- The Washington Times - Wednesday, August 8, 2007

Sometimes, when the alarm clock buzzes at 4:45 a.m. or her rotator cuff starts throbbing halfway through an 8,500-meter workout, Kate Ziegler would love to become a regular 19-year-old student at George Mason, somebody who doesn’t have to schedule visits to Dulles Town Center around marathon swimming sessions, meetings with her agent and sponsorship commitments around the country.

It’s what Ziegler calls being “rundown tired.”

But often, time flies.

It seems like yesterday she was competing in her first U.S. Olympic trials — that was three years ago. It seems like an hour ago that she burst onto the international scene with two wins at the world championships — that was two years ago. And it seems like a minute ago she solidified her standing as the planet’s top distance swimmer with a repeat performance at worlds — that was four-plus months ago.

A year from today, the Summer Olympics kick off in Beijing, and the first nine days will be highlighted by a swimming competition so anticipated that NBC has convinced the International Olympic Committee to hold the finals during the morning so they can be televised in prime time in the United States.

Ziegler, along with Baltimore-area residents Michael Phelps and Katie Hoff, will be one of the focal points for a U.S. team that dominated last spring’s world championships in Australia.

The two-time defending 800-meter freestyle world champion and a candidate to swim the 400 and 200 freestyle and a relay race, Ziegler hopes her first Olympics offers a bushel of medals. (She is a two-time world champion and holds the world record in the 1,500-meter freestyle, which is not contested by female swimmers at the Olympics.)

But first comes another year of early morning and early evening practices, another year of school at George Mason and, finally, the U.S. Olympic trials next summer in Omaha, Neb. Not that the months actually will drag on.

“Three years ago at the trials, we were saying, ‘Wow, four years until the next Olympics — that seems so far away,’ ” Ziegler says. “But now, to be just a year away, time has gone so fast and so much has changed and so much has happened. I feel like this year is going to fly by.”

•••

So much has changed. So much has happened.

Sitting deck-side at Lake Newport Pool in Reston last month following an early morning workout with her club team, the Fish, Ziegler knows the drill. Another interview means another request to review her: a) life; b) world record in the 1,500; c) Olympic aspirations; d) out-of-the-pool interests.

A reporter half expects Ziegler to be focused on heading home to Great Falls, eating breakfast and taking a nap before enjoying a rare afternoon off.

Just the opposite happens. She’s on anything but auto pilot. The adjectives are descriptive. The background information well delivered. The enthusiasm downright contagious.

“She’s very genuine — she’s like that with everybody,” says her older sister, Anne. “She wants everybody around her to be happy.”

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