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Winning has ripple effect for Superior Aquatic swimmer Smith

At the 1996 Olympic Games in Atlanta, Ireland's Michelle Smith made bigwaves in the pool with a dominating double-gold-medal performance in thebreaststroke competition.

Now in Oregon, Michelle Smith is making her mark. Only it's a 10-year-oldfrom Ashland and not her Irish Olympic champion namesake.

Though it may be unfair to compare the two Smiths, the one common bondthey share is speed and plenty of it.

The younger Smith, who will attend Ashland Middle School this fall, iscurrently ranked No. — in Oregon in the 50-, 100- and 200-meter freestyleevents, the 200 individual medley and the 50 and 100 butterflies.

Her freestyle times also rank in the top five on the West Coast.

Smith, who swims for Medford's Superior Aquatic Club, dominated the OregonState 10-and-under Swimming Championships at Portland's Multnomah AthleticClub July 17-20, claiming state titles in the three freestyle events andboth butterfly events.

Smith and Superior teammates Travis Bishop (three state titles), AshleyBrace (two state titles) and Michael Oxendine (three state titles) willtake their talents to Federal Way, Wash., this weekend to compete at theRegion 12 tournament, which will have competitors from five states.

The trip to regionals will just be a formality for the four SuperiorAquatic swimmers, as they have already qualified for the 15-state WesternZone Championships in Roseville, Calif., Aug. 12-17.

Our kids are just going to swim through this meet, says coachSuha Tokman. We're just doing our regular workouts and will come backand really taper for the zones.

Smith's recent success at the state championships really wasn't thatbig of a shock to her.

I sort of expected to win the freestyle events, says Smith.Actually I thought I would win three or four events, but I was surprisedto win the butterflies.

Smith's success in the pool at the ripe old age of 10 should come asno surprise. At 4, she was already swimming the length of a normal-sizedpool on her own.

Swimming has come really easy for me, says Smith, who practicesmore than three hours a day, five days a week. I just really likethe challenge even though the workouts are really tough.

Tokman, who swam in the 1972 Olympic Games in Munich, Germany for Turkey,has coached swimmers for more than 15 years. In his opinion, Smith is aspecial individual with extraordinary focus.

She is very responsible when it comes to racing, Tokman says.I wish some of my 15-year-olds had her demeanor.

You can just tell she is going to win. When she gets behind theblocks the look in her eyes show that nobody's going to beat her.

Smith's accomplishments have already earned her the respect of her peers,who know that they're in for a long day when they swim against her.

I've heard people talking about how they hoped I didn't swim intheir event, says Smith. It really makes me feel great. I'mfriends with them outside the pool, but in the pool I want to knock themdead.

While Smith harbors dreams of some day making the Olympic team, rightnow all she wants to do is break records set by the 16-year-old Brace.

I just want to beat Ashley's records really bad, says Smith.I've been gunning for those records since I was seven.

Both Smith and Brace will be trying this weekend to qualify for the U.S.Junior National meet, which will take place in April.

Last week at the Oregon 11-and-over State Championships in Gresham, Bracemissed qualifying in the backstroke by a scant second.

She's (Brace) really ready this weekend, Tokman says. You'retalking a half a foot she missed it by. The first thing she told me whenshe got out of the water was she would do it in Seattle.

Though Smith, whose realistic chance to qualify for the U.S. Junior Nationalswill come in a year or two, seems to be on the fast track to swimming greatness,Tokman isn't ready to rush his pupil.

The most dangerous thing for a swimmer is to be so fast at sucha young age, says Tokman. They usually burn out easy, or findother interests. If myself, her parents and the community can keep thingsinteresting for her, hopefully she'll stay with the sport.

But after watching 15-year-old Amanda Beard swim to a gold medal in Atlantafor the United States, Smith's interest is firmly planted on swimming andshe now has her sights set on her own gold medal.

I would really like to swim in the Olympics and swim against thebest in the world, she says.

Only time will tell, but judging by the way things look now, it appearsanother Michelle Smith could be making big waves in international waters.

Michelle Smith, 10, of Ashland, a competitor for Medford's Superior Aquatic Club, is ranked first in Oregon in six different age-group swimming events. - Photo by Andy Atkinson</P