Brian Elko’s 5-year-old son, Ian, has two favorite swimmers. His favorite male swimmer is Michael Phelps, a 16-time Olympic medalist — including 14 gold.
His favorite female swimmer?
That name probably doesn’t resonate the same way as Phelps’ name. She swims for Elko’s club team in Egg Harbor Township. She is a Ventnor native and Atlantic City High School junior.
But when the 2012 U.S. Olympic team trials begin Monday, Callahan will be in the same building as all of swimming’s stars. The 17-year-old will compete in the 100- and 200-meter breaststroke in Omaha, Neb. The 100 breaststroke is June 27 with the 200 breakstroke final three days later.
“I’m really excited for the opportunity,” said Callahan, who swims for the Egg Harbor Township Seahawks. “I’ll get to see all the people who are basically the fastest swimmers in the country. I’m excited to swim these races.”
Callahan qualified by swimming under a certain time during sanctioned races this year. She swam the second-fastest time in her age group — 16 years old — in the country in the 100 and 200 breaststrokes. She swam the 100 in 1 minute, 11.35 seconds and the 200 in 2:35.12.
Overall, her times aren’t ranked as high as the best swimmers at the competition. Callahan is going to compete against Rebecca Soni, who is the top-ranked breaststroker in the country. She comes into the Olympic trials with a top-seeded qualifying time of 1:05.83 in the 100, and was once the world record holder in the event.
The top two finishers in every final will make the Olympic team.
“I looked at the times and where I rank. It’s not realistic to say I am going to make the Olympics, but I am going for the experience,” Callahan said. “I have goals I set for myself. I want to get my best times and see how I do against the fastest swimmers in the country.”
The experience is also part of the fun.
Elko competed in the Olympic trials in 2000 when they were held in Indianapolis. As much he thought he was prepared for it, the experience was a bit overwhelming.
It would be like swimming inside Boardwalk Hall with every seat filled. Then add another 6,000 to 7,000 people.
“There is so much going on and all these people are in the stands wearing the same colored shirts,” Elko, 33, an Egg Harbor Township resident, said. “It will be a new experience.”
Callahan has competed at big events and in front of large crowds before. She also swam at the same events as Phelps and Soni and other future and former Olympians. But 16,000 people crowding into CenturyLink Center in Omaha with fireworks shooting off and people screaming is different from any other experience.
“This is something she’ll experience that she can use four years from now,” Elko said. “I don’t think she is going to be fazed by it, though. She has swam in Grand Prix events and has stayed really focused. She has stepped up every time she races in these big events. The sky is the limit for her.”
Callahan has her family to thank for the start of her swimming career. When her brother, Joe, was 7, he wanted to surf, but the only way their mother, Marianne, would allow that to happen was if he got swim lessons.
It didn’t take long before a 4-year-old Colleen joined her brother in the water. She liked it so much she joined a club team, the Atlantic City Sea Cats.
She’s turned those swim lessons into being one of the top high school swimmers in the country. Callahan won the 100 breaststroke and 200 individual medley three straight years at the Meet of Champions. She was also named The Press High School Athlete of the Winter this year.
“It really hasn’t set in yet,” Callahan said. “When I get there, I’ll be so taken aback. But my goals are just to swim my best times and see what I can do.”
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