May 14, 2014
STORRS, Conn. – University of Connecticut freshman swimmer Christine Pedersen (Vinterbro, Norway) wasn’t sure just how much faster she became in her first year at UConn after making the transition from swimming in meter races in Europe to competing in yard events she saw at the collegiate level.
The UConn backstroke specialist had a sensational 2013-14 campaign, qualifying for multiple finals at the inaugural American Athletic Conference Swimming and Diving Championships this past February, but she wanted to know how much progress she really made since coming to Storrs. Pedersen got that chance this spring when she returned home to compete in three events at the 2014 NM Short Track Meet, which took place April 3-6.
Following the conference meet, Pedersen trained with assistant swimming coach Janelle Atkinson-Wignall for several weeks to prepare for the event in Norway. Her training with Atkinson-Wignall and the coaching she received at UConn culminated in multiple personal best times at the event, starting with the 200-meter backstroke, which she finished first in with a time of 2:12.81. Pedersen completed the 100-meter backstroke in 1:02.70 to again earn first place honors, and she also placed first in the 50-meter backstroke, swimming it in 29.01 seconds.
“When I came back to my meter season I could compare my times and I saw that I actually progressed,” Pedersen said. “That gave me confidence in the UConn program and coaches, and it makes me more excited for next semester.”
Two months later, Pedersen and several of her teammates on the Norwegian National Team participated in Mare Nostrum, a long course outdoor meet in Barcelona, Spain. The UConn swimmer posted solid times again, finishing the 50-yard backstroke in 30.30 seconds and the 100-yard backstroke in 1:05.40. She then had a great showing in the 200-yard backstroke, earning fifth place honors in the B Final with a time of 2:19.20.
"It was a motivating meet with so many Olympians and world record holders," Pedersen said. "There were more than 20 nations represeted from all over the world, and I was pretty happy with my times since I wasn't really rested for this meet."
UConn swimming coach Bob Goldberg, who has seen the adjustments European swimmers have had to make when coming to the United States, is equally excited for Pedersen’s future. Her shift to the college ranks has come natural, and Goldberg attributes that to the coaches she learned from earlier in her career.
“Her skills and technique in the water are terrific and that comes from great coaching,” Goldberg said. “Because she is so technically sound she was able to adapt to all the changes that came here way. When we put starts, turns and finishes together next year she’s going to be pretty spectacular.”
The transition for Pedersen, who was named the American Athletic Conference Female Swimmer of the Week during the year, wasn’t totally seamless, and earlier in the season she needed to adjust to Goldberg’s style of practice. While in Norway her coaches focus a lot on technique and making sure every stroke is perfect, Goldberg takes a more old school approach, pushing his swimmers through high tempo practices that help them keep their pace up.
Pedersen has bought into Goldberg’s system, and out of the pool she’s enjoyed the family-like atmosphere of the team that has become a staple of the UConn program.
“I like how we are such a huge team and that there’s such a strong team mentality here,” Pedersen said. “It makes you want to step up for each other and push each other to swim faster. That’s a new aspect that I had to get used to but it was a positive situation.”
Up next for Pedersen, who will continue to train in Spain this June, is the Norwegian Long Course Championships at the end of July. Her busy summer will pay dividends says Goldberg, as Pedersen looks to make the next jump in her swimming career as a sophomore. She would like to finish in the top three in each of the backstroke finals at next year’s conference meet and get closer to qualifying for the NCAA Championships, both of which are attainable when she gets quicker with her turns in the water.
“It takes a while to adjust to the lengths and feel confident in your turns,” Goldberg said. “When you’re not confident you tend to slow down a little bit to be careful in your turns.”
Goldberg is confident in Pedersen, who lost her goggles and a chance at an even better finish in the 100-meter at the Short Track Meet. Loose goggles might be the only thing that slows down Pedersen moving forward, as the UConn swimmer takes aim at making history in year two at Connecticut.
“Next year, with a season under her belt, I think she will break all our backstroke records and have a shot at winning the conference meet in both backstroke events,” said Goldberg.
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