Coughlin, Ervin, Adrian among Cal swimmers to advance to London

Andrew Kuo/Staff
Caitlin Leverenz won a bronze medal in the 200 IM, becoming the fifth Cal athlete to medal in London.

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With a host of swimmers from Cal’s past, present and future, the Cal swim teams had one of the largest contingents of any school competing at the USA Olympic Trials this week. In a meet that featured hundreds of the America’s best on the same stage, only a select few of those vying for a spot on the national team advanced from Omaha’s CenturyLink Center to Olympic Park Aquatics Centre, from Omaha to London.

So it shouldn’t come as a suprise that seven of the swimmers representing Team USA in London will have Cal logos on their caps.

Natalie Coughlin, Nathan Adrian and Anthony Ervin are among the Cal swimmers who qualified for the Games this week, joining 13 Cal swimmers who qualified for the Games for various countries from around the world.

Cal’s representatives in London represent the best of the team’s past, present and future.

Coughlin, an 11-time gold medalist and one of the most decorated swimmers in the history of the sport, qualified for her third consecutive Olympic Games with a sixth-place finish in the 100 free on Saturday, good enough for the 29-year-old to earn a spot in the 400 free relay.

The three-time American Swimmer of the Year was the first woman to win six medals in one Olympics in modern Olympic history, doing so in Beijing in 2008.

But for Coughlin, even qualifying for this year’s Games was a relief. After the two-time defending champion failed to qualify in the 100 fly and 100 back, she had to settle for a spot on the relay team.

“This wasn’t the meet that I visualized or anticipated going into this year,” Coughlin said after clinching a spot on Team USA. “But right now I couldn’t be happier.”

Ervin probably couldn’t be much happier either. The former Cal standout won two medals for Team USA at the 2000 Sydney Olympics as a 19-year-old, including a gold-medal in the 50 free. But Ervin retired from the sport in 2003 due to “burnout” after completing his career at Cal. In 2011, the freestyler came out of retirement, and resumed his training with Cal women’s coach Teri McKeever.

On Sunday night, that effort paid off as Ervin qualified for the Olympics after skipping the last two. His time of 21.60 in the 50 free was a mere hundredth of a second behind first-place Cullen Jones.

Two other alums of the Cal women’s swim team qualified for the Olympics. Jessica Hardy won the same 100 free in which Coughlin barely qualified, earning her first spot on an Olympic team. The 25-year-old Hardy, who won national titles with Cal in 2006 and 2007, also qualified for the 400 free relay with Coughlin.

Dana Vollmer, a former Cal swimmer who was part of the world-record-setting 800 free relay at the 2004 Olympics in Athens, qualified for the London Games in the 100 fly and the 800 free relay. Vollmer’s time of 56.50 was the best finish of any American swimmer, eight-hundredths of a second slower than her world-record time set in Tuesday’s semifinal.

Nathan Adrian also made a splash this week.

The gold medal-winner in the 400 free relay from the 2008 Beijing Olympics, Adrian is in position to defend his medal and possibly win another. Adrian, who led Cal to its first of back-to-back national team titles in 2011, won the 100 free final on Friday, a win that also put him in position to defend his gold medal in the relay.

Although most of the swimmers wearing Cal caps at the Trials were former swimmers, the future for Cal swimming looks bright.

Caitlin Leverenz, coming off a junior year at Cal full of accolades — including her second team NCAA Championship — won the 200 IM on Thursday and finished second in the 400 IM, demonstrating an ability to swim all four swimming strokes faster than any other American. Her 200 IM-winning swim clocked out 18-year-old Cal commit Elizabeth Pelton, who will join the Bears next year. Leverenz was also recently nominated for an ESPY for “Best Female College Athlete.”

Though Pelton fell short of advancing to the Olympics, another Cal commit will advance to London. Rachel Bootsma, who will join the Cal women’s swim team in the fall, finished ahead of Coughlin in the 100 back, finishing second in the event.

Though other notable Cal swimmers such as Tom Shields and Liv Jensen fell short of qualifying for the Olympics, a number of Cal swimmers from other countries will make the trip to London. At least one swimmer from every continent except Antarctica will represent the school at the Olympics, an array of 11 countries that spans from South Africa to Slovenia to Brazil.

Both Cal swim teams have won back-to-back NCAA championships.