July 7, 2004
LONG BEACH, Calif. –
It’s a dream that every swimmer has from the moment they start swimming competitively and it’s the top honor that a country can bestow upon an athlete. Florida State University swimmers Thomas Bishop and Emily Breen will via for a moniker that will last them a lifetime as they compete at the United States Swimming Olympic Trials.
Breen (Savannah, Ga.) will be the first Seminole to hit the water as she competes in the 100-meter butterfly race on Wednesday (July 7). The senior All-American is seeded 65th in the event. Bishop (Houston, Texas) will have to wait until July 13 to get his shot at the pool in the for the 1,500-meter freestyle. The sophomore is seeded 13th in the event, the seventh-best seeding by an Atlantic Coast Conference swimmer.
There are 26 spots available for both the men’s and women’s teams. With the exception of the 100 and 200 freestyle, a swimmer must place first or second during the event final in order to make the team. The top four finishers in the 100 and 200 free are selected to complete the relay teams.
“Obviously it’s a great honor and we’re really proud of Thomas and Emily,” FSU deck boss Neil Harper said. “Other than the Olympic themselves and the World Championships, this is the most prestigious meet in the world. The US has really raised the standards and it says a lot about our swimmers that are able to make that standard. It’s a big showcase. You’re going to be swimming against people that will be vying for medals.”
In only his first season at the collegiate level, Bishop made an immediate impact on the Florida State distance program. Within a month of his first competition, he broke a ten-year-old school record as he took down the mark in the 1,000 freestyle (9:13.71). A graduate of Cy-Creek High School, he nearly reset the 1,650 free record at the conference championships with a time of 15:24.79 that was just 0.71 off the mark.
This season Breen elevated her status to the All-America level as she took part in four Seminole relays at the NCAA Championships that secured Honorable Mention honors with top 16 finishes. The H.V. Jenkins High School product also swam in three individual events, topping out with a 20th-place mark in the 100 fly. Breen was a member of four winning relays at the ACC Championships and reset her own 100 backstroke school record (55.48) during a second-place finish.
“It’s a big spectacle and the whole process is a thrill ride,” Harper added. “A lot of people try all their lifetime to make the meet and don’t so you feel honored just to be there, but if you can advance it’s just more icing on the cake. Even if you don’t make it to the Olympics you feel some achievement because you are part of the process of selecting your country’s Olympians.”
If either Bishop or Breen can make the team, they would join three other swimmers from last year’s Florida State squad that are traveling to Athens, Greece. Current Seminoles Chris Vythoulkas (Nassau, Bahamas) and Golda Marcus (Coral Springs, Fla.) will join graduating senior Wickus Nienaber (Manzini, Swaziland) at the Games.
Someone who knows exactly what Bishop and Breen are going through is Harper. This will be Harper’s fourth Olympic Games, having competed for Great Britain in 1984 and 1988, while serving as a coach for South Africa during the 2000 Games in Sydney, Australia. This year he will serve as Nienaber’s coach as part of the Swaziland contingency.
“It’s a tremendous rush and really euphoric. It stays with you for the rest of your life.” Harper said of qualifying for the Olympics. “Going in I thought I had a good chance to make the team if I swam well, but it’s not until the race unfolds and you finally make it that this whole other spectrum of feeling sis set in motion.
“Once you get selected you go to training camp and then to the Olympics and all these thoughts start going through your head. When you get there you’re trying to take everything in and stay focused on your races.”
The first Seminole hits the water in Athens on August 14 during the first day of swimming competition as Nienaber takes part in the 100-meter breaststroke. He may also swim in the 200-meter breast on August 17. Vythoulkas is schedule to swim the 100-meter backstroke on August 15. He may also take part in the 100-meter butterfly and 50-meter freestyle, both on August 19. Marcus, representing her native El Salvador, is competing in the 400 (August 15) and 800 meter (August 19) freestyle.