Every summer break, the classic question arises: Where’s the best vacation spot?

Junior swimmer Peter Vanderkaay could make a respectable argument for Athens, Greece, where he swam on the Olympic team and won a gold medal in the 800-meter freestyle relay this past summer.

“It was a great experience,” Vanderkaay said. “It was an eye-opener to the highest level of sport. I had a great time.”

While enjoying success on the international stage during the summer, Vanderkaay remained intent on helping the Wolverines this year.

“I learned a little bit about top competition at Athens, but now I just want to focus on Michigan,” Vanderkaay said. “If I just keep doing what I’ve been doing, I’ll be okay. It got me here and it will get me through the rest of my career at Michigan.”

During his career at Michigan, Vanderkaay has excelled. He has received numerous awards, including last year’s Big Ten co-Swimmer of the Year and Big Ten Freshman of the Year in 2003. Vanderkaay has also won three NCAA titles in the 400-meter freestyle, the 800-meter freestyle relay and 1,500-meter freestyle.

Vanderkaay has had a solid start to this season with wins in 100- and 200-yard freestyles at Wisconsin and 100- and 1,650-yard freestyles at Michigan State.

While fatigued due to intense workouts, swimmers generally don’t worry as much about individual times in early-season meets as they do during meets later in the season. Still, Vanderkaay and the Wolverines have jumped out early to a 3-0 overall record (2-0 Big Ten), and Michigan is ranked ninth nationally.

As the season progresses, Vanderkaay knows that, while his accomplishments in Athens helped improve his stroke, his time spent with his teammates will be the key to success for the Wolverines.

“Doing stuff around here will help my teammates more than my time at Athens (did),” Vanderkaay said. “The guys are really training hard. They have to be mentally focused because that will be more of a factor than my experiences. I can still encourage them and tell them to stay confident.”

When preparing for a meet, Vanderkaay understands the importance of staying focused. But at the same time, he tries to remain relaxed.

“I try to stay confident and focused on the race,” Vanderkaay said. “I try not to over think the event. For shorter distances, I think about the little things that make the most out of my race. For longer distances, I try to think about repetition and maintain a steady pace and keep my stroke together.”

While his achievements in his first two seasons with the Wolverines would be more than sufficient to most people, Vanderkaay stays driven and continues to make new goals for this season and beyond.

“I’d like to try and repeat for the national championships and improve on what I did last year,” Vanderkaay said. “I think I’m going to try to go to the Olympics again in four years and make it (a regular) thing.”

The Wolverines face their first true challenge of the young season as they travel down to Texas for the Texas Invitational, where they will swim against four other top-25 teams today through Saturday.

“I’d like to see where I’m at physically, try to get some season best times and get some racing under my belt going into the middle of the season,” Vanderkaay said.

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