Juneau-Douglas High School junior Kimiko Urata will do something very few athletes at any level in any sport ever get to do - represent her country.
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Urata, 17, was named to the United States Junior National Synchronized Swimming Team on Sunday in Santa Clara, Calif.
"I was really excited," Urata said. "I've been trying to do it for three years. I came close last year. It'll be a different experience for me. I've never been in training like this before."
Urata competes and trains locally with the Juneau Aurora Knights synchronized swimming club and coach Jami Eistetter. She's also teamed up with fellow 17-year-old JDHS junior Sarah Felix to form one of the nation's top junior duets - or tandem synchronized swimming teams. Urata and Felix won the 2006 U.S. Age Group National Championship in the duet competition.
The U.S. Junior National team features the 10 best 14- to 18-year-old synchronized swimmers in the country.
"I haven't had time to appreciate it," Urata said. "I'm still hoping to finish some finals so I'm focusing on that."
Urata qualified for what is called Phase 2 of the Junior National Team Trials earlier this year. Tryouts for the national team are done in typically three or four phases. The phases are similar to a round of cuts for a team where a pool of hopefuls gets whittled down to its eventual final roster.
With 30 swimmers in Phase 2, the athletes are given a routine to do that morning. They then must perform it just hours later in front of judges.
They perform solo, then in groups of three, while the judges dissect each swimmer's form, strength and stamina.
While synchronized swimming may look more like artistry than an aggressive activity, it's in fact an extremely strenuous sport. Swimmers must have the lung capacity to spend significant periods of time underwater and the strength to hold certain positions and explode out of the water.
"I was overwhelmed and messed up a bit but everyone was in the same boat," Urata said. "The second day, I messed up a little bit but by the fourth swim I got it."
Phase 2 lasted Friday and Saturday at the International Swim Center in Santa Clara, Calif., on Sunday was Phase 3, where the group was paired down even more.
Urata said it helped having coach Eistetter there. Eistetter has helped lead Urata and Felix to national prominence.
"It was really nice (to have Eistetter there,)" Urata said. "It was one of the most overwhelming and nerve-wracking meets. The night before my heart rate was up."
On June 10, Urata will move to Colorado Springs, Colo., to train at the United States Olympic Training Center. She will train, eat and sleep as a member of the national team until the U.S. Open from July 15 to 21 in Oahu, Hawaii, where she will represent the United States in competition.
"They sent us some stuff and it's supposed to be about 11 hours a day in the water with weight training," Urata said of the practice regiment she'll see in Colorado. "It's 7:45 a.m. to 6:45 p.m. with a lunch break. It's pretty much a full day. It should be fun."
Tim Nichols, sports editor, can be reached at email@example.com.
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