8A - Thursday, March 22, 2007
The Michigan Daily - michigandaily.com
Never too early to train:
Tankers eying Beijing 2008
By COURTNEY RATKOWIAK
Daily Sports Writer
From the other side of the Can-
ham Natatorium pool deck, the
numbers are so small you almost
have to squint to see them.
Walking toward the wall of the
natatorium's diving well, the red.
LED lights become less blurred.
509 days. 10 hours. 52 minutes.
25 seconds. Beijing 2008.
Past and potential Olympians
swim back and forth in the pool.
Stroke for stroke, the seconds tick
away as the athletes race to get
better. The Michigan swimmers
still have a full collegiate season
before the 2008 Olympic Trials
(June 29, 2008) and the Aug. 8-24
Beijing Olympics - but their seri-
ous Olympic training begins in
Just 504 days from now, both
Michigan collegiate and club
swimmers are expecting to make
the U.S. Olympic Team roster.
"It's not the work you do the
summer of - it's the work you do
the summer before, so we're really
focusing on getting a lot of train-
ing done this summer," junior
Alex Vanderkaay said. "It's not
too early to talk about it. I think
everybody kind of keeps quiet,
but I know everybody's thinking
This summer, Olympic hopefuls
on the Michigan team will stay in
Ann Arbor to train with Club Wol-
verine. They will swim with past
gold medalists like two-time Olym-
pian Klete Keller, current Michigan
student Michael Phelps and Michi-
gan alum Peter Vanderkaay.
Since the Michigan swimmers
won't have time to complete a full
training cycle between the end of
the college season in March and
the Olympic Trials in June, the
summer training will provide an
opportunity to improve with-
out regular-season, Big Ten and
NCAA commitments. In addition
to physical training, Michigan
coach Bob Bowman hopes to help
his swimmers prepare for the
intangible pressures of competing
for swimming's highest prize.
"The real challenges are being
able to swim a meet that's so pres-
surized like the Olympic Trials
and do well, and then refocus to
do well at the Olympic Games
four weeks later," Bowman said.
"I think, physically, it's not so
much of an issue, butit's very hard
to emotionally peak twice in one
Keller said that during the
"down cycle" of Olympic training,
which lasts for about two years
after the previous Games, athletes
retire and physical training is less
strenuous. Within two years of
the next Olympics, though, swim-
mers stage comebacks and young-
er athletes start as contenders.
"We're almost to the year
before, when it starts getting
exciting and you should expect
to perform really fast year-round
in swim meets," Keller said. "For
me, the year after the Olympics, I
don't really care how fast I swim
at a swim meet. But the year
before the Olympics, there's a lot
more pressure to perform well at
any meet you go to. With 514 days
out, we're starting to get to a real-
ly serious point now."
The summer before his fresh-
man year at Michigan, Alex
Vanderkaay finished 19th in the
200-yard butterfly at the 2004
Olympic Trials. After three previ-
ous attempts to swim an Olympic
Trials qualifying time, he made
-the cut about two weeks before
Alex Vanderkaay and freshman
Scott Spann both said they hadn't
expected to swim in Athens but
participated in the Trials so that
they would be prepared to be
serious contenders for the 2008
Olympic team. Spann, a sopho-
more in high school at the time,
described his first Trials experi-
ence as "nerve-wrecking."
"It was horrible for me, at
least," said Spann, who swam one
event at the 2004 meet. "I was in
the firstheat, which was the slow-
est. ... There was about 5,000 or
6,000 people watching that morn-
ing. I got so nervous because that
was the most number of people
I've seen at a swim meet. I didn't
swim very well."
Looking back, even Keller (who
left Southern Cal in 2002 to turn
professional) didn't think he would
make the Olympic team before the
2000 Trials. But after sealing a
spot on his first Olympic team, he
swam to two medals in Sydney.
Keller said one of the possible
pressures for current Michigan
swimmers vying to be first-time
Olympians could be competing
against world-record holders and
"I know when I was their age, I
was kind of intimidated by that,"
he said. "There were some people
in my events that have been his-
torically really fast, and I didn't
think that they could ever be beat
or that I could ever beat them.
"Before I went to my first Olym-
pics, I just had a major break-
through. ... The challenge is to
just not get upset if it seems like
you're way behind the upper com-
petition, because you never know
what will happen."
Next summer, Spann will have to
place in the top two in the breast-
stroke to make the Olympic team.
The freshman will compete against
collegiate and professional swim-
mers, including current world-
record holder Brendan Hansen, for
the chance to swim in Beijing.
Alex Vanderkaay said his best
chance to make the 2008 team
would come in the 200-yard but-
terfly. He is the defending Big Ten
champion in the event, winning it
last month with the fastest time
in the nation this year to date
(1:43.29). With more than a year
left to train, he's just two seconds
shy of the NCAA record and less
than four seconds off of Phelps's
American record of 1:39.70.
Though hesitant to make defi-
nite predictions about his colle-
placing seven or eight swimmers
from Club Wolverine on the team
would be "acceptable."
In Athens, Peter Vanderkaay,
then a Michigan junior, won gold
with Phelps and Keller in the 800-
meter freestyle relay. After swim-
ming with athletes from both
Michigan's collegiate and club
levels, he feels the 2008 U.S. team
could be largely maize and blue.
"We're going to have a lot of
guys on the college team that are
going to have a good shot at mak-
ing the Olympic team," Peter said.
"It's goingto be exciting, because I
think we have a chance to put a lot
of people on the team, and I know
(former Michigan and assistant
Olympic coach Jon) Urbanchek
did that back in '96 (when eight
then-Wolverine swimmers were
on the team in Atlanta). We could
possibly do that again, maybe
And all of the Wolverine swim-
mers have the countdown clock
above their heads in practice.
"When I first turned that on,
we had actually waited almost a
year after the last Olympics and
it was (at) 1,300 days," said Bow-
man, pointing at the countdown
clock. "Now, it's 500 (sic). It seems
like (snaps fingers). It's 800 days.
It went like that."
He paused, shook his head and
509 more days.
For the Michigan and Club
Wolverine swimmers, it's not so
long, after all.
By COLT ROSENSWEIG
Daily Sports Writer
Most people have trouble han-
dling the rigors of just the Stephen
M. Ross School of Business. Being
on a varsity team at the same time
is almost unthinkable.
Senior gymnast Aaron Rakes
does both, and doesn't even seem
to break a sweat.
"I live very structured days,"
Rakes said. "I'm very committed,
and I'm not lazy, so it's pretty easy
to get up off my butt and go to the
B-school, get to my meetings, get
When he's not sailing through
his difficult courses, Rakes is one
of the catalysts for the top-ranked
Wolverines. There is no statistic
for most hit routines after a miss,
but if there were, Rakes might lead
At Penn State, Rakes's 9.35 rings
performance began Michigan's
comeback. At Stanford, he was one
of just two Michigan gymnasts
who hit their high-bar sets.
More than any team Rakes has
been part of, this one feels like a
family. He's having the most enjoy-
able season of his career, savoring
the feeling of doing his favorite
event, high bar, just right.
"Whenever I do a really good
routine, it feels ... really graceful,"
Rakes said. "I have a tendency to
swing slow, so a lot of my spins get
stuck upside down, which can look
really cool if I stay tight."
And he works constantly until
he satisfies his own exacting stan-
dards, utilizing his body's ability
to train a great deal without get-
But Rakes isn't all business all
In fact, he's one of the funniest
guys on the team. According to
From page 1B
needs somaneggood to happen
here. Now, if it does, he should eas-
ily be top seven or top eight."
Branch, who'feels comfortable
at any vdefensive line position,
doesn't see the criticism holding
up when he gets on the field.
He trained at Athletes' Perfor-
mance Institute (API) in Tempe,
Ariz., before the combine and was
easily the most popular Wolverine
among the media at the Indiana
volunteer assistant coach Derek
Croad, Rakes's teammate for three
years, the Lexington, Ky., native
has the ability to make anyone
laugh in any situation.
That includes the condiment
aisle of the grocery store.
"We were grocery shopping
(over Spring Break), just picking
up a few things," sophomore Scott
Bregman said. "We're coming
down the aisle where the ketchup
is, and Aaron's ahead of us. We're
all kind of talking, not really pay-
ing attention, and we look down
and he has in his little basket like
seventeen bottles of ketchup.... All
the time he's cracking himself up
and making us laugh."
Chuckling, Rakes said, "People
make fun of me because I'm pro-
tective of ketchup. If we go out
to a restaurant, no matter what
I'm eating, I'll probably ask for
After modeling himself after his
older teammates, Rakes is now the
role model himself. Though he's
not a captain, he has taken on more
responsibility in his senior year,
giving - and taking - advice.
"If you're having a bad day in
the gym, he'll give you a joke,"
Croad said. "He'll force you to
think about what you can do bet-
ter. He can actually light a fire
Though after graduation Rakes
will answer to the title of "financial
analyst" rather than "varsity gym-
nast," he has no plans to completely
abandon his lifelong passion.
"I could never drop anything
that I've dedicated more than 20
years of my life to," Rakes said.
"I would like to spend time either
part-time coaching or volunteer-
ing, or maybe someday if I have
enough money, I'd like to open a
Following a season where the
defensive tackle anchored a domi-
nating Michigan defense, Branch
felt it was time to test the waters
of the NFL.
But not before he sat down with
one of his friends on the team
- junior running back Mike Hart.
The two discussed their goals and
the prospect of leaving Michigan
without having beaten Ohio State.
Afterward, Branch felt it was
best for him to leave.
"I just felt ready," Branch said.
"You have to be a fool not to take
advantage of an opportunity put
right in your lap."
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