, but those crucial milliseconds may end up highlighting the rest of Katzer’s swimming career.
Competing in the Olympic Trials will put Katzer face-to-face with some of America’s most talented swimmers in easily the largest swim meet she has ever participated in. With more eyes on her than ever before, Katzer will not only gain exposure but also valuable experience.
And gaining that experience is a more immediate goal for Katzer than actually qualifying for the Olympics. Katzer, who swims with the Coast Guard Blue Dolphins locally, said she would continue her rigorous training schedule that includes nine training sessions each week but does not expect to qualify for the Olympics this year.
Instead, Katzer plans to relish the experience, work to drop her time while competing against nationally ranked swimmers and parlay this opportunity into a potential Olympic bid in the future.
“I think this is more of a learning experience than trying to make the Olympics,” she said. “I think it will just help me to know what it’s going to be like at these big, huge meets with all these fast swimmers.”