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Star-Bulletin Sports

Wednesday, August 2, 2000

Hawaii's Olympians  The Road to Sydney

By Craig T. Kojima, Star-Bulletin
John Flanagan, left, and younger brother Kevin are
chasing a dream they hope will come true at the
U.S. swimming trials next week.

Brothers on
a mission

Punahou graduates John and
Kevin Flanagan will compete in
the national swimming trials for
spots on the Olympic team

Open water event coming to Hawaii

By Ben Henry
Special to the Star-Bulletin

Another version of "Mission Impossible" will debut next month, only this one doesn't star Tom Cruise.

Brothers John and Kevin Flanagan, both Punahou graduates, will face the seemingly impossible task of qualifying for the U.S. swimming team at the national trials Aug. 9-16 in Indianapolis.

They will participate in three events between the two, with several dozen world-class swimmers in each category vying for just two or six spots, depending on the category, to participate in the Olympics this fall at Sydney, Australia.

And at least one local swimming expert doesn't give them much of a chance.

"If you're not in the top eight in the country, you have a hard time overcoming that," said University of Hawaii swimming and diving head coach Sam Freas, who is also the president of the International Swimming Hall of Fame. "People have done it -- it's possible. But statistically, (the odds aren't) very good."

But that reality is lost on the Flanagan brothers.

By Craig T. Kojima, Star-Bulletin
John Flanagan, top, and younger brother Kevin
spend countless hours at the pool training to
become the best they can be.

"We've had to give up lots to do this," said Kevin Flanagan, who turns 22 on Aug. 8. "The hard part is coming to the pool every day, training hard, not staying out too late, not having (the financial) luxuries of a full-time job."

According to the brothers, they've already faced the impossible mission -- a mission they chose to accept.

"Getting up at 4 or 5 in the morning and training four or five hours a day for 10 years is a challenge," Kevin Flanagan said. "The meet is the easy part."

Nonetheless, the brothers do realize the odds they're up against, and will have to depend on each other if they're going to have a chance at next month's trials.

"I couldn't ask for a better situation to have both of us going," John Flanagan said. "It's critical -- it's a family member, and in swimming, the more people you have behind you, the better you can do. Support is very important."

Kevin Flanagan echoes that sentiment. "Him and I are very close," he said. "I know he's behind me and he knows I'm behind him."

John takes the lead

John Flanagan, at 25 the elder brother, was responsible for initially introducing swimming to the family. Since he discovered the sport when he was around 6 or 7 years old, three of his siblings have successfully entered the sport after him.

"My brother got into it just as a sport to do, and I saw him doing it, and I figured it looked pretty fun," Kevin Flanagan said. "My family's been successful because we've been around it so long, and once a few of us got into it, all of us got into it."

Swimming has brought the Flanagan family together. In addition to the brothers, two Flanagan sisters are beginning promising careers in the water. One plays water polo for UCLA and another swims and plays water polo for Punahou, where John Flanagan coaches. "It's real fun for me," he said about coaching his younger sister. "So far it's worked out real well for our relationship. It has made us a lot closer."

John Flanagan is an accomplished swimmer, having won gold medals in the 5-kilometer open-water team world championships and the 25-kilometer open-water team Pan Pacific Championships. He was also a part of a national team championship his senior year at Auburn.

"As a competitor, he's pretty tough," Kevin Flanagan said. "He trains harder than most people can really comprehend, because he swims the open water and mile races, races that require five to six hours of training a day. Not many people can do that. He's just got this really intense stubbornness that has helped him a lot."

John Flanagan's influence has gone beyond his family, according to Freas, who has long preached that local swimmers suffer from an inferiority complex.

"John has encouraged a lot of young people who normally wouldn't get involved to get involved in open-water swimming," Freas said. "His success and the fact that he's on a national team has encouraged other young Hawaiian swimmers that they certainly can do a lot more than perhaps people around here think they can do."

Close bond, separate paths

Although the older brother's influence on his family is acknowledged, both brothers stress the individuality of each member.

"Everyone in the family has their own niche," said John Flanagan, who will be competing in the mile swim at the trials. "Everyone's been doing their own thing their own way, it's not like somebody's trying to be like someone else."

Kevin Flanagan, who will be competing in the 50- and 100-meter sprints, is more adept at sprints, while John Flanagan specializes at long-distance swimming.

Their career paths also may be taking different turns. By participating in an Olympic trial, Kevin Flanagan will attain a career goal next month, and plans to retire from Olympic-caliber competition afterward.

"A lot of kids have that dream (to compete in the Olympics), but as I grew up in swimming, I just wanted to compete in the Olympic trials because it's the fastest meet in the country and for me it's a great place to end my career in the sport," said Kevin Flanagan, who recently graduated from Florida State. "To keep swimming, it's really a full-time sport, and it doesn't pay well. So, after getting out of college, I can't really commit to it 100 percent. I'm always going to stay connected to the sport, but not necessarily at the level that it takes to compete."

But John Flanagan hopes to eventually try his hand at his best event, open-water swimming.

"He's been one of the best swimmers in open water for several years," Freas said. "He's vied for a national championship in that area."

Open-water races are not going to be in the Olympics until 2004, an unfortunate reality for John Flanagan, who is on the U.S. national open-water team. "If they had an open-water event in this Olympics, I'm sure he'd be one of the major contenders for the United States to participate in that in Sydney," Kevin Flanagan said.

Realistically, the brothers are considered long shots for Sydney, but are optimistic nonetheless. "It's a long shot pretty much for anyone, because anything can happen," Kevin Flanagan said. "Sometimes the world-record holders don't end up even making the team. Anything goes. But you never know, that's another reason (John) and I are optimistic. Anything can happen."

Sydney 2000 Olympics

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