Joyce counts blessings Olympic alternate eager to negate poor trials
Source: THE ANN ARBOR NEWS By Jim Carty
There’s no harsher critic of Kara Lynn Joyce’s performance at the U.S. Olympic Swim trials than Joyce herself. The words she chooses to describe how she swam, and how it affected her, are blunt.
The former Pioneer High School star, who four years ago in Athens swam in four events for the American team and brought home silver medals in two relays, failed to make the team in the 200-, 100- and 50-meter freestyle events, or their associated relays.
After the meet, there were immediately whispers she could still be added to the team if someone dropped an event, but Joyce didn’t want to get her hopes up. She boarded a flight back to Georgia with former college teammate, who was equally stunned to not qualify for a second Olympics.
When they landed in Chicago to switch planes, Joyce found 10 voice mails and text messages on her phone.
Her coach, Jack Bauerle, gave her the good news: Dara Torres, the 41-year-old star of the trials, had opted not to swim the 100 free.
Joyce would be added to 1,600 relay team as an alternate.
She was going to Beijing.
“I just started crying on the plane,” Joyce said, laughing at herself. “He just gave me the best news of my life. I think people on the plane thought I was really weird or something tragic had happened, but I couldn’t pull it together.
“All my bags and luggage went to Atlanta, and I flew to Palo Alto in the morning. I was living in the same clothes for two days, but I didn’t care. I would live in those clothes all summer if I had to.”
Hardy’s news leaves her torn
Joyce’s reprieve ensured she’ll swim at the Olympics.
Whether she would compete in the spotlight, however, was entirely in doubt.
As an alternate, she’d swim the relay in preliminary sessions as the team works to qualify for the 1,600 final.
If she swan well enough in the morning sessions, she could swim in the final, but there were no guarantees.
Then Jessica Hardy, who was scheduled to represent the U.S. in the 100 breastroke, the 50 freestyle and the 400 freestyle relay, tested positive for a banned substance and was removed from the team.
Joyce was named to replace her as one of two Americans in the 50 freestyle. Hardy’s absence now means there are spots to be filled on both the 400 and 1,600 relays, either of which Bauerle and the other coaches could choose to fill with Joyce.
The news left the swimmer, who is close friends with Hardy, torn.
“We’re very good friends, and I’m really sad for her,” Joyce said. “I support her, but I also support (drug testing). I’m sad for this whole situation. It definitely doesn’t make our sport look good. She’s a good friend of mine and I’m behind her, but if it does leave a vacant spot, I’ll do everything I can to fill the 50 free. I’m still kind of in shock about the whole thing. It’s really unfortunate.”
Joyce was seventh in the 100 free at the trials in Omaha,
Neb., finishing in 55.02, just 0.03 second out of a guaranteed place on the team and 1.24 seconds behind Torres.
The 100 is not Joyce’s best event – she has dominated the 50 free until recently – and then there’s that question of what happened at the trials?
Only weeks earlier, she’d been pushing her best times, then she took a noticeable step backwad in all three of her events in Omaha.
Back to busting it
The swimmer and their coach have come up with their own explanation: Not enough work.
They changed their approach to the trials, tapering off their training regime early to ensure the swimmer would be fully rested for the trials. It made sense in many regards, particularly because Joyce had swam well the summer before on a little extra rest.
But it clearly didn’t work this time. Joyce didn’t feel sharp, and didn’t feel like herself in any of her races.
“I really had a horrible meet,” she said. “There’s no other way to put it. After the 200, I felt like I was back where I was four years ago, I’m in the bottom two, not on the relay. I worked four years to not let that happen again, and it was devastating. I kind of had this feeling in my head something wasn’t right. I just didn’t have that bounce off the walls, I-can’t-wait-to-go-kill-this-meet feeling.
“I’d been two or three tenths faster in a meet I didn’t taper for. We kind of thought maybe I needed to taper different, so they tried to rest me a lot. And I think I lost my race form and my competitive feel for the water in practice every day. That’s something that gives me confidence, just being able to bust it in practice.”
So they are back to busting it.
Bauerle changed Joyce’s training routine immediately upon her arrival in Palo Alto for Olympic training, and both expect to work hard right up until racing begins in Beijing.
“There were mistakes made,” Bauerle said. “Not so much on Kara Lynn, but on my end. She almost wasn’t herself. We did learn something from her, and she’s not going to get that much rest in the future. We’ve gotten back to doing the kind of work she did before. We had to change it up. We couldn’t keep doing what we were doing, because it didn’t work at all.”
Nothing but happy
Joyce, 22, burst on the Olympic scene in Athens with two silver medals in relays and finished fifth in the world in the 50 free and the 100 free as a teenager.
It wasn’t that it seemed easy – there was too much training and sacrifice involved to call it easy – but the fact it came so quickly, with so few bumps, made the experience hard to fully appreciate.
Four years later, nearly missing the team reinforced her commitment to swimming and gave her a much different perspective as she trains for Beijing.
“It’s so funny how I just expected to make it last time and was like: ‘Oh, yeah, I’m in four events!” she said, chuckling. “I thought this was going to be my big breakthrough year, and I’d bust out a couple of Olympic medals, but now, if I bring one home, I can be extremely happy and I’ll bust my butt for the next four years to show what I’m really capable of doing.
“I’m not bitter by any means – I’m here. I don’t care if I’m an alternate. I’m on an Olympic team, and I’m going to China. How can I not be happy?”