The 2012 Olympic Games in London are right around the corner. That means thousands of athletes — most that you’ve never even heard of — will invade your television screen over the next few weeks. One of those never-before-seen athletes is Ariana Kukors. While people in the world of swimming know exactly who she is, the rest of the world is about to meet her.
Ariana is one of the best swimmers on the planet – if not the best swimmer in the 200-meter individual medley (swimmers use all four strokes — butterfly, backstroke, breaststroke and freestyle – in one race). Kukors currently holds the world record in the event (at 2:06.15), and she has even won seven medals in major international competition, but none of those medals have come in the Olympics. That’s because Ariana has never competed in the summer games — even though she came extremely close in the past.
Kukors made it all the way to the finals of the 2008 U.S. Olympic Team Trials. The top two finishers in each final make the Olympic roster. Kukors finished third, missing the Olympics by just eight hundredths of a second. Eight hundredths of a second equates to 80 milliseconds. To help you understand just how quick that is – the average time it takes for a human to blink is 400 milliseconds. Yes, that’s how close she was. Ariana says she was devastated, but she added that with every devastation comes a lesson. Kukors says the third place finish added fuel to her fire, making the London Olympics the only thing on her mind since.
That means Kukors worked her tail off over the last four years (that’s a long time to wait for another shot at glory), and just last week she once again made it to the finals of the 200 IM at the U.S. Olympic Trials. And once again, Ariana was locked in a tight race. With Caitlin Leverenz well ahead of the pack in first, it was a fight for second — and that last spot on the Olympic team. Kukors went stroke for stroke with Elizabeth Pelton, eventually touching the wall just two tenths of a second before Pelton did, earning Ariana a spot in the 2012 Summer Olympics (click here to watch the race) – and just in time.
The career of an Olympic athlete is different from any other mainstream sport. While guys like Albert Pujols, Aaron Rodgers and LeBron James play in the national spotlight every single season, Olympians only get to shine every four years. That means their window of opportunity is limited. Kukors missed the Olympics at 19, but made it when she was 23. If her hand wouldn’t have touched the wall second, Kukors wouldn’t have another chance to qualify for the summer games until she was 27. That’s not old in life standards, but it is old for swimming. Only one member of the 25 woman U.S. Olympic Swim Team is older than 27 — that’s Natalie Coughlin. The average age of a swimmer on the team is 21.6 years old. If Ariana was going to compete in the Olympics; it needed to happen now.
If you want to root for someone in the Olympics, make it Ariana Kukors. I met her yesterday while covering her send-off for my television station in Seattle. Kukors is humble and she has a sparkling personality — built to be in the swimming pool or in front of the camera. You won’t have to wait long to see her. Ariana is currently on her way to Tennessee, where she’ll train for a week, and then she heads to France for another week of training after that. And then, after years of training for this moment, Kukors is off to London, where she’ll represent the United States of America in the 2012 Olympic Games. Ariana swims in the 200 IM preliminaries on July 30th. The semifinals are that same day, while the final is scheduled for July 31st.
If you want to follow Ariana on her quest to Olympic gold, you can connect with her on Twitter (don’t forget the #TeamKukors hashtag) and Facebook. I’ll be keeping close tabs on Kukors as well, so be sure to follow me on Twitter, Facebook, Google+ and http://allaroundtim.com for all the latest!