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Olympic Trial berths on the line for quartet of Duke swimmers

<p>Sophomore Isa Paez will look to clinch a spot competing for Venezuel in the 2016 Summer Olympics at the three-day Winter Nationals this week.</p>

Sophomore Isa Paez will look to clinch a spot competing for Venezuel in the 2016 Summer Olympics at the three-day Winter Nationals this week.

The end of the semester is quickly approaching, but so are the Olympic Trials.

Sophomores Isabella Paez and Leah Goldman, junior James Peek and freshman Yusuke Legard will represent Duke at the three-day USA Winter Nationals starting Thursday at the Weyerhaeuser King County Aquatic Center in Federal Way, Wash., looking to make their bids for the 2016 Olympic Games and Olympic Trial berths.

The Blue Devils have few opportunities to race long course and meet these qualifying time standards during the collegiate short course season. Aside from time trials at South Carolina Jan. 9, Winter Nationals is the only other meet on their schedule at which they will compete with the lane lines set for 50 meters rather than 25 yards.

“For those that had Nationals cuts, we gave them the option—it’s a very tough time of year with this being the last week of the semester and going into finals,” Duke head coach Dan Colella said. “For them, it’s an opportunity to swim at a national championship and to swim long course in an Olympic year.”

For Paez—who attended high school Medley, Fla., but was born in Caracas, Venezuela—Saturday’s 200-meter butterfly and Friday’s 100-meter butterfly could earn her a trip to Rio de Janeiro. Venezuela does not hold an Olympic Trials meet to determine which athletes it will send to the 2016 Olympic Games. Paez will have to achieve certain time standards in hopes of earning a spot on her native country’s team and becoming the first swimming Blue Devil Olympian since Nancy Hogshead earned one silver and three gold medals at the 1984 Summer Olympics in Los Angeles.

Each country may send a maximum of two swimmers in each event, with both representatives having recorded an OQT—Olympic Qualifying Time—or a single swimmer with an OST—Olympic Standard Time.

Andreina Pinto enters Winter Nationals as the third-seeded swimmer in the long butterfly in 2:09.51, just off the OQT of 2:09.33. Pinto was one of three female swimmers—including her sister Yanel—representing Venezuela in the 2012 Olympic Games and was the nation’s only athlete in the women’s 200-meter butterfly in London.

Duke’s Olympic hopeful is seeded 16th in the 200-meter event with a time of 2:12.63.

Paez swam a personal-best and school record in her signature 200-yard butterfly Nov. 21 at the Nike Cup Invitational, winning the event in 1:56.14 and posting what was the fastest time in the nation—until Ella Eastin of Stanford and Kara Kopcso of Louisiana State posted times of 1:53.34 and 1:55.50 at the Art Adamson Invitational in College Station, Texas, an hour later. But Paez was not fully tapered for the Blue Devils’ final team competition of the fall semester.

“At the beginning of the year, we decided that my big meet was going to be Nationals,” Paez said. “We did a little drop down for [Nike Cup], but I’m really excited to see what I go at Nationals.”

Paez will also swim the 100-meter butterfly Friday. The OQT for the event is 58.74 seconds and the OST is 1:00.80, and the Blue Devil is seeded 24th in 1:00.58.

Her classmate Goldman will also compete in the short-distance butterfly and is seeded 28th in 1:00.68. The Burlingame, Calif., native will compete in the 200-meter individual medley, 100-meter breaststroke and 100-meter freestyle and has earned time standards in the 200-meter individual medley and 100-meter butterfly for the U.S. Olympic Trials June 26 to July 3 in Omaha, Neb.

Goldman will be the first Duke athlete to step up to the blocks at the winter championships with Thursday’s individual medley. Entering the preliminary heats as the 19th-seeded swimmer in 2:15.86, she will seek to advance to the evening finals with a top-16 finish in the morning.

Peek—a Forest Row, Sussex, England, native—has already achieved British Olympic Trials cuts for both sprint freestyles but is taking advantage of the opportunity to race long course before the Olympic qualifying meet April 12-17 in Glasgow, Scotland. As the 26th-seeded athlete in Thursday’s 50-meter freestyle and the 51st in Saturday’s 100-meter freestyle with times of 22.75 and 50.50 seconds, respectively, Peek will race against a handful of Olympians, including Nathan Adrian, Anthony Ervin and Cullen Jones.

The junior is also entered in Friday’s 100-meter backstroke, using a conversion time from short course yards of 47.94 seconds, but may withdraw from the event to focus on Saturday’s race.

Legard will look to earn his British Trials cuts in the 50-, 100- and 200-meter freestyles. The Weybridge, Surrey, United Kingdom, native is seeded 93rd in the 100-meter event with a time of 51.67 seconds—25 one-hundredths off the qualifying standard of 51.42 seconds. Legard will swim the both the 50- and 200-meter events as time trials, aiming to touch the wall in less than 23.62 seconds and 1:52.61, respectively. 

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