When Hali Flickinger dives into the pool at the 2016 Rio Olympics next month, she'll snap a 20-year drought for York County swimmers competing at the sport's highest level.
That's not to say that this area is expected to regularly churn out Olympic swimmers — or Olympic athletes in general, for that matter. Still, seeing the Spring Grove grad and former York YMCA standout in the pool will give the area another reason to scream and cheer at their televisions — outside of supporting the likes of Michael Phelps, Ryan Lochte, Katie Ledecky and Missy Franklin.
Flickinger is getting set to represent both York County and Team USA.
Twenty years ago, Whitney Metzler (now Whitney Krosse) made both her county and her country proud when she was a 400-meter individual medley finalist at the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta.
At the time, the Dallastown High School graduate was just a wide-eyed 18 year old, who qualified for the Olympic team by finishing second in the 400 IM at the Olympic Team Trials in Indianapolis before she even had her Dallastown High diploma. By the time Metzler competed in the Atlanta Games that July, Flickinger was barely 2 years old, with thoughts of swimming for Olympic gold still years away.
Despite being separated by two decades, the York County swimmers will be forever linked as part of the short list of Olympic swimmers to come from the region.
Metzler's Olympics: Going into the U.S. Olympic Team Trials, Krosse remembers the pressure of the event. Still in high school, she went into Indianapolis not as a shoo-in, but rather someone right on the cusp, an outside contender, to make the team in the 400 IM, widely considered the most grueling event in swimming.
"I think I always thought 2000 was the year I would really be in contention for making the Olympic team," Krosse admitted.
She didn't have to wait until 2000, however. Krosse made the team in the event, along with Allison Wagner. At 18, she was an Olympian before she was even out of high school.
Krosse admits that what she remembers most about her time at the Olympics was checking in and going from hotel room to hotel room, receiving all of her Team USA apparel. Once swimming began, however, Krosse didn't feel as much pressure as she would've expected.
Entering the Olympics, she was ranked 13th in the world in the 400 IM, so any chance at a medal would've taken a truly extraordinary performance. So, she set her sights on simply qualifying for the finals, which still required a great swim, but nothing out of the question. Krosse accomplished that feat and wound up finishing eighth in the event. Surely, the 2000 Olympic Games would be her real chance to grab a medal.
Krosse went on to swim at the University of Florida for two years, excelling as a freshman and sophomore. However, reconstructive shoulder surgery ended her swimming career early. She never got a chance to make it back to the Olympics.
"I don’t think I ever look back and wonder ‘what if,'" Krosse said. "Because I look back and think, you know what, swimming taught me how to be independent, how to articulate an argument in my mind during a two-hour practice. ... Swimming has taught me a lot of great things, but I never look at it like ‘what if?’"
Moving on from swimming: Krosse went on to finish her undergraduate degree at Florida in three years and then moved on to law school. She said her shoulder problems were a blessing in disguise, because, had she tried to continue swimming, she's not sure how she would've dealt with the rigors of both law school and trying to maintain her standing as an Olympic-caliber swimmer.
She's gone on to have similar success in her professional field as she had in the pool. She took her love for arguing topics and turned it into a career as an attorney. She now works for the Pennsylvania House of Representatives.
Swimming, however, isn't completely in her rear-view mirror. She still follows it and keeps in touch with several of her teammates from the 1996 team.
Now, she's in position to serve as somewhat of a mentor for Flickinger, even if it is from afar.
Tips for Flickinger: After qualifying for Rio, Flickinger's second-place time in the 200-meter butterfly ranked her 14th in the world in the event, or just one spot lower than Krosse's 400 IM world ranking going into Atlanta.
In that way, Krosse can relate to Flickinger as she prepares for her first Olympics. If there was any advice that Krosse would give to Flickinger, it's to keep doing what she's been doing, as cliché as it sounds. Her preparation and routine are what made her an Olympian. She can't afford to alter it now just because she's on the sport's grandest stage.
Krosse also said that Flickinger should not get too caught up in trying to medal. Just like Krosse in 1996, Flickinger will need a special performance to find herself on the podium — possibly needing to shave more than a second off of her qualifying time.
"She’s going to have to go into the Olympics quite similarly to what I did," Krosse said. "Just to not let any pressure build on herself and know that she should be looking to make the finals, first and foremost. You can’t medal until you make the medal round. Figure out what that’s going to take and then be prepared to have the swim of your life in the finals. She knows what she’s getting into. She knows what the stress is like and she’s probably more prepared than she thinks she is."
— Reach Patrick Strohecker at firstname.lastname@example.org