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Raleigh swimmer Erika Braun will strike a blow for what she calls “the older generation” Sunday morning at the U.S. Olympic Swim Trials when she competes against a bunch of swimmers about half her age.
Braun, 40, is one of a handful of swimmers who managed to qualify to the Olympic Trials at age 40 or over. And while she has no illusions about making the Olympic team itself – “About 120 swimmers with better times than me would have to have a bad day,” she joked – she does plan to enjoy the experience thoroughly.
Braun swam the fastest time of her life in her best event – the 50 freestyle – to earn her spot at the 2012 Trials. She also swam that event once before in the Olympic Trials.
That was in 1988.
She was 16 at the time, a standout high school swimmer from Minnesota.
While USA Swimming doesn’t keep such records, it’s quite possible that the 24 years between Braun’s two career Olympic Trials would qualify as some sort of record. The average age for U.S. Olympic swimmers is usually around 24.
“My biggest goal this year was achieving the Olympic Trial qualifying standard,” said Braun, who works in Raleigh in human resources for Golden Corral. “I’m thrilled to be able to participate, see the atmosphere and represent the older generation.”
Braun is seeded 124th out of the 164 swimmers entered in her event, so it’s likely she will swim only once. Only the top 16 advance out of the preliminaries.
But she plans to use the event as a family vacation of sorts. Her husband Eric, her parents and her brother and his family all plan to attend. So will her coach, Paul Silver, from the Marlins of Raleigh swim team.
Braun swam 50 meters in 26.32 seconds last month in a meet in Chapel Hill to make the Olympic Trial “cut” – she needed a time of 26.39 seconds or better to qualify.
A former scholarship swimmer at the University of Georgia, Braun gave up the sport at age 20 while in college to concentrate on academics. She basically stayed out of competitive swimming for 12 years after that before dipping a toe in the water again in older age-group “Masters” swimming and rediscovering a love for the sport.
“A couple of years ago I started to surpass my personal bests,” Braun said. “It was nice to see that even at this age, hard work pays off.”
Braun isn’t the oldest swimmer at the Olympic Trials. Dara Torres, 45, made the U.S. Olympic team at age 41 and is trying to do so again in the same event – she is seeded eighth. Older swimmers tend to do better in the sprint freestyle events, where endurance isn’t as much as a factor and speed trumps all.
“This is a part-time gig for me,” Braun said. “I work full-time, but swimming is just something I really enjoy. I love to compete. The whole thing is just thrilling.”