Elite club preparing for Beijing

Club Wolverine trains many top swimmers, including four Olympians
Tuesday, February 20, 2007 | 12:00 a.m. CST; updated 12:08 p.m. CDT, Monday, July 21, 2008

Ann Arbor, Mich., is home to Club Wolverine, one of the most prominent swim clubs in the world. Five members of this elite squad competed in the Missouri Grand Prix at the Mizzou Aquatic Center this weekend. Four Olympians, plus Davis Tarwater, a member of the U.S National team who hasn’t competed in the Olympics, swam in Columbia.

The most notable member is Michael Phelps, who finished first in the 100-meter butterfly Monday night.


Kart Kokk dives off the starting block before a heat of the women’s 100-meter breaststroke at the Missouri Grand Prix on Monday. (WM. SRITE/Missourian)

“It’s one of the best training groups in the world,” said Phelps, an eight-time Olympic medalist.

Although Phelps usually gets all the attention, there are a slew of world class swimmers who train in Ann Arbor.

“It’s really a who’s who of the swimming world,” said Jon Urbanchek, special assistant to the USA Swimming National Team and assistant coach of Club Wolverine.

Kalyn Keller, who competed in the 2004 Summer Olympics in Athens, Greece, recently joined Club Wolverine. She said the transition was easy because of the camaraderie of the team.

“Everything’s great about it,” Keller said. “Competing against Olympians raises the bar every day and everyone is held accountable to work hard.”


Natalie Coughlin swims the final few meters of a heat Monday in the 100-meter backstroke at the Missouri Grand Prix at the Mizzou Aquatics Center. Coughlin won the final of the event in 1:00.13.2. (WM. SRITE/Missourian)

Peter Vanderkaay, won a gold medal in the 2004 Olympics in the 800-meter freestyle.

“We are all good friends, it’s competitive, but everyone is cheering for each other,” Vanderkaay said.

Urbanchek said that part of the team’s success has to do with its cohesiveness.

“This is a very, very close knit group. We are a family,” said Urbanchek who is described by team members as perpetually happy and inadvertently hilarious.

“Jon is a 70-year-old man who says whatever he wants whenever he wants,” Phelps said, smiling.

Urbanchek, a self-proclaimed free-spirit, admitted he likes to joke around with the team.

“Somebody’s gotta cheer them up and keep the sanity going,” Urbanchek said.

Urbanchek and his swimmers described a big calendar hanging on the wall in Club Wolverine’s training facility in Ann Arbor that counts down the days to the 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing. With Club Wolverine swimmers winning seven events at the Missouri Grand Prix, more than any other team, expect to see the group well represented on the United States’ delegation to China.

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