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Olympic swimmer remembers her chance of a lifetime

4:43 PM, Aug 3, 2012   |    comments
Aug 1, 2012; London, United Kingdom; USA swimmer Ryan Lochte competes in the 200m men's backstroke semifinals during the London 2012 Olympic Games at Aquatics Centre. Mandatory Credit: Rob Schumacher-USA TODAY Sports
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JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- The water at the Olympic pool in London was liquid gold for the United States on Thursday. The Americans claimed three gold medals in swimming events.

Michael Phelps continued to add to his record personal Olympic medal collection. Number 20 overall and his record 16th gold medal came in the 200-meter individual medley.

Phelps became the first male swimmer to win the same individual event in three straight Olympics. He outdueled teammate Ryan Lochte who settled for a silver medal about 30 minutes after he won the bronze in the 200-meter backstroke.

The gold in that event was won by Tyler Clary who posted an Olympic record time of 1 minute, 53.41 seconds. That improved on Lochte's mark of 1:53.94 set at the 2008 Beijing Games.

Julie Sears of Jacksonville knows exactly what the Olympic swimmers are going through. She's been there herself and says, "I think this has been a very interesting meet - for both of them. They both showed up."

Sears was a member of the 1980 honorary Olympic swim team, represented the United States in several international competitions and at one point was ranked 4th in the world in the 200 meter individual medley.

She says, "As I was at the Olympic trials this year I really thought long and hard and remembered how much time and emotion that it takes to do this kind of thing and it really is a unique person and I don't know that it's necessarily always a healthy thing to literally devote your life without boundaries to this pursuit."

Sears adds, "I set that goal when I was 10 that I wanted to go to the Olympics and that's all I did. I trained and I slept and I prayed all about swimming and then when it was taken away by Jimmy Carter and the boycott it really was a great lesson in perspective."

Conner Sears, Julie's daughter, says her mother, "held over 100 Georgia State Swimming records, was a high school and collegiate All American in each of her 8 years; she was an SEC and NCAA champion, was ranked in the top 20 in the world in several events and the top 10 in one."

Connie adds, "She represented the United States in several international competitions. One of those meets was the meet held after the so called Olympic Trials in 1980. The swimmers who qualified for what was called the Honorary Olympic Team were flown to Hawaii to compete in a meet specifically of other boycotting countries. She finalled in all 4 of her events and was the second fastest American in the 200 IM and the 400 IM." 

The 200 IM is the race Phelps and Lochte swam on Thursday. 

Connie says the chance for her mother to win a gold medal was  taken away from her and all other U.S. athletes that year. "I think she could have if she had been allowed to go. Anyway, that does not take away from how good of a swimmer she was! My opinion, of course!"

Julie Sears is a mother now and works as an attorney. In her spare time she works as a swimming coach to help young swimmers realize their dreams.

Associated Press & Tammie Fields, First Coast News

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