Olympian visits - Bronze medalist works with Gators Swim Team

Monday, October 4, 2004

Special to the Southeast Missourian

Chris Thompson was in town Sunday with a simple pitch but a hard sell: Go the distance.

The Olympic bronze medalist, who specializes in the mile, conducted a clinic for young swimmers Sunday at Central Municipal Pool. He emphasized the benefits of distance training.

"It really takes a lot of hard work and discipline to be a distance swimmer," Thompson said. "You have to have pride and be willing to be the first one in the pool and the last one out."

Thompson was willing to do that, beginning during the three-year stretch when he worked with current Gators Swim Team coach Steve Franklin and was introduced to distance swimming. Thompson then was an 11-year-old boy in Roseburg, Ore.

"His workouts were just incredibly upgraded in intensity," Thompson said. "He identified me as a distance swimmer from the first time he saw me swim."

Joked Franklin: "I saw he didn't have a lick of speed.

"But seriously, not every swimmer can be a sprinter, but every sprinter can swim distance," Franklin added.

Thompson, who remembered his first mile swim taking 20 minutes and 40 seconds, went on to set the national record for the mile on the short course, which he still holds. He set the national long-course record in 1999 with a time of 14:56, breaking a standard that had stood for 15 years. Thompson held the long-course mark for four years before it was broken this year by Olympian Larson Jenson.

Thompson won his Olympic bronze medal in the 2000 Summer Games in Sydney, Australia.

"It's great to have Chris in town working with the kids," Franklin said. "Chris does a very good job with kids, and he's a great spokesman for USA Swimming."

Thompson, who began competitive swimming around age 10, still competes some for Team USA in open water events.

Thompson told the young swimmers, "Set goals for yourself. Anyone can be a distance swimmer. It just takes willingness to work hard and discipline."

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