COLUMBIA — Chloe Sutton stands on the top tier of a podium, waving to the crowd appreciatively as she receives her first-place medal in the women’s 200-meter freestyle Friday night. A huge smile spreads across her face.
Sutton, 18, has that positive air about her even at the end of a long day that began before 9 a.m. at the Missouri Grand Prix. In addition to the 200-meter freestyle, the U.S. National Team star and Olympian placed third in the 400-meter individual medley.
Lisa Nathanson became the first MU swimmer to earn a medal at the Missouri Grand Prix, placing third in the women’s 50-meter freestyle Saturday night, the second day of the competition.
Nathanson had the third fastest time in both the morning preliminaries and afternoon finals at 26.06 seconds in the morning and 26.28 seconds in the finals.
U.S. National Team member and 2008 Olympian Eric Shanteau won two events Saturday. Shanteau took the men’s 200 IM, then returned to win the 200 breaststroke.
“To do the times I did tonight bodes really well for the rest of the summer,” Shanteau said. “I’m really happy with how things have gone.”
In addition to Shanteau, a number of other U.S. national team members took gold on Saturday at the Mizzou Aquatics Center, including Erika Erndl (Naples, Fla./Swim Florida) in the women’s 200 IM (2:17.64), Amanda Weir (Lawrenceville, Ga./Swim Atlanta) in the women’s 50 freestyle (25.64), Nick Thoman (Cincinnati, Ohio/SwimMac Carolina) in the men’s 100 backstroke (54.40) and Chloe Sutton (Mission Viejo, Calif./Mission Viejo Nadadores) in the women’s 400 freestyle.
Sutton’s win was her second of the meet after taking the 200 freestyle Friday. She’s won three medals overall this weekend, including a bronze in the 400 IM Friday.
Also winning their second events of the meet Saturday were Canadian Olympians Annamay Pierse and Brent Hayden, and Tunisian Olympian Ous Mellouli.
Other U.S. national team medalists Saturday included Ryan Lochte with a silver in the men’s 100 backstroke and David Russell with a bronze in the men’s 100 backstroke .
Therese Svendsen of Southern Methodist University won gold in the women’s 100 backstroke.
The Missouri Grand Prix continues Sunday with prelims and finals of the men’s and women’s 200 backstroke, 100 freestyle and 200 butterfly. Timed finals of the women’s 800 freestyle, the men’s 1500 freestyle and the men’s and women’s 400 freestyle relay are also scheduled.
When Sutton greets a group of reporters, her hair is pulled back into a bun. She just finished cool-down laps in the diving pool at Mizzou Aquatic Center. She is wearing her royal blue Mission Viejo Nadadores Swimming jacket and sandals.
Sutton came to Columbia — the third stop of eight in the U.S. Grand Prix series — with high expectations for herself.
“The Grand Prix series is so much fun to compete in,” she said. “There’s always really good competition and a lot of energy. I’m just trying to do my best in each event.”
Although she was born and raised in southern California, Sutton first became interested in swimming in Colorado Springs at the age of 7. Her father, David Sutton, is in the military and her family moved frequently through her childhood. It was actually a friend who turned Sutton on to the sport.
“I had a friend who really wanted to join the swim team, but she was afraid to do it by herself. I joined with her and I really liked it,” she said. “When I started swimming I had an automatic feeling for the water.”
She describes herself as driven not just in the pool, but in anything she does.
“I’ve always been a competitor. I played soccer and basketball and was always the kid charging ahead,” she said.
That aggressive attitude shows when Sutton prepares for her events. In a black suit, goggles and yellow swim cap, her bright personality temporarily vanishes, replaced with a more serious demeanor.
As the buzzer sounds for the 200-meter freestyle, Sutton leaps off the platform and develops her stroke in the water. When she ultimately edges out fellow National Team member Erika Erndl with a time of 2:01:26 for first place, Sutton adds to her credibility as the leader of the U.S. Grand Prix series.
“Just looking at the people who I’m ahead of in the series, it’s exciting to see myself next to them and swimming in the same pool as them,” she said.
That humility speaks volumes of Sutton’s character. She credits her father as being her biggest role model.
“My dad and I have similar personalities – he’s very focused, very humble. He’s a very strong man. He’s always been a role model for me,” she said.
Sutton said though her parents and younger brother couldn’t be here with her this weekend, she is very close to her family. Her 15-year-old brother, Colin, is a standout high school football player, and her parents are trying to accommodate him back home.
“They have their hands full with him,” she said. “But I’m home pretty often, I get to see them a lot.”
When she’s not in the pool or training — her schedule includes swimming 10-15,000 yards per day, four hours a day, six days a week — Sutton pursues other passions, including writing.
“I love writing. I want to be a journalist. When I’m older I want to write a book and be some kind of writer,” she said.
For the time being, that’s out of the question. Sutton competed in the 2008 Summer Olympics in Beijing in the open water swim, an event she has become known for. Her love for the ocean inspired her to try it in California against her mother’s wishes.
“Being from southern California, there’s kind of that vibe of hanging out on the beach and relaxing,” she said. “I like it because I’m a distance swimmer and I can be swimming in a race and enjoy the view.”
Sutton’s competitive nature comes into play when she discusses swimming as more than just a sport. She sees it as entertainment, and she’s not the only one. With the absence of Michael Phelps at the Grand Prix, athletes have been asked how this affects the event.
Sutton has a mixed opinion. On the one hand, the meet lacks the energy that Phelps brings to any competition. She credits him with “doing a lot for our sport and getting people to watch it.” Conversely, the absence of the other two North Baltimore Aquatic Club swimmers — Elizabeth Pelton and Felicia Lee — alters Sutton’s competition.
“It’s a shame they can’t be here, they’re my friends,” she said. “I’m not as excited about my swims as I would’ve been if I swam against them.”
If she wins this Grand Prix series, Sutton’s name will be thrown deeper into the mix of the world’s best swimmers. She understands that the sport draws intrigue based on renowned athletes, which helped fuel her decision to turn professional.
“I’ve always known I wanted to go pro, but a lot of people warned me when I was making the decision that it’s going to be a lot different,” she said. “I don’t think it’s different at all. In the end, all that matters is that I’m swimming fast. That hasn’t changed.”