Kendra Stern '11 Qualifies for 2012 Olympic Trials in Three Events
AMHERST, MA – Most student-athletes who competed at the 2011 NCAA Division III Swimming and Diving Championships in late March returned to their campuses and relaxed after a long season of intense training. Amherst’s Kendra Stern ’11 decided to qualify for the 2012 Olympic Trials instead.
Less than two weeks after being named the NCAA Division III National Swimmer of the Year, Stern headed to the University of Michigan to compete in the 2011 Eric Namesnik Grand Prix from Apr. 8-10. Stern is a Division III record holder in three events, but she was now sharing a pool with world record holders. As Amherst head coach Nick Nichols put it, anybody who’s anybody in the world of swimming was there (Michael Phelps included).
Qualifying for the Olympic Trials is an amazing accomplishment on its own, but Stern’s weekend in Ann Arbor was beyond impressive. In addition to competing against some of the best swimmers in the world, she had to make the adjustment to a long-course pool, something other competitors at the Grand Prix didn’t have to worry about. (Stern’s adjustment from Division III to the Grand Prix would be like playing pick-up basketball with your friends on a 7-foot hoop, then taking on the Miami Heat at American Airlines Arena.)
Kendra Stern '11 at the 2011 Eric Namesnik Grand Prix.
Stern responded brilliantly. Her weekend began with a time of 2:04.26 in the 200-meter freestyle preliminaries, a little more than a second behind the Olympic Trial cut time of 2:03.19. She returned to the pool later that day and swam a 2:02.01 in the finals, leaving her in 10th place and officially qualifying her for the 2012 Olympic Trials. (Stern isn’t used to placing 10th in anything, but six of the top eight finishers in Friday’s 200 are on the 2011 World Championship Team. Another was on the 2008 Bulgarian Olympic Team.)
On Saturday Stern wasted no time qualifying for the Olympic Trials in the 400-meter freestyle, as her 4:19.18 in the preliminary heat was 0.21 seconds faster than the cut time. The weekend concluded with the 100-meter freestyle, which had an Olympic Trial qualifying standard of 57.19 seconds. After just missing the cut in the preliminary heat (57.26), Stern made it 3-for-3 when she swam a 57.10 to win the C Finals. Competing in the A Finals of the 100 were the likes of Natalie Coughlin, former World Swimmer of the Year and 2008 Olympic Gold Medalist.
Amherst head coach Nick Nichols was with Stern throughout the weekend. “Her goal was to make her trial cuts, so in that respect it was a very successful weekend. To turn around 10 days after a long four-day meet at NCAAs and do it all again is amazing. A lot of people thought it was extraordinary what she did.”
Nichols says he enjoyed watching Kendra compete with some of the world’s top swimmers. “It was really fun to rub elbows. If nothing else, she proved that she can swim at the next level. When she gets comfortable in a long pool, she’s going to be awesome.”
The Olympic Trials will take place June 25-July 2, 2012, at the Qwest Center in Omaha, Nebraska. The next step will be for Stern to find a good place to train and begin her post-graduate life, getting her more experience in long-course pools and giving her the opportunity to train year-round for the first time in her life.
In the meantime, Stern will focus on finishing her thesis (which is due Friday) and wrapping up her final semester as an exceptional student. She has maintained an A-minus average while double majoring in art history and Spanish and will likely earn her second Academic All-America honor later this spring.
Stern will graduate this May as one of the greatest student-athletes in Amherst history. Come July 2012, the argument for whether she’s the greatest ever may be as lopsided as most of her races at Amherst were.