Monday, July 25, 2011

Michael Phelps

Health issues, including a herniated disk and shoulder tendinitis, have hindered Dana Vollmer throughout her swimming career.
Her latest health challenge, though, actually might have helped the 23-year-old break through for her first individual major championship Monday.
Vollmer, a U.S. relay stalwart over the last several years, won the 100-meter butterfly at the Oriental Sports Center to give the USA its first gold of the meet.
"This was absolutely unreal and amazing — to finally win in my favorite event," said Vollmer, who dropped the 200-meter freestyle from her worlds schedule because she had to limit her training while adjusting to food allergies in recent months. "It's so empowering and so exciting."
Vollmer's U.S. teammate, Ariana Kukors, said she felt vindicated by her third-place finish in the 200-meter individual medley Monday — even though she won the 200 IM at the last worlds.
"I really felt like I needed to prove myself after 2009 — not just being a suit swimmer," said Kukors, referring to the now-banned polyurethane suits that led to many surprise performances and 43 world records being set at the 2009 worlds.
On the men's side Monday, U.S. teammates Michael Phelps and Ryan Lochte both qualified for Tuesday's 200-meter freestyle final, where a deep field, including 2009 world champion Paul Biedermann of Germany, awaits.
"It's a studly field," said Phelps, who qualified with the fifth-fastest semifinal time (Lochte was third). "You can pretty much guarantee that it's going to be a tight group."
In the women's 100 fly Monday, Vollmer overtook Australia's Alicia Coutts in the last 50 meters to win by seven-hundredths of a second.
On Sunday night, Vollmer anchored the U.S. women's second-place finish in the 4x100-meter freestyle relay. She also will compete in the individual 100 free and 50 fly later this week.
Vollmer, a Texas native who trains with UC Berkeley coach Teri McKeever, arrived in China with a supply of egg- and gluten-free cereal and oatmeal and undefined expectations.
She underwent testing last spring for persistent stomach pains — which especially flared up when she would load up on carbohydrates before races — and discovered she is allergic to eggs and also has sensitivities to gluten and dairy.
"I've had stomach aches my whole life, but I always thought it was nerves or stress," Vollmer said. "I always had a bigger injury, in my mind, with the shoulder and the back. I was just like, 'I get tummy aches, that's nothing to complain about.'"
The problems were affecting Vollmer's endurance in practice, so she and McKeever decided to drop the 200 free. Until Monday's victory, Vollmer had her best individual success in the 200 free, including a bronze medal at the 2009 worlds.
Nevertheless, Vollmer, who also is planning her Aug. 20 wedding to former Stanford swimmer Andy Grant, welcomed a more narrow focus.
At major meets, she said, she was "swimming a ton of events and being on all the relays but never really being the top shot. I did wonder if it was that I was focusing on so many events that I would never be the top in an event."
Concentrating on the 100 fly meant that she did more power and sprint workouts. She also spent two weeks in February in Tasmania with strength and technique coach Milt Nelms, swimming's so-called "Water Whisperer."
Their workouts consisted primarily of ocean training — "doing butterfly while catching a save, doing butterfly against waves," Vollmer said.
"It feels so much easier when you get in a flat pool," she said.
Nelms has worked with Vollmer and McKeever's other swimmers for several years. When Vollmer failed to qualify for the 2008 Olympics, time spent ocean training with Nelms in Fiji convinced her to continue.
"It showed me I do love swimming," she said.
Vollmer also took time after her 2008 disappointment to rehab her back and shoulder, which both had been bothering her for years. Those are no longer problems, she said.
And based on Monday's result, she has perhaps conquered her food allergies as well.
"That's part of being seasoned at this," McKeever says. "It's been a decade now that she's been at the national level and she's had ups and downs. Getting through the disappointment of not making Beijing (for the 2008 Olympics) and know that you can get through that lets you know that you can get through things."

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