The first timeChloe Sutton ever raced in open water, she made a big splash. On June 2, twoweeks before finishing eighth grade, she participated in the 5K women'snational championship while attending an open-water instructional camp in FortMyers, Fla. She plunged into the Gulf of Mexico and led the other 85competitors for 800 meters before finishing second.
Two days laterthe lithe hairpin of a 14-year-old from Ashburn, Va., signed up for the women's10K event on a whim and made an even bigger splash. Though she started deadlast in a field of 34 and got elbowed in the eye, Sutton outsprinted threeswimmers over the final 400 meters to finish first in just over two hours,coming out of nowhere to become the national champion.
Asked how it feltto dip her toe in the Gulf to such startling effect, Sutton says, "Gettingthrough the race was exciting, and winning was even more exciting." Mostexciting of all for her is that 10K open-water swimming will make its Olympicdebut in 2008. She is the poster child for a sport in which the U.S. is aneophyte in uncharted waters.
Until now, Suttonhas been known as a freestyle prodigy. She took to the water when she was sevenand by age 12 she had set age-group records at 800 meters (8:59.95) and 1,000yards (9:57.33). Last year she qualified for the Olympic trials in the 400- and800-meter freestyle and is now No. 1 in her age group at 400, 800 and 1,500meters.
So even thoughSutton will make her international open-water debut in the 10K next week at thePan-Pacific Championships in Victoria, B.C., she's still pursuing medals in thepool. Last week she was the fastest meter maid, 14-and-under, in the 400 and800 at the senior long course nationals in Irvine, Calif.
But the rap onSutton has been that her modest height (5'8") and meek flip turns havelimited her. Neither is a factor in open water. "This event better fitsChloe's temperament," says mentor Carol Breiter, who in 1983 swam theEnglish Channel. "Strategy is the key." In the helter-skelter ofpushing, shoving and kicking, good positioning is paramount; an open-waterswimmer must hang back early and let others fight the waves and the currents."Chloe's strength is her sprint," says her coach, Grady Hough. "Shecan break away whenever she wants to."
Sutton--whosefather, David, a lieutenant colonel, played offensive tackle on an Air Forceteam that beat Texas in the 1985 Bluebonnet Bowl and finished No. 8 in thenation--approaches swimming with an obsessive single-minded devotion. Shepractices in a pool more than four hours a day, which doesn't leave much timefor being a teenager. Asked if she likes music, she says, "Not really."Movies? "Not really." Dating? Don't ask. "Chloe can be a normal14-year-old," says her mother, Wendy. "She's just very focused onswimming."
Sutton was one ofeight elite female freestylers at the camp in Florida where she raced in that5K national championship. She and 15-year-old Kirsten Groome swam side-by-sidefor pretty much the entire race, but with 1,200 meters left, Sutton went widearound a buoy. Groome went tight. In the ensuing collision, Sutton lost hergoggles and about 30 seconds. "Kirsten beat me by two body lengths,"she grumbles. Chloe may not be mad about boys, but she's still mad about thebuoy.
In For a Bumpy Ride
Another sport that will be making its Olympic debut atthe 2008 Beijing Games is BMX racing. A cycling event that looks a little likesnowboardcross on bikes, it could give the Summer Olympics the same infusion ofyouthful appeal and energy that snowboarding has brought to the WinterGames.
The individual men's and women's races, which willreplace the 500-meter and one-kilometer cycling time trials, will featuresprints by eight riders on motocross-type dirt tracks that are between 300 and400 meters long and at least five meters wide. Courses contain jumps and steepbanks (called berms) that can spin riders off their bikes or cause gnarlypileups.
Bubba Harris (above), the 2005 world champion, will bean Olympic favorite, despite his crash at the 2006 worlds last month in S√£oPaulo, Brazil. Harris, 21, says that each race is a memorial to his mother,Anita, who died of cancer three years ago; he has her picture on his helmet andwears her name on his jersey. --Brian Cazeneuve
After entering the 10K nationals on a whim, Sutton won thechampionship.