By MICHAEL COIT
THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
Sibling swimmers Penelope and Sophia Yamauchi are pushing one another to a rarefied level in their sport — Olympic hopefuls.
Training together this summer after strong college seasons, Penelope at Arizona State and Sophia at UC Santa Barbara, the sisters are the latest Empire swimmers to qualify for the 2012 U.S. Olympic Team Trials.
“I don’t think we really expected to be swimming our best yet. It was really exciting. It’s a first, but hopefully not the last,” Penelope Yamauchi said.
Two days apart at the same elite meet in Santa Clara, Penelope qualified in the 200 breaststroke and Sophia followed in the 100 breaststroke. The sisters hope to add the other breaststroke and perhaps the 200 individual medley to their Olympic Trials resume. The quest resumes with the Los Angeles Invitational this weekend.
“That came as a little bit of a surprise for me. It went really well,” Sophia Yamauchi said.
The fast times came earlier than expected. The sisters and other elite swimmers want to be in peak condition going into the USA Swimming National Championships at Stanford in August.
The goal for months of hard work in the pool and the weight room is continuing to lower times. Then come the NCAA season and more training, culminating with the Olympic Trials June 25-July 2 in Omaha, Neb.
Also qualifying for the trials out of the Empire are Molly Hannis (100 breast), Amanda Sims (100 and 200 butterfly, 50 freestyle), and Maya DiRado (200 and 400 freestyle, 100 and 200 backstroke, 200 and 400 individual medley). The trio swam at the 2008 Olympic Trials, and Sims went in 2004 as well.
The Yamauchi sisters have now joined the ranks of Olympic hopefuls, all coming out of the Santa Rosa Neptunes swim club. The sisters swam at Montgomery High in prep competition.
“It’s a great story,” said Neptunes director Dan Greaves. “For the sisters, this will be a character builder. You’ve got to go experience the hoopla that is the Olympic Trials.”
Swimming a trials-worthy time required more focused training for Penelope Yamauchi.
After just missing qualifying for the NCAA championships this spring in the 200 breaststroke and 200 individual medley for Arizona State, Penelope needed to dial in her technique. She returned to Santa Rosa and the Neptunes for work in the pool and added Pilates conditioning for strength training.
Then she swam a personal best in the 200 breaststroke at the Santa Clara International meet to qualify for the Olympic Trials.
“It was a complete shock because I thought I went a lot slower. My approach to that race was really relaxed,” she said.
A first year of college competition helped Sophia prepare for what has been a breakout summer season. She earned Mid-Major All-American honors after capturing second place in both the 100 and 200 breaststroke events and swimming four relays — two first-place finishes — for UC Santa Barbara at the conference finals.
“I was expecting to do well, but I wasn’t expecting to do as well as I did,” Sophia said. “A lot of it has to do with the weight training I’m doing here. I’m adding on a lot of muscle and just growing into my body.”
Training together in Santa Barbara this summer, the sisters are having fun while working to improve times in the pool.
“The key to success is having fun,” Greaves said. “You’ve got to enjoy what you’re doing. It is a grind. If you’re not mentally engaged, it’s not going to work out.”
Supporting one another in a sport with little down time keeps the Yamauchi sisters swimming strong.
“We’re so happy for each other when one of us does well,” Penelope said. “It’s a healthy competition. We’re good for each other.”