All together now: a swimmer's Olympic dream comes true
It began as a young girl's wish that she wrote on at 3 x 5 index card on July 11, 1988. All it said was Olympic gold medalist 1996, with her name signed below it.
Emily LeSueuer, 23, an employee at J. C. Penney in Cupertino's Vallco Fashion Park, is just two short months away from making her dream come true.
LeSueuer is one of 10 young women who made the Olympic team of synchronized swimmers after competing in the 1996 Olympic trials in October. She will compete at the summer games with her teammates in July in Atlanta.
For six years, LeSueuer has been on the national team, and for three years she has competed as the defending world champion. Last summer, at the pre-Olympic meet in Atlanta, the US team received a perfect score in the free program.
" This has never been done before," says Chris Carter, the teams lead coach.
For six summers, LeSueuer has traveled to the Bay Area from Arizona to train. This trip, she has lived in Santa Clara for several months she trains eight hours a day, six days a week, beginning at seven in the morning and ending at three in the afternoon. For training, she commutes to Chabot College in Hayward, their sports injury clinic in Castro Valley, Heather Farms in Walnut Creek and the International Swim Center in Santa Clara. This month, the team is training at the Olympic pool in Atlanta.
" Emily has had to work extra hard. She hasn't had the advantage of training regularly with powerhouse clubs like the Walnut Creek Synchronized Swim Team in the Santa Clara Synchronized Swim Club, which produce national champions," Carver says." But she has a lot of drive, a strong work ethic and is very creative offering suggestions for the choreography of the technical and free routines."
Her coach, Gail Emery, adds," Emily is right with the program. She catches on fast and focuses on the task at hand, adjusting quickly to the changes in the routines."
Some of the required forms the team works on include the eggbeater, flutter kick, butterfly, breast-stroke kick, three different arm movements and six pattern changes, such as a circle
Under the guidance of Dr. Donald Chu, the team's strength and conditioning consultant at Athers Sports Injury Clinic in Castro Valley, the team performs exercises using sport specific muscle groups.
They engage in dry land training for one to one-and-a-half hours, three days a week. The athletes follow "periodized" training programs, each period or cycle lasting 4 to 6 weeks and having specific goals they must achieve.
" This allows an athlete such as Emily LeSueuer to control her level of physical readiness so that she can reach a peak right at the time the Olympic games are taking place," Chu says.
This type of program gives the athletes the ability to swim with explosive, rapid movements, demonstrated by how they perform maneuvers such as the" split rock." And by how they are able to drive themselves out of the water, Chu says.
Early on, during October, November and December, the athletes devoted their time to" core" strength.
" This means that we spent a lot of time working on the trunk area," Chu says." The first day we did our trunk routine, Emily pulled her stomach muscle. Six months later she forms all the exercises with perfect execution," Chu says.
In the early part of the year, the athletes focused on lower extremities and the shoulders. Next, power training was emphasized.
" The variety of devices that we use for strength and power training would blow the average person's mind," Chu says.
The training program consists of plyometrics (jump training), and working out with free weights, medicine balls, thera bands" and lunge poles.
The team also works on visualization relaxation with performance expert Duke Zielinski.
At the Olympics, LeSueuer, along with the other team members, will perform two routines-the free for 5 minutes and the technical with required elements for 3 minutes. They will be judged on execution, timing and manner of presentation.
After the Summer Olympics, LeSueuer plans to return to Arizona with her husband, who will attend medical school in Tucson. She plans to graduate from college with a degree in elementary education in December after completing the semester and student teaching.
In her free time –" if I had the time, LeSueuer says – she prefers to read and play tennis and volleyball.
Funding for the Olympic team comes mostly from the Olympic Committee, with many corporations sponsoring the Olympics. For instance, the Jantzen sports line provides the synchronized swimmers of Olympic team with their USA outfits for meets and competitions.
The Olympic job opportunities program, (OJOP) administered and authorized by the Olympic committee, assist amateur athletes in gaining career related employment while they train. J.C. Penney sponsors the Olympics and hires the employees who are Olympic hopefuls with ranking that qualifies them as contenders for Olympic status.
We offer work to US Olympic team hopefuls and schedule their hours around their training," says George steel, the store manager he felt close J.C. Penney.
LeSueuer, for example, is guaranteed full-time pay and benefits working as a "float" two evenings a week at the Cupertino store.
J.C. Penney also gives donations to the Olympics when the stores sell USA Olympic apparel and in their Simply for Sports department. Steele says.
" J.C. Penney is a number two employer for hiring Olympic athletes nationally, says Tom Roftson, J.C. Penney's district personnel manager.
Since 1977, the J.C. Penney has supported 87 qualified athletes, 42 of them in the last four years. Within the district's 14 Bay Area stores, J.C. Penney employ four athletes – in the decathlon, track and field and synchronized swimming – Hayward, one from San Bruno and one from the Cupertino store. As an January 2, 1996, there were 560 Olympic athletes employed in all firms nationwide.
In 1996, Emily LeSueur, along with her team, won the Olympic gold metal in synchronized swimming.