Coming into the final loop, with a little more than 2 kilometers to go, the race could not be more tactical. Who was going to make a move and when? Chloe was on a roll, but she had led the group for much of the race. Kirsten has the speed, but she had also pulled along her competitors for much of the race. Kalyn, always a dangerous threat, was looming just behind everyone and well-poised to make her move. The spectators waited and wondered: who would bring it home the best?
With less than 2K to go, Micha pulled around Kirsten and started swimming stroke-for-stroke with Chloe in first as she picked up her kick. Kirsten, who trains in Shreveport, Louisiana, stayed right on their heels. Drafting, an acquired skill in open water swimming, was nothing new to these competitors who are all well-schooled in the art. The pace picked up and the threesome surprisingly started to extend their lead over Kalyn. With 1.5K to go, it was Mission Viejo 1-2, but it was still really anyone's race, including Kalyn who had dropped off about 5 meters from Chloe and Micha.
With a 1K to go, Chloe, Micha and Kirsten rounded the final 3 turn buoys as close as physically possible, but Chloe on the inside track. They were so close that they would occasionally - and inadvertently - hit one other. Both Chloe and Micha went around the first buoy cleanly with Kirsten right at their heels. All three cleared the second turn buoy well, but then Chloe and Micha both took a sharper turn than necessary. Once they realized their error after a few strokes, they slammed into one another, arms interlocked. Both came to a sudden standstill, nearly vertical in the water.
"I was really mad," recalled Micha. "But, I couldn't get angry and had to stay calm." Meanwhile, Kirsten immediately took the lead, but Chloe recovered quickly and they exited the final turn buoy swimming together.
Micha later recalled, "I needed to keep my strokes long and stay on their feet. I wanted to be on the inside (going into the final sprint straightaway). Over the last two weeks. I wrote out my strategy and read it over every day. This is what I was expecting and I couldn't let this bother me."
With 600 meters to go, Micha recovered and moved into a three-way tie for first with Chloe and Kirsten. Kalyn had dropped off the pace and it was clear that the top 2 spots would go to these 3 competitors.
With 500 meters to go, Micha continued her powerful kick and put on a spurt that could not be matched by either Chloe or Kirsten. "She looks strong - look at her kick," observed Rick Walker. Sid Cassidy said, "She has this great kick that was so powerful underwater."
Micha remembered, "After I settled down, I decided to make a move." And, her move was indeed spectacular. With 400 meters to go, she had built a lead of at least 5 meters…and it was growing with every stroke. "She really picked up her kick and looked strong out there," said Paul Asmuth who was on the head referee boat and was instrumental in helping organize a great event along with Jay Thomas, Gregg Cross and a hospitable group of dedicated volunteers.
With 200 meters to go, Micha's kick and sprint were clearly going to propel her to victory. But, as much as her aerobic conditioning was part of her victory, her level-headed race strategy and drafting enabled her to out-sprint her competition. Throughout the first 8K, she was always swimming totally within someone's draft and conserving energy. When she decided to make her move, she did - and it was her competition that was unable to react.
As Micha pulled to victory, the race for the second spot on the US team was up for grabs. Chloe and Kirsten were sprinting and kicking as best they could for that coveted Olympic selection spot the final 600 meters. They were essentially even, stroke-for-stroke, as the crowd waited in anticipation. Kirsten put her head down and beat Chloe by a body length.
"I didn't expect the lead to change so much throughout the race," said Kirsten. "I made a move at the end and it feels great to qualify. I expect the Americans will do well in Seville."
As she looked back on her victory, Micha said with a radiant smile, "I took one lap at a time. I wanted to be able to make a move, and to be able to counter any move the other competitors made. Sure we ran into one another, but you have to be prepared for that (in open water swimming). Then, I made a run for it…"
Micha's run basically started less than 2 years ago when she was swimming occasionally for a masters program in Huntington Beach and studying to be a nurse after graduation from Cal-Berkeley. Encouraged to take up open water swimming seriously, Micha decided to train under Bill Rose at Mission Viejo. Slowly, but steadily, Micha got into shape and traveled the world, from San Francisco to Dubai, in search of the best open water competition she could find. And her journey is not over. Together with Kirsten and her male colleagues who will be selected tomorrow on the same course, the road to Beijing goes through Seville.