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Kucheran poised to cheer these Olympics - and hopefully swim at the next
2021-07-14
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Defining success at Olympic Trials is not nearly as simple as it sounds.

To suggest that those who qualify for the Games meet that threshold and all others are viewed as failures in achieving their goal is incredibly myopic.

Local swimming sensation Nina Kucheran understands that - even if perhaps it's not completely obvious to those on the periphery of the world in which the graduate of College Notre-Dame is immersed.

"I have amazing family and friends who support me, but if you're not a swimmer, you hear about someone going to Olympic Trials and think that she's going to the Olympics," suggested the 21 year-old junior with the Florida State Seminoles.

"Of course, that is everyone's goal. That was my goal. But I was ranked 5th or 6th going in and you need to finish top two to go to the Olympics. I was an underdog going in, I went in with no pressure - and I think that kind of helped me," said Kucheran.

"It's definitely a great feeling to go into a meet like that and know that if I have an incredible swim today, I could be an Olympian. But to me, there's two ways to look at it: you can focus on the fact that you fell short and didn't make the Olympic team, or I can focus on the fact that I'm 20 years old and most of the girls who make it in my event are 24 or 25."

Let's be crystal clear: Nina Kucheran is close.

In setting a new personal best time of 2:27.54 in the 200m breaststroke final, the youngest of two girls in the family sits fourth in the country, having posted a time that was the fastest she had clocked at that distance in roughly three full years.

While she was just off her PB in the 100m breaststroke, her finish in 1:08.59 (she was 7/100th of a second faster in prelims) slotted her sixth in the national final.

Given all that has happened in the past 16 months, Kucheran had plenty of reasons to be smiling as she made her way back to Sudbury this month.

In what is clearly a universal phenomenom, the advent of COVID-19 has done nothing if not to heighten the appreciation for moments that may have previously been taken for granted.

"It felt surreal to finally have this meet after working towards it for so long and having it pushed back so many times," said Kucheran, who swam under the colours of the Markham Aquatic Club, her Sudbury Laurentian Swim Club training facility sitting idle with water but no swimmers for the past 16 months.

"It was nice to finally have it happen. I was so excited going in and just wanted to soak in every moment of the experience."

The event, hosted at the Toronto Pam Am Centre, marked the second time that Kucheran has qualified for Olympic Trials, making her debut as a precocious 15 year old in 2016.

Yet one could argue that there was likely as much uncertainty in the air this time around for the two-time qualifier to the NCAA championships as there was when she first arrived on that scene five years ago.

"Normally, I would have raced a bunch of times and really would have known where I was, going in," she said. "This time, I was going in blind. I really hadn't raced, but I knew that I had put in a lot of good work, probably the most work I had ever done in my life - so I knew that I had the potential to be really good."

"I actually surpassed all of the expectations that I had going in," Kucheran continued. "To post these results at an event that wasn't a normal meet, with no spectators, spectators that as athletes, we feed off their energy, to do it under those circumstances - I was really, really happy with myself."

With training opportunities in Ontario still stifled, Kucheran will leave for FSU a little earlier than usual, taking three weeks off then making her way to the Sunshine State.

She returns for what will be her third year of competition that much wiser than when she left.

"I think what this round of Olympic Trials has taught me is to really stay internally focused," stated the young woman who will seek to achieve all-American status and reach a final at the NCAA championships, the next steps in her university progression.

"In a normal year, you can see what everyone else is doing, you can see their times and such," explained Kucheran. "I had no idea what anyone else in the country was doing, how they were training - but I think that helped me."

"I can't control what other people are doing, I can't control their training. What I can control is myself. All I can do is do the best that I can for me, and I think I succeeded in doing that."

The inner peace of that reality has Kucheran poised to cheer on her recent opponents like few others in the country, as those representing Swim Canada make their way to Tokyo.

"I'm so proud of Team Canada and so excited to see what they can do this summer," she exclaimed. "I want Team Canada to be at its best and if right now, I'm not the best, then I want someone else who is to be there."

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