While her teammates spend time fine-tuning their strokes and tightening their flip turns in preparation for the NCAA Championships, senior Valerie Silva will be putting those techniques into practice south of the equator.
She will have to sandwich in an extra competition between the Big Ten and NCAA Championships – an Olympic qualifying meet.
In the four weeks between Big Tens and NCAAs, the senior captain will fly to Brazil to compete in the 100-meter breaststroke in the South American Championships scheduled for March 12-16. If Silva meets the qualifying time there, she will be eligible for August’s Beijing Olympics, representing Peru for the second time.
Shortly after her 19th birthday, the Lima, Peru native represented her country at the 2004 Athens Games. Though Silva didn’t return with any medals, she keeps the memories of the opportunity close.
“Standing in front of the blocks before my race, I had the biggest smile on my face,” Silva said. “I was very excited.”
If Silva’s performance for the Wolverines this season is any indication, Beijing is within her grasp.
At November’s Texas A&M Invitational, Silva swam a lifetime-best 1:02 in the 100-yard breaststroke. The time earned her an NCAA consideration time.
But what made Silva more excited was how well she swam following a tough week of training and little rest.
With such a small window between upcoming major competitions, her strong performance in Texas made her eager for Brazil.
“Hopefully with some rest and a proper taper, I’ll be able to drop even more and get an (Olympic) qualifying time,” Silva said.
The breaststroke requires a great deal of underwater movement and coordination, making it difficult to master. But Michigan coach Jim Richardson said he thinks its Silva’s prowess on the dance floor that makes it her best event.
“It’s very much a timing and rhythm stroke,” Richardson said. “I think she can probably dance salsa pretty well. And if you can dance salsa, you’ve probably got a fairly good chance at being a pretty good breaststroker.”
Aside from competing in the Olympics, Silva has thrived on the international stage. At the 2007 FINA World Swimming Championships in Melbourne, Australia, Silva earned three top-30 victories in the breaststroke. The meet featured Olympic gold-medalist breaststrokers like American Megan Jendrick and Leisel Jones of Australia.
Silva will miss class for the South American Championships, but with one of the highest grade point averages on the team, the Brain, Behavior and Cognitive Science major isn’t worried.
If Silva qualifies for Beijing, she will represent her country in ways few college seniors can fathom.
“She’s mature beyond her years,” Richardson said. “She’s a joy to coach.”