Sports

World's best swimmers headed to Federal Way

By CASEY OLSON

Sports editor

Megan Quann knows the King County Aquatics Center better than any pool in the world — and she has been to most every one of them.

The two-time Olympic gold medalist at the 2000 Games in Sydney spends six hours a day at the Federal Way swimming/diving facility training for her probable return to the Olympic Games next year in Athens.

“I think it is one of the top-five pools in the world,” Quann said about the Aquatics Center. “There are a lot of things that go into that. It is nice and deep and the temperature of the pool is perfect for good times.”

The seven-time American record holder in the breaststroke will get to see if all her training in the Aquatic Center water will hold up against some of the best swimmers in the world.

Quann will be the main attraction at the U.S. Open Swimming Championships at her hometown pool. The Weyerhaeuser King County Aquatics Center will host the international competition Dec. 4-6. Organizers are expecting close to 1,000 of the best swimmers in the world to flock to Federal Way.

“It is going to be special,” said Quann, now 19 and living in Tacoma. “It will be pretty nice having it here in my hometown. I train here everyday and I’m very used to it.”

Quann started training competitively again after finishing her freshman year at Pacific Lutheran University in the spring. She plans on taking the next year and a half off from her PLU studies and concentrate on a return to the Olympics.

“My chances are very good,” Quann said with a confident smile.

A return to the Olympics next year will actually be Quann’s second trip to Greece. Following her two gold-medal performance at the 2000 Games, Quann, then 16, and her family were invited onto the Rosie O’Donnell Show. During the taping, O’Donnell presented the entire Quann family with trips to Athens.

“I got to see the pool there,” she said. “I am definitely looking forward to the Olympics.”

But first comes the U.S. Open and then the Olympic Trials.

“Since it is a pre-Olympic year, there will be a lot more competitors than normal (at the U.S. Open),” said meet director Stephen Freeborn of Federal Way. “There will be teams there from Japan, Canada, Mexico and Trinidad, among others.”

It is still up in the air what individuals will be swimming at the U.S. Open. next month, Freeborn said. But he said some of the stars on the United States Swim Team will be in Federal Way.

“It is going to the be the biggest event here since the Goodwill Games (in 1990),” Mike Dunwiddie, the facility coordinator at the Aquatics Center. “There should be 20 countries represented at this meet.”

Dunwiddie led the push for Federal Way to earn the U.S. Open meet. At the 2001 United States Aquatic Sports conference, which are held yearly, Dunwiddie put in a bid to host the 2003 U.S. Open at the Weyerhaeuser King County Aquatics Center. USA Swimming, the governing body of swimming in the United States, thought Federal Way was the best location for the meet and awarded it to the Aquatics Center. Bids are awarded at a no cost basis, Dunwiddie said.

“It didn’t cost us anything,” he said.

Following the selection of Federal Way, the King Aquatics Club, based out of the Aquatics Center, took over the organization of the meet and Freeborn was picked as the meet manager.

“Now I just have to keep everybody happy,” Freeborn said. “That’s the key.”

Since January, Freeborn estimates he has spent 15 hours a week trying to organize everything from feeding the athletes to coordinating drug testing. He put together a 20-member committee and has enlisted the help of 350 volunteers.

“Nobody is getting paid,” Freeborn said. “We have to get all the officials to run the meet, pay $12,000 to $15,000 for food, organize security, draw up contracts and make hotel arrangements, among other things.”

Helping out with the price tag was a $10,000 grant from the city of Federal Way Tourism Enhancement Fund.

“A lot of people are going to be spending money in Federal Way,” Dunwiddie said.

In a study published last year on the economic impact of the Weyerhaeuser Aquatics Center, compiled by the the University of Washington and GMA Research Corporation, estimates 100,000 visits are made each year by athletes, coaches, officials and spectators and in 2002 almost $4.4 million was spent by these people, the study says.

“This meet will be around the Christmas holidays, so people are bound to be spending more money,” Freeborn said.

Sports editor Casey Olson: 925-5565, sports@fedwaymirror.com

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