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September 15, 2000 - Image 16

Resource type:
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Publication:
The Michigan Daily, 2000-09-15

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FRIDAY Focus

By Anna Clark 0 Daily Staf Reporter
LSA senior Chris Thompson almost failed his high chool gym requirement Sincehe forfeited a semester of
kickbail and floor hockey at Rose burg High School in Oregon to train for a national swimming title, the school's
administration was on the brink of keeping Chris from raduating. "It came to hisinio year, and he actually had
to take a PE correspondence course," laughed Chris's mother, NanY, "Can youbeliee it? He had to write down
his practice record and send it in. I mean, come on." But it seems Chris had hIs oruInes straight. Less than four
years after leaving Roseburg, Chris is now in Sydney, Australia, ready to compete in the 2000 Summer Olympics,

his is a goal everyone has in the
back of their minds," Chris said.
"It's a great accomplishment just
to be here."
His mother said Roseburg is thrilled for its
small-town superstar, who's gunning for glory
in the 1,500-meter freestyle.
"Everyone here is so excited for Christo-
pher," she said. "Our family can't wait to see
him. The teachers who taught him in school
are just beside them-
selves."
Nancy said a friend
asked her if Chris
would get to see the
opening ceremonies in
Sydney.
"I got to tell her
Chris was actually
going to be in the cere-
monies," she said.
"I still can't believe
it. We never thought 9om
this would actually
happen."
Beginning with today's lighting of the
Olympic torch in the largest opening ceremo-
ny stadium ever built, the 2000 Sydney Sum-
mer Games will ignite before a live
S110,000-plus crowd, comparable in size to
Michigan Stadium on game days but with
hundreds of millions watching worldwide.
Gold rush
Chris Thompson is one of three current Uni-
versity students who plan to pile on the red,
white and blue to parade through the Aus-
tralian summer air among the greatest athletes
in the world.
Joining him are two incoming freshmen,
swimmer Samantha Arsenault and gymnast
Elise Ray.
Arsenault, from Peabody, Ma., is sprinting
in the 100-meter and 200-meter freestyle
relays and the 100-meter medley relay. She is
postponing her first classes in Ann Arbor until
January.
Similarly, Ray, from Columbia, Md., is
delaying her first college classes until the win-
ter semester.
Ray has captured attention as a key member
of the gymnastics team. In fact, she already
has a unique move on the uneven bars named
after her.
Three coaches and 12 graduates also add to
the growing legacy of 128 University-associat-
ed coaches and athletes who have taken part in
the Olympic Games.
Eighteen current Wolverine swimmers took
part in the trials for this year's Olympics.
Thompson was the only one to qualify, secur-
ing his spot on the team with a second-place
finish in the 1,500-meter freestyle last
month.
Since 1900, University athletes have won
medals in every Summer Games, said Greg
Kinney, coordinator of the "Michigan in the
Olympics" online resource from the Bentley
Historical Library.
"In the early years, there were a lot of track-
and-field people, but we've definitely moved
toward swimming," Kinney said.
He cited recent University graduates Tom
Dolan and Tom Malchow as a few of the more

new talent to the school, thus continuing the,
tradition of excellence.
'I will get you to the
Olympics'
Tradition is what Thompson said brought
him to Ann Arbor. As a high school senior,
bombarded by recruitment letters, he sifted
through piles of official stationary, glossy
viewbooks and pleading answering machine
messages to find a school that could make him
a champion swimmer.
Among college coaches who expressed
interest was Michigan men's swimming coach
Jon Urbanchek.
While Thompson said he had no Olympic
heroes and only "halfhearted interest" in the
Games as a child, his mother said he knew by
high school that he wanted to go to Australia
in 2000. He made sure Urbanchek knew that.
"Coach Urbanchek came to us and told
Christopher, 'If you come to Michigan, I will
get you to the Olympics. I'm looking long-
term,"' Nancy Thompson said.
Urbanchek, who is serving as assistant
coach for this year's U.S. men's swimming
team, has helped shape 20 Olympians, includ-
ing three gold medalists.
His record was enough to convince Thomp-
son, who accepted a full scholarship and
arrived in Ann Arbor in 1997.
As a freshman, Thompson became a key
member of one of the best swimming teams
in the nation. That's a long way from the dog-
paddling he used to do, Nancy Thompson
said.
She never imagined the possibility her son
would aim so high when she enrolled Chris
and his three siblings in swimming lessons as
children.

"He was About four and I just wanted to
keep him water-safe,' she said. "There was
never any noticeable talent. Nothing."
Testing the waters
With no apparent affinity for swimming,
Thompson tried his hand at other sports but
wasn't successful with basketball or soccer either.
"I just wasn't any good on the land, so I
stuck with the water,"
Thompson said.w
After joining a "Now see i
YMCA team when he -
was 10, Thompson aCCo MpiIs
got his first taste of -
competition - as Just WVAvINj
well as his first taste
of losing.
"They have short
events at that age and
Christopher is not a very good sprinter," his
mother said. "He'd place 20th on a list of 30."
A new coach came into the scene when
Thompson was 13. Steve Franklin, whom
Thompson called "excellent and very motiva-
tional," was the first to notice the aspiring
swimmer's steady stroke could be an asset in
the right event.
"Chris started swimming distance events and
sure enough he placed sixth in the state that
year," Nancy said.
After Franklin moved to Tennessee, he fol-
lowed Thompson's career through the state
meets, national championships and his impres-
sive record at the University.
Mind and body

intensely and juggling classes in history and
classical civilization, Thompson was forced to
sacrifice much of the typical college student's
social life.
"Often, I had to say, 'I'd love to, guys, but
I've got to practice. I have big goals,"' Thomp-
son said.
Part of that means keeping up with classes.
To stay on schedule for graduation in 2002,
Thompson is enrolled in an independent study
and three minicourses
this semester.
iat l Nancy Thompson
- Wasnsaid that it wasn't
"P I wasn't unusual for her son to

0"

VI

I

Becoming a top college swimmer was only
part of Thompson's goal. While training

- ,YY make time for what
My -was most important in
-- Chris Thompson his life.
OlChris Thompson "He was always a
Olympic swimmer worker. When he was
12 and said he wanted
to go the Olympics, I thought in the back of
my mind that I hoped he wasn't too disappoint-
ed," she said.
"But Chris has been willing to get up in the
mornings, every morning, and practice. He
was able to stay way ahead of his schoolwork,
maintain a schedule and just make his dreams
come true," Nancy Thompson said.
Watching from afar
While Chris Thompson is competing in Aus-
tralia, his classmates in Ann Arbor are plan-
ning to keep up with the Olympics from the
comfort of their coaches.
With this year's Summer Games in Septem-
ber, many students are hoping to catch what
they can between lectures and club meetings.-
Two members of the University's track team
said they are keeping an eye on Kevin Sullivan,
a Canadian distance runner who graduated
from the University in 1998.
"We've got a special interest in him. We
want to see how he does," LSA sophomore
Kevin Hughes said.
Kinesiology sophomore Doug Anderson
added that he expects the track team to all
gather together to cheer for their former team-
mate.
Meanwhile, Thompson said he is preparing
to give the performance of a lifetime.
While he has dreams of a second Olympic
appearance, graduating from college and
coaching kids, he's now poised to prove that
his years of solid, steady work were worth it
just to experience the next few exhilarating
weeks.
"I asked him once if he thought he'd missed
out on anything," Nancy Thompson said. "And
he said, 'What would I have missed? Hanging
out at the mall? Watching TV?"'
"Now, see what I accomplished?" her son
said.
"I wasn't just wasting my time."

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