Eyeing her career’s end

Missouri’s Rebecca Wolfe prepares to swim in her last competitive event
Wednesday, July 7, 2004 | 12:00 a.m. CDT; updated 10:24 p.m. CDT, Sunday, July 20, 2008

After 15 years, Missouri’s Rebecca Wolfe hopes to have one last hurrah before she gracefully bows out of competitive swimming.

Wolfe, who holds the school and Big 12 Conference records in the women’s 200-yard butterfly, will swim at the U.S. Olympic Swimming Trials, which start today and run through July 14 in Long Beach, Calif. She qualified with a 2:14.63 in the 200-meter butterfly in August at the U.S. Nationals.

Time trials will be held today, and Wolfe will race in the first round on Saturday. The semifinals will follow later on Saturday, and the finals are set for Sunday.

Wolfe, the 28th seed, will compete against 60 swimmers. The top two finishers will make the roster for the Olympic Games on Aug. 13-29 in Athens, Greece.

Wolfe, 21, who set the Missouri record in the 200-yard butterfly when she won the 2003 Big 12 Championships with a 1:59.82, recently finished her senior season with the Tigers and will graduate in December.

She is not new to the Olympic Trials. She competed in 2000 but failed to make it out of the first round.

“I had just barely qualified by like, two-tenths of a second, and didn’t do very well at all,” Wolfe said.

The result might not have been what she had hoped for, but the experience could prove to be a useful tool. It might give her an advantage against other swimmers making their debuts at the trials.

“Hopefully, it will help me feel like I’ve been there before, so I won’t be as nerve-wracked,” Wolfe said. “You know, like ‘Oh my gosh, I don’t belong here,’ that type of thing. Hopefully, the experience will calm me for this year.”

Although the competition will be intense, Wolfe said she is not worried about any one swimmer. She said the caliber of swimming jumps to another level at the trials.

“Everyone who is at this meet are incredible athletes, so it’s not really anyone in particular. I think that everyone will be amazingly fast,” Wolfe said. “The chances of me making the team are slim to none. Only the top two in each event make the team. I mean, the odds are totally against me.”

Swimmers Wolfe will face include 2000 Olympic gold medal winner Misty Hyman and Georgia’s Mary Descenza, the 2003 and 2004 NCAA champion in the 200-yard butterfly. Descenza has the fastest qualifying time for the trials with a 2:08.38 in the 200-meter butterfly.

Wolfe said the butterfly is her favorite event. She said understands the mechanics in the event the best and “loves to train for it.” Her repertoire, though, also includes the 400-yard individual medley and the 500- and 1,000-yard freestyle.

It was chance that brought Wolfe, the Tigers’ MVP this season, to Missouri. Coach Brian Hoffer said he considers her an unexpected birthday present.

Wolfe was a freshman at Nebraska when swimming was cut at the school. She was looking to transfer when, through some friends, she heard about Missouri’s program and e-mailed Hoffer on his birthday.

Missouri jumped at the opportunity to add her to its program. Swimming for Nebraska, Wolfe had set the Big 12 record in the 200-yard butterfly at the 2001 Big 12 Championships at 1:57.90, her personal best.

The transition was hard, though.

“Her sophomore year was a little bit rough just because she had to adapt to a new training philosophy, adapt to a whole new team again,” Anne Sievers, a former MU assistant, said. “She basically had her freshman year all over again.”

Wolfe overcame the situation without complaint, impressing Hoffer.

“No one has maximized their talent more,” Hoffer said. “And she never looks for an easy way out.”

Sievers said: “She is one of those kids that will bounce back from any situation you put her in.”

Still, Wolfe said she is looking forward to life away from swimming. She learned to swim when she was 2, joined her first summer league team at 6 and has been poolside since.

Wolfe, who is working on a double-major in Communications and Psychology, said she enjoys shopping and running but hasn’t had much time for activities outside of swimming. She said the idea of some free time appeals to her.

“So, the Olympic Trials will be my last meet,” Wolfe said. “I think I will take time to enjoy being away from the pool. Honestly, it’s been rough. It’s not an easy sport, and I’ve had a lot of ups and downs.

“I’m really looking forward to having a life without swimming, but I know I’ll miss it.”

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