By guest writer Julia Wilkinson-Minks (2008 & 2012 Canadian Olympian)
Courtesy of: Richard Mackson
Courtesy of: Richard Mackson
POZNAN, Poland, July 13. IT's easy to forget that Ruta Meilutyte is only 16 years old, and seeing her name in the results at European Junior Championships jarred me at first. I, mistakenly, subconsciously assumed that a junior meet would be reserved for the swimming studs of the "future", and forgot that some of the present stars are still considered juniors.
Some countries, like the USA and Canada, often reserve their junior teams for swimmers that have yet to qualify for a senior national team. Even though Katie Ledecky could still represent the USA on a junior team age-wise, her focus is now set on senior international podiums. This allows for more American swimmers across the board to gain international experience.
But whether they are swimming at the Olympic Games or European Junior Championships, the composure of young swimmers like Katie Ledecky and Ruta Meilutyte is something to be revered.
At 17, I made my first final at nationals, which also happened to be the 2004 Olympic Trials. I was terrified, finished eighth, but felt that my performance was "good for a seventeen-year old." Then I remember watching the Athens Olympics and seeing Dana Vollmer represent the USA: she was my age, and she was there. Something in my brain clicked.
Swimmers like Ledecky and Meilutyte are continuing a trend, a trend that forces us to remove the words "good for a teenager" from our vocabulary. Yes, their performances are "good for a sixteen year old," but they are more than that. They are just good. Really good. Period.
Obviously it takes a lot of hard work and talent to win an Olympic gold medal, and even though it takes some swimmers years to accumulate enough experience to walk into an Olympic final and not crumble under the pressure, there may be something to be said about youth being advantageous.
Yes, they may not have the experience, but that means they don't have all the bad experiences, like skeletons in the closet, that a swimmer in their mid-20s has. A major failure in your swimming career can take a chunk out of a swimmer's confidence, and sometimes it can be irreparable. The benefits of inexperience, however, do not negate how impressive it is to see these young women atop Olympic podiums.
Most sixteen year olds are focused on passing driving tests, and these women are winning gold medals for their countries. That is a lot of pressure, not just when you are a teenager, but at any age.
Julia Wilkinson-Minks is a two-time Olympian for Canada and was a finalist in the 200-meter IM at the 2008 Beijing Games. In 2010, she became Texas A&M's first ever NCAA champion in swimming when she won the 100-yard freestyle. She graduated from Texas A&M with a degree in Speech Communication. Julia retired from competitive swimming following the London Olympic Games and now lives in Texas with her husband Shane.
Follow her on twitter @juliah2o
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