Photo courtesy Boise State University

By ERIC A. HOWALD
Of the Keizertimes

Regardless of whether she makes the U.S. Olympic swim team, it’s important to understand the magnitude of what Amber Boucher has already accomplished.

Of all the swimmers in U.S. high schools and colleges, and all those still fighting for Olympic dreams past those points in their life (there are many), Boucher is among the most elite – seeded in the top 100 in the nation. That might seem like a lot of pressure, but Boucher said she wasn’t feeling it. At least, not until she stepped out onto the arena floor Monday morning, June 25, with a crowd of more than 13,000 in attendance.

“I’ve been to big meets, but this one is quite literally mind-blowing. I thought I was walking into a NFL pro game,” Boucher said. “I walked out for my first race and thought, ‘Oh … my … God.’”

At that point, all the excitement she had felt up to the moment turned to nerves. To calm herself before her first race, the 100-meter butterfly, she started repeating the following like a zen koan: “It’s just another pool, just another 100 butterfly, I’ve done this a thousand times.”

It must have worked because Boucher entered the heat seeded 10th and finished second.

Overall, her improvement in that race moved her from 111th in the country to 86th, and it set the tone for what she’ll hope to accomplish later this week when she competes in the 100- and 50-meter freestyle races.

“My goal right now is just to move up a couple of spots in each race,” Boucher said.

Her best bet might be the 100-freestyle, which she’ll compete in on Friday, June 29. Boucher is already seeded 98th in that event, but shedding a mere half a second from her time could see her finish in the top 50.

“To be top 50 in any of my races would be phenomenal,” she said.

Her last race will be the 50-meter free on Sunday, July 1.

The mountain she’s trying to climb is enormous, to make the U.S. Olympic team outright, she’ll have to finish in the top four in either the 100- or 50- free. If she finishes finishes fifth or sixth she’ll make the team as an alternate.

In any other race, like the 100 butterfly, only the top three swimmers earn a spot at the London Olympic Games.

Since helping lead the Boise State University team to a pair of miracle seasons, Boucher has been training for this week, which has required a drastic change-up in strategies.

“The Olympic pool is more than twice the size of the ones we use in high school and college. In a race like the 50 free, in a smaller pool, it means I get a flip turn, in a 100-meter race I get three. In a shorter race, in an Olympic size pool, you can lose the race by messing up the dive,” Boucher said.

The longer pool meant she’s been working on endurance and the little things in technique that can help close the gap between her and the next swimmer.

In the meantime, Boucher will be waiting. Waiting for the chance to see if she has what it takes to represent her country against the world’s best. She’ll get through it the same way she always has: in a pool, stroke by stroke, just like she has a thousand times before.