Sunday, May 05, 2002

It's not 'N Sync, but it's close

By Shannon Russell,
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        Beth Kreimer approached the biggest day of her college athletic career wearing a pasted-on smile and a headpiece of foliage and fake caterpillars.

        For half a year she'd been polishing her act as a bug. The friendly, garden-variety type — a convincing cricket, a charming caterpillar and a blossoming butterfly — but a bug nonetheless. Her routine was set to a Planet of the Apes soundtrack medley, and her medium was a swimming pool. She competed in an abstracted butterfly bathing suit, just like seven others on the Ohio State University synchronized swimming team.

        But nothing could compare to the butterflies in her stomach.

        “We tried to perfect the routine from November to March, so we worked on it together all that time,” said Kreimer, a Mercy High School graduate and Ohio State senior. “It's hard to do a routine that's four minutes long and pretty much nonstop. It takes a lot out of you.”

        Kreimer and the Buckeye A-team created a buzz at the 2002 U.S. Collegiate Synchronized Swimming Championships in Norton, Mass. March 21-23, placing first in the team competition. Ohio State dominated in solo, duet and trio disciplines to win its third straight championship and 22nd overall title in the championship's 26 years.

        Kreimer, whose trio placed fourth in a Western motif that included bronze bathing suits and lassos, will be the first to say synchronized swimming continues to be an original in the sports realm. After all, few national championships require costume changes and special music.

        “It's definitely athletic — kind of a combination of ballet, gymnastics and figure skating. I think it's harder than speed swimming because there's so much more involved than swimming up and down a pool. You also have to change your facial expressions based on the music, and do every move the same as everyone else,” she said.

        Ohio State's Linda Lichter-Witter has coached Olympians and All-Americans, mostly recently leading the Buckeyes to a school-best 32-0 record. Her teams have lost only two meets in six years.

        Synchronized swimming combines athleticism with artistic interpretation, and it's the latter that gets a bad rap. Lichter-Witter said that, in reality, training requires exceptional stamina and practices exceed several hours each day.

        “It's truly an amazing sport,” she said. “It's like running a 10K while holding your breath.”

        The Buckeyes undergo weight training and conditioning programs to build endurance, because the women simultaneously perform water acrobatics and submerge for up to 40 seconds at a time. Routines are judged on artistic impression and technical merit.

        Though synchronized swimming is most popular on the West Coast, nearly a third of Ohio State's team come from Cincinnati. All seven swimmers competed for the Cincinnati Synchrogators club team.

        Sophomore Katie Meyer swam the 100-back and 200-free for her Seven Hills High School team but considers her work with the Synchrogators and Buckeyes to be more intense. Her B-team won third place at the Collegiate Championships for their classical overture to “Firebird.”

        “We're all perfectionists. That's what this sport calls for from every person, and everything has to be precise with timing and execution. Otherwise it doesn't work,” Meyer said.

        The artistic side gives the sport a broader appeal on the Ohio State campus alone. Meyer said it's always flattering when art classes stop by to sketch the team at practice.

        Freshman Bethany Galla, an Ursuline Academy graduate, said minor touches help synchronized swimming run smoothly. Underwater speakers keep the groups in coordination. And, since the teams wear swimming caps only during practice, they have a secret formula for keeping their locks in place during meets: Knox gelatin.

        “The unflavored kind,” she said. “Most people comb it through their hair or paint it on with a paintbrush before putting it up in a bun. Sometimes it ends up sticky, and other times it's rock hard, and that's what you want. You don't want your hair to fall down during competition.”

        Several Buckeyes, including Kreimer and Meyer, are competing for U.S. National Team spots this weekend in Columbus.

        Kreimer also qualified for the 2004 Olympic Trials and has the opportunity to further compete next year. Though she has retired the bug routine, she hasn't given up hope of a continued swimming career.

        “I love synchronized swimming,” she said. “It's rewarding and fun, and it's something good to do with your time.”

        Other local Ohio State swimmers are Mary Elliot (Harrison), Kim Lester (Mercy), Katie McKiernan (Mercy) and Brianna Walker (Harrison).


        Wilmington College senior center fielder Alan Ledford (Blanchester) was named to the first-team Academic All-Ohio Athletic Conference team. Ledford, who has a 3.38 GPA, is batting .396 with a team-high seven home runs, four triples and 34 RBI.

        Northern Kentucky University's Michelle Cottrell (Boone County) has been awarded an NCAA postgraduate scholarship of $5,000. The NCAA awarded 58 postgraduate scholarships to 29 men and 29 women who participated in winter sports. Cottrell, a four-year Norse starter, is one of five Division II women's basketball players to win the award. To qualify, a student-athlete mush have a 3.2 GPA and have performed with distinction on a varsity team.

        Northern Kentucky University's Emily Breitholle (Fairfield) was named Great Lakes Valley Conference Pitcher of the Week in softball. She posted a 3-0 record with a 1.67 ERA as the Norse set a school record for victories in a season (36). She is 20-3 and is the first NKU softball player to win 20 games in a season.

        Northern Kentucky University's Justin Rahschulte (Boone County) was named Great Lakes Valley Conference Player of the week in baseball. Rahschulte, a senior outfielder, batted .625 (10-for-16) and had two game-winning hits in the Norse's final at-bats this week.

        University of Cincinnati senior Nate Fish was named Conference USA co-Hitter of the Week in baseball. Fish hit .556 in four games last week, going 10-for-18 at the plate. He tied a school and conference record April 24 with six hits in UC's 18-3 win over Miami University.


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