On Friday afternoon, inside Canham Natatorium, senior co-captain Alex Vanderkaay and his teammates on the men’s swimming and diving team stood on the pool deck stretching before practice.

An avid fan of thoroughbred horse racing, Bowman owns a stable in Maryland where he buys and trains horses. He recently purchased a new horse for $50,000 and named it Vanderkaay, in honor of a family that has produced four successful swimmers – Christian, Peter, Alex and Dane. It’s suitable that the horse is a winning one because the Vanderkaays are among the most successful swimmers in Michigan history.

While the youngest brother, Dane, is a promising recruit and will join the Wolverines next year, Christian and Peter graduated in 2005 and 2006, respectively, and set a high standard for their brothers to follow. At Michigan, Christian was a 2004 NCAA All-American in the 200-meter freestyle relay and Peter won five NCAA titles. He was also a member of the gold medal-winning 800-meter freestyle relay team at the 2004 Athens Olympics and set a new American record in the 500-yard freestyle on Feb. 9.

Considering these impressive accomplishments, and given the natural competition between siblings, Alex might feel the pressure to outperform his brothers as he prepares for his final Big Ten and NCAA Championship meets.

But mention his brother’s achievements, and Vanderkaay responds with humility and support rather than envy.

“If I don’t make the Olympic team, I’ll be disappointed that I didn’t make it and not because I didn’t make it and my brother’s on it,” Vanderkaay said. “I don’t feel like if I don’t reach that same level that I’m a failure. I’m just happy that he’s that good and really don’t feel that much pressure.”

And Vanderkaay shouldn’t feel pressure – he has already proven himself a winner. In his career as a Wolverine, he was the 2007 NCAA Champion in the 400-yard individual medley, a five-time Big Ten Champion and a member of Team USA for the 2007 World University Games. Vanderkaay was also a four-time NCAA All-American as a sophomore and a three-time NCAA All-American as a junior.

In addition to his contributions in the pool, Vanderkaay has been a strong two-year captain for the Wolverines. Bowman said he showed the signs of a true leader by stepping up at times when his team needed a role model.

“He is an exceptional leader,” Bowman said. “Particularly last year, when he was a junior and we didn’t have a senior class, I thought he did an excellent job.”

This summer, Vanderkaay’s main goal is to make the U.S. Olympic team. To earn a spot, he must have one of the two fastest times in his event at the Olympic trials held in Omaha, Neb., from June 30 to July 7.

This will be his second trip to the trials after his 19th place finish in the 200-meter butterfly failed to make the team in 2004. While he describes his first experience as “humbling,” Vanderkaay now knows what to expect from the meet.

“(The last trials) were very intimidating and it was more of just a learning experience for me because I knew I had no shot at making the team,” he said. “I think I’ve come into the realization that I am one of those upper-level swimmers now and I need to look at it and say ‘I have a shot here’ and really go after it.”

The outcome of this year’s Olympic trails will determine Vanderkaay’s future for the next few years. If Vanderkaay doesn’t make this summer’s Olympic team, he plans to continue training in hopes of making the 2009 U.S. World Championship team.

If he does earn a spot on the Olympic team, he might be hanging up his suit and goggles even sooner.

“If I were to make the team, I’d probably retire after the Olympics,” Vanderkaay said. “I’d be done after that – it would be enough for me.”

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