19-year-old IU swimmer Kate Zubkova already knows more about the Olympic Games than a typical teenager.
Both her parents were Olympic swimmers. Her father, Mykhail Zubkova, finished fourth in the 200-meter individual medley at the 1988 Summer Olympics in Seoul and her mother Natalia Shibaeva swam the 100-meter backstroke at the Barcelona Games in 1992.
And at age 16, Zubkova represented her native Ukraine at the 2004 Olympics in Athens.
“I was just 16 in 2004, so I actually didn’t understand much about the Olympics, but now I understand that I had a really good experience,” she said.
She has the talent and the swimming pedigree, but now as she prepares for her second Olympic Games, Zubkova is older, more experienced and driven to make a name for herself on the world’s biggest stage.
“Now I know what to expect,” she said.
As Beijing looms only months away, the summer training is picking up for Zubkova, who has already qualified to swim the 100- and 200-meter backstroke and the 100-meter butterfly for the Ukranian national team.
Zubkova spent much of May in a high-altitude camp in Colorado Springs, Colo., for an intense training program with IU coach Ray Looze and 20 other IU swimmers. High-altitude training is the only natural and legal way to increase red blood cells, Looze said. Those red blood cells can help carry oxygen to the muscles and provide a boost in performance. Looze said the effects of the training should stay with Zubkova until the Olympics in August.
While in Colorado Springs, Zubkova was completely focused on swimming. She ate nutritional meals and watched videos of elite swimmers, and said the training was nonstop.
“She did 12 training sessions a week,” Looze said. “So, out of a 14-day cycle she had two afternoons off and that was it, no days off,
Now that she is back in Bloomington, Zubkova has reduced the training to 10 sessions a week and she trains with 50 IU swimmers, most of whom are preparing for the U.S. Olympic Trials.
The training is tough, but Looze has already seen that Zubkova is willing to put forth the necessary effort.
“She’s typically the last one in the water, that’s kind of her thing,” Looze said. “She was the first one in the water in Colorado, though.”
Now Looze and assistant coach Pam Swander are working hard with Zubkova on finishing races strong.
“Right now she’s really getting good at getting second place,” Looze said.
Zubkova finished second in the 100-meter backstroke at the FINA World Short Course Championships in April, losing out to world-record holder Kirsty Coventry of Zimbabwe. She also added second-place finishes in the 200-meter backstroke at the NCAA Championships and in the 100-meter backstroke at the Mutual of Omaha Swimvitational.
“Hopefully she is going to learn how to rise to the occasion and get her hand on the wall first,” Looze said. “She’s really working hard at doing the little things in practice.”
Zubkova will continue training in Bloomington until late July when she will meet up with her Ukranian teammates in Russia for final training before Beijing.
With two months of hard training left, Zubkova said she doesn’t need to think about what it will be like to represent her country at the Olympics.
“Maybe not yet, but I will be excited,” she said. “I still have two more months, so there is no need to think about it a lot.”
While Zubkova says her only goal is to improve on her times, her coaches know that she is ready to compete at a high level.
“She knows what the world record is,” Swander said. “She knows what her competitors have done and she’s really prepared to go up against them.”
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