Omaha Spotlight: Christina Bechtel

NOTE:  The fourth of a five-part series of individual features stories leading up to the 2016 US Olympic Trials.  Today, learn about postgrad US National Team member Christina Bechtel.

Previous features:
Cobe Garcia | Geena Freriks| Kyle Higgins
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It’s not surprising that US National Team member Christina Bechtel has been to the Olympic Trials before, making her debut in 2012. What is surprising is that she finished dead last out of 161 finishers in the 100 long course meters butterfly.

This time around, Bechtel has the ninth-fastest seed time in the recently released psych sheet for the 2016 Trials in the 100 LCM fly.  What’s more impressive is that she is an even stronger contender for an event in which she didn’t even make the cut in 2012 – the 200 LCM fly.

As far as it goes considering the impact of training and hitting the perfect taper for Trials, punching a ticket to Rio de Janeiro is fair game for contenders in those top dozen or so seeds.

Granted, Bechtel was plagued with appendicitis the night before the Wildcats departed for the 2012 Southeastern Conference Championships, so her training in the four months leading up to the 2012 Trials was hindered, but going from the last finisher to seeing Rio as a real possibility is an astounding jump to make in four years.

Bechtel was a key factor in bringing Kentucky national recognition, finishing as the runner-up in the 200 fly at the 2015 NCAA Championships for what was then the highest finish ever by a Kentucky swimmer. As head coach Lars Jorgensen explained, “Tina has really been instrumental in showing the younger girls that you can do it at Kentucky.”

The Franklin, Tenn., native has remained on campus to train with the team as a postgraduate athlete, promoting the message of “you can do it at Kentucky” even further. In her year of post-collegiate swimming, Bechtel has noted a dichotomy between her time as a student at UK and her current postgrad career.

“There’s a give and take,” Bechtel stated. “I mean, I have the opportunity to just train long course all season and focus on myself and my times, which has definitely been great. But at times, at the beginning, it was hard – the transition of when the rest of the team had started going to dual meets and realizing you can’t score points for the team.”

She has gained increasing momentum leading up to the Trials, marked by a pair of outstanding swims in her last competitive outing at the Arena Pro Swim Series at Indianapolis at the beginning of the month. Bechtel finished runner-up in both the 100 and 200 LCM fly, just behind the NCAA champion in both events in 2015 and 2016, Kelsi Worrell. In the 200 fly, she swam a 2:09.82, just over half a second off her best time of 2:09.20.  The 100 fly was a more satisfying finish, as she notched a new personal record of 58.73 seconds.

“I would say I was a little bit surprised by going a PR, but I think it was definitely necessary before going into Trials,” she commented on the finish. “I’ve been doing a lot of the same training that we’ve been doing these past four years now with Lars, but I’ve been working on getting stronger in the weight room and trying to get faster and more fit while training. So I was really happy with those swims and happy that that’s what I have leading up before I swim in Omaha.”

Even while riding the wake of an unexpected personal best in Indianapolis, Bechtel remains grounded in the days leading up to Trials. “This sounds weird, but I don’t really think of myself or try to think of myself as a contender for Rio,” she confided. “I just kind of try to swim the best that I can swim. And so far, what I’ve been doing has led me up to this point where I am a ‘contender.’”

What Bechtel has been doing up until this point hasn’t been marked by a multitude of change in her training, especially since Jorgensen took over at the helm of the program before her sophomore campaign. Her first big change was stretching into a middle-distance swimmer and becoming one of the nation’s best in the 200 fly instead of just being a “fly or die” sprinter for the Wildcats.  Bechtel was not only the national runner-up, but ended Kentucky’s eight-year drought of not having a Southeastern Conference champion.

She has also seen a marked difference in now identifying as long course performer, which she attributes to Jorgensen’s training plan of swimming long course nearly every morning during the season.  That plan likely plays a key factor as to why Kentucky now has 25 representatives going to the Trials compared to the eight that went in 2012.

Overall, Bechtel’s take on being a nationally-recognized name in the world of swimming is an immensely refreshing one with her insightful summation: “People can put labels on you, but at the end of the day. I’m just Christina. I’m just a swimmer. I’m just trying to do the best that I can every day.”

Maintaining that calm yet focused demeanor has paid off for Bechtel in the past, helping her rise up the ranks of the nation’s elite butterflyers. Regardless of what happens at Trials for the young contender, she’ll still be Christina.

For the latest on the Kentucky swimming and diving program, follow @UKSwimDive on Twitter, on Facebook at Facebook.com/UKSwimDive, and on the web at ukathletics.com.