Chesterton Tribune

Kyle Whitaker made for the USA, brings home the silver from his first international meet

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By TR HARLAN

With all the things that CHS sophomore Kyle Whitaker has accomplished, it doesn’t seem like anything phases him.

Finally, something did.

“You weren’t just representing your team, or your school, but you’re representing the entire country,” Whitaker said. “You don’t want people to look at something stupid you did and think that’s how everybody from the United States is.”

Whitaker returned to his normal life at Chesterton High School on Thursday after representing the USA at the Victorian State Championships in Australia.

“Everybody was watching us to see how we did things,” Whitaker said. “They wanted to know what kind of example we were setting? How fast were we swimming? Were we on time for things? Were we getting in trouble? You have to be a lot more responsible for yourself.”

That part wasn’t a problem for Whitaker, who may be the most unassuming superstar you’ll ever meet.

“That’s just not Kyle and that’s not the way he was raised,” CHS coach Kevin Kinel said. “It helps that his parents swam, Steve and Lisa, and were both pretty good. And (his sister) Talor went through this too.

“I think he’s been around it so much, that he knows how to handle himself and be a class act.”

Whitaker, at 16-years-old, was the youngest member of the US contingency. More than 60 swimmers, men and women, carried the flag during the meet.

“I was the youngest person there and probably one of the shortest guys,” Whitaker said. “I’m one of the taller guys on our team, but the guys there were older and bigger. We swam against some of the Australian Olympian’s like Grant Hackett. He’s like 6-foot-7 and a giant.”

Whitaker and his teammates left for Australia on Dec. 28 where they went through a five-day training camp before heading to Melbourne for the five-day competition.

“At the training camp we learned a lot of things,” Whitaker said. “They taught us the starts they use to get off ahead of everybody else. Little drills for helping technique in the water and faster turns.”

That not only will aid Whitaker in the future, but might pay off dividends for the Trojans in the final push to this year’s State Finals.

“As coaches, we go to clinics and talk to other coaches and things like that just to pick up some things that might help you,” Kinel said. “When he goes to things like this, I copy everything. Hopefully he brought back some things that will help everybody.”

After training camp, Whitaker and his teammates got their first look at the swimming complex in Melbourne.

“The first time we walked in it looked like an airport,” Whitaker said. “There were restaurants everywhere, an indoor water park and it was just unbelievable.”

The not-so-tan Whitaker got a chance to work on that during his trip as the competition pool is outdoors.

“The pool itself was an outdoor competition pool,” Whitaker said. “It had a canvas over the top of it, but two ends were open. They had a 10-lane, 50-meter pool and a 10-lane, 25-yard pool. It was just massive.

“It’s 10 times bigger than the Natatorium in Indianapolis. I always thought that pool was huge, but this was incredible.”

Finally, Whitaker got to the reason for the trip – swimming.

“I only had one event a day,” Whitaker said. “It makes things easier when you only have to concentrate on one thing a day. Even though there were prelims, semifinals and finals.”

Whitaker competed in the 50 and 100 Butterfly, 100 Backstroke, 100 Breaststroke and several relays, but only as warm-up events for the final day’s 200 IM.

“This was my first International meet, and my first time out of the country, and going into the 200 IM when I saw the heat sheet, I couldn’t believe I was third,” Whitaker said. “I was hoping to be in the top 20. That’s when I thought I had a legitimate shot to be top three and get a medal.

“I looked forward to that all week.”

Once that final race day came, Whitaker was at his best.

“Going into the finals I was the top seed,” Whitaker said. “I wanted to be top three or four, so I could be inside and try to stay with everybody else.”

Whitaker ended up along side 26-year-old teammate Nicholas Brunelli.

“Nick was next to me in (Lane) 5,” Whitaker said. “I knew it would be a good race. He was talking about how much he wanted that race because he hadn’t swam well all week.”

It was every bit the race Whitaker thought it would be.

“He was ahead of me on the backstroke,” Whitaker said. “Off the turn, I could see him out of the corner of my eye on the breaststroke. The coaches told me I had been falling apart on the breaststroke, so I really concentrated on staying strong through that.

“I got a little ahead of him, but he’s a 50 freestyle sprinter and he pretty much annilated me coming home.”

The race meant a silver medal to bring home for Whitaker, but he brought back much more than that.

“It’s starting to sink in some now,” Whitaker said. “Our coaches there told us that by making this team you have to start realizing where you are headed. We’re the future of USA Swimming.

“After all of the Olympians now are gone, it’s our turn to be the next wave. We have to start getting ready for that now.”

Whitaker will be swimming at the US Olympic Trials later this year for a chance to make the 2008 team in Beijing, China, but the real goal is 2012 in London.

“Everybody says the Olympics is the highest point of athletic achievement you can get,” Whitaker said. “In 2008, it’ll be awful tough to do that with Michael Phelps still there. I’m looking more at 2012 in London. I’ve got more time to train and develop more.

“Hopefully, I’m ready then.”

“To get that International experience before the Olympic Trials is something special,” Kinel said. “It’s one thing when you’re in a club or on a high school team, but it’s another story when you are representing your country.

“He’ll bring a lot of that experience into the end of this season.”

And that’s Whitaker’s focus for now even if it means he has to turn into a “cheerleader.”

“It’s not hard to comprehend,” Whitaker said of the things he learned on his trip. “It definitely can help us here at the end of the year. I even learned some new team cheers that we can use here too.”

And that’s good news to everyone’s ears, especially Kinel.

“We need some new cheers,” Kinel said. “I’m really glad he had that experience, but I’m really, really glad he’s home, safe and healthy.”

 

Posted 1/11/2008