Pasadena Poly swimmer to compete in Olympic Trials backstroke races June 29-July 6 in Omaha, Neb.
Above: Pasadena Poly swimmer Andrew Saeta. (Staff Photo by Sarah Reingewirtz)
My thoughts: This kid reminded me of a human windmill last year at the CIF and Masters meets. He’s fast, talented and has an incredible wingspan. There is nothing but upside for Saeta, and he has a chance to do something special.
By Keith Lair, Staff Writer
Bring up the possibilities of attending this summer’s Beijing Olympics, and Andrew Saeta gives a hearty laugh.
Sure, the Pasadena Poly and Alhambra-based California Aquatics club swimmer has the opportunity to go to Beijing, but the 17-year-old junior said he knows what those chances are when he competes in the Olympic Trials backstroke races June 29-July 6 in Omaha, Neb.
“To make the Olympics, I have to finish in the top two,” he said. “The U.S. Olympic Trials will have a faster field than the Olympic finals. We have five of the seven fastest swimmers in the world in the race. I have to improve by four seconds, and that’s unheard of.”
Saeta reached the Trials qualifying standard in the 100-meter back at the April 4 Stanford Invitational with a time of 57.65 seconds; he had needed to go at least 57.99. It tied Saeta for 76th in the nation. Aaron Piersol is the fastest at 52.93 with Michael Phelps at 52.98.
Saeta nearly qualified for the 200 back in the same meet at Stanford. He was timed in 2 minutes, 5.05 seconds, 0.06 seconds off the qualifying standard.
No, competing in Beijing is not necessarily in Saeta’s summer agenda. But it also doesn’t mean going to Omaha is futile.
No, it’s far from that.
“It’s the biggest meet of the year, and I’ll be there,” he said. “That’s kind of cool. But the best thing is the experience. Four years down the road, I’ll know what to expect.”
Four years from now, the 6-foot-7 swimmer will be a college junior, likely having faced some of the top international competitors in a foreign country for the first time. He’ll only be a year younger than Phelps’ current age of 22, and Saeta could be making a prime bid to compete in the 2012 London Games.
So obviously,Making the Trials’ qualifying standard is a big step.
“It’s a real relief,” he said. “I knew time was running out.”
It’s not like he can do it anywhere. The times can only be met at specified events. He barely missed the mark last summer, and then two weeks before the Palo Alto event he missed the qualifying standard by 0.02 seconds.
“I lifted my head up too soon,” he said.
Another small mistake at Stanford also kept him from qualifying in the 200 back, something he hopes to do very quickly.
“If anything, qualifying for the Olympic Trials has lifted a lot of pressure off him,” Pasadena Poly coach Ryan Katsuyama said. “Once he made it the first weekend in April, he’s been floating on a cloud ever since.”
In some ways, Saeta said, it’s surprising he made the 100 back first.
“Well, I’m 6-7 and 170 pounds, I’m the wrong type to make the 100 first,” he said. “I have long arms. I thought I would get the 200 first.”
Saeta also has double-jointed elbows, a feature he said almost all successful backstrokers have. They can reach more water faster.
Because of the Trials, competing for CIF-Southern Section championships doesn’t quite have the same emphasis, even though Saeta is a 2007 winner. He won last year’s CIF-SS Division II title in the 100 back in 49.46, 0.06 seconds off the division record, and also won the CIF-SS Masters meet, where he matched all backstroke swimmers in all Southern Section divisions. He also was second in Division II in the 200 individual medley in 1:52.29. His backstroke time was last year’s fifth-fastest high school time in the nation.
“With Andrew being as great as he is, he’ll still be very competitive at the CIF meets,” Katsuyama said. “His eyes are set on individual CIF titles and we’ll see how much his competitive spirit carries him.”
He’s somewhat shown that already. He recently set two pool records and helped set two more in a meet against Saddleback Valley Christian. He won the 200 IM, 100 back and was on record-setting legs in the 200 medley and 400 freestyle relays. He will try to repeat as Prep League MVP this week. The preliminaries are Thursday at 3 p.m. at Poly and the league finals Saturday at 2 p.m. at Poly.
“He’s certainly getting stronger and faster,” Katsyama said. “Some of the times he’s achieved this season have surprised him, considering his training schedule.”He does not train with his high school team, but competing for Poly is important to Saeta.
“It’s looked as if it’s an individual sport,” he said. “People don’t realize that it’s a team sport.”
He rarely practices with his teammates because of his Trials schedule, but he said the small size of the Poly student body keeps him close to his teammates. And he does periodically swim with them.
“Another great thing to see is his desire to help out his teammates with the little things like freestyle flip turns and stroke technique,” Katsuyama said. “Unlike a lot of club swimmers, from years past,Andrew makes it a point to stop by the pool and share his infinite wisdom with the rest of his teammates. It’s like having another coach on our team, except he gets in the water.”