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Pan-Am meet gives Vavra chance at Olympics



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Then-junior Allysa Vavra and then-senior Ashley Jones raise their arms after winning first and second place, respectively, in the 200-yard individual medley during the Big 10 Women's Swimming and Diving Championships on Feb. 17, 2011 at the Counsilman Billingsley Aquatic Center. Vavra beat Jones by just over half a second. IDS file photo Buy Photos

Two weeks ago, 1,600 miles away and 5,000 feet above sea level in a foreign nation, senior swimmer Allysa Vavra had what she calls a career breakthrough.

Competing with fellow Hoosier sophomore Brenna MacLean and junior diver Amy Cozad in the 2011 Pan American Games in Guadalajara, Mexico, Vavra won the bronze medal in the 400-meter individual medley in a time of 4:48.05, though she led for almost half the race. The Pan-Am Games are the second-largest international sporting games behind the Summer Olympics.

It was the first time in her career she had even competed for the United States in such a large, international competition.

“Representing Team USA has really been an honor,” Vavra said. “It was really unexpected, too, since I only finished fourth at nationals, and they normally give out invitations to be part of the national team for only the top-two finishers. But at the same time, it has been a dream come true for me.”

Now, back in Bloomington and swimming for the IU women’s swimming and diving team, Vavra has some unfinished business she wants to take care of, she said. Last year, she won the 200- and 400-yard individual medley races at the Big Ten Championships and set the Big Ten record for the 400-yard.

“The Big Ten meet last year was really special for me but not because I won my events and earned a Big Ten record,” Vavra said. “It was more about having my peers and all of my family there at the same time, being there to support me. Especially since my family lives in Pennsylvania, having all those people there made it that much more special.”

Vavra has yet to win an NCAA championship, her goal for the season. When the season ends, her attention will turn to qualifying for the 2012 London Olympics, where she will participate in the 2012 U.S. Olympic Team Trials in from June 25 to July 2, 2012, in Omaha, Neb.

Her time in the 400-meter individual medley at the Pan-Am Games eclipsed the U.S. Olympic standard for that race by nearly seven seconds.

“I feel like participating in the Pan-Am Games gave me an opportunity to break out on an international level and took me from being on a national-class to a world-class stage,” Vavra said. “It was also a good opportunity to race in front of a lot of people, with the atmosphere and pressure sort of mimicking how it will be at Olympic trials.”

Participating in the Pan-Am Games also gave Vavra an opportunity to race against some of the best swimmers in the world, including Brazilian Joanna Maranhao and American Julia Smit, who holds the record in the short-course version of the 400-meter individual medley. However, Vavra said she could be swimming next to Michael Phelps and still not be phased.

“I don’t put any other swimmers on a pedestal,” Vavra said. “I really like to look at it like everyone is just any other swimmer, and anyone is beatable any day. I just have to believe in myself.”

Along with junior swimmer Eric Ress, who is redshirting the season for training purposes for the French Olympic Trials, Vavra is among a group of Hoosiers that have an opportunity to make the 2012 London Olympics. Though trials are months away and the collegiate season is just underway, the looming events are within reach.

“If I were to make the Olympics, it has been one of my dreams from ever since I first started swimming when I was 8 or 9 and watching it on TV,” Vavra said. “I don’t really talk about it that much because I don’t want to put too much pressure on myself, but it’s always in the back of my mind.

“I have a unique opportunity this summer to possibly make the team, but all I can do at this point is work hard. I am confident that hard work will take me where I need to go.”

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