Originally created 02/05/01

Olympic champ featured at local meet



What does a swimmer who brings home two gold medals from the 2000 Summer Olympics in Sydney do for an encore?

In Courtney Shealy's case, she begins training for the 2004 Games in Athens, Greece.

That's what Shealy was doing at the Augusta Aquatics Center on Sunday, as the featured competitor in the 2001 Augusta-Aiken Swim League Winter Invitational.

Alongside teammates Jenny Thompson, Amy Van Dyken and Dara Torres, Shealy helped break the world record in the 400-meter free relay en route to the gold medal at Sydney. She earned a second gold swimming prelims on the 400-meter medley relay team.

Although she turned pro after the Olympics by signing a contract with Speedo, Shealy, 23, remains eligible for future Olympic Games.

"My goal is to make it back (to the Olympics) in 2004," Shealy said. "I think I can do it, but I have to take it year to year. To swim for myself is a whole new concept for me."

Before qualifying for the Olympics, Shealy swam for the University of Georgia, beginning in 1996. She is a member of the Bulldogs volleyball team and carries a 3.67 GPA. Shealy is on schedule to graduate with a degree in sports communications in the fall.

Originally from Columbia, Shealy began swimming competitively at the age of 5 and was swimming year-round by the time she was 7. She first participated in U.S. Nationals in 1994 and qualified for the Olympic Trials in 1996, where she finished as high as seventh in one event.

Along with completing her education, Shealy is currently swimming in weekend meets such as the Winter Invitational to keep in shape and help prepare her for the National Championships in Austin, Texas, in March.

Speedo helps pay for her training and provides incentives for participating in meets.

"It's been a challenge, but it's been fun," said Shealy of her rigorous schedule. "This is only my second competition since the Olympics. I'm excited to be here and glad to be a part of this."

Shealy was searching for a meet to compete in when she learned of the Winter Invitational from Aiken-Augusta Swim Team coach Ken Heis.

Heis came to Augusta in August from Anderson, S.C., where he spent two years as the sprint coach for Clemson. He hails from Cincinnati and swam for Kenyon College in Ohio before becoming a coach.

Many of the athletes competing in the Winter Invitational are attempting to qualify for the Georgia state meet in Savannah in three weeks. A few, such as 16-year-old Justin Kata and 12-year-old Trey Charlton, have a significant chance of eventually qualifying for the Nationals in Austin. Both Kata and Charlton are considered two of the top swimmers nationally in their age groups.

"The best thing about the Winter Invitational is that it's an open meet," Heis said. "Many of the swimmers have a hard time qualifying for some of the other meets, but anyone can come to this one."

Heis said he wants the community to know that there is a strong swimming presence in the Augusta area.

"We believe swimming is a great sport that offers a lot," he said. "The fact that we can bring in Olympic swimmers says enough."

He prefers coaching in the youth ranks to the rigors of college coaching. "One thing I enjoy about coaching here is that I don't have to spend my time recruiting," Heis said. "I can have more of an influence on people's lives here than I can coaching in college."