A trip to Rio is a strong possibility this year for former Richland High School swimmer Lisa Bratton.
Bratton raced against some of the world’s biggest swimming stars at the U.S. Olympic Team Trials four years ago, advancing to the semifinals of the women’s 200-meter backstroke.
Now 20 and gearing up for her junior year at Texas A&M, Bratton has qualified for four events at the 2016 Trials, which start Sunday in Omaha, Neb.
She got her Trials cuts in the 100 backstroke and the 200 and 400 individual medley, but her best chance of moving on to this summer’s Rio de Janeiro Olympics is in the 200 back.
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Bratton enters with the fourth-fastest time in the field — 2 minutes, 9.31 seconds. She swam that time to win the gold medal at last year’s World University Games in Gwangju, South Korea.
Olympic berths generally go to the Trials winner and runner-up.
“I definitely know I have a shot, but there’s a lot of girls who have a shot as well, so it’s really gonna come down to who shows up on that day and swims the perfect race,” Bratton said. “Hopefully it’s me, but if not, I’m looking to be at least top six because that’ll put me hopefully on the national team for the next year.”
The three swimmers with faster times are world-record holder and reigning Olympic champion Missy Franklin (2:06.34); Maya DiRado (2:08.19), who won the 200 back at the Arena Pro Swim Series meet earlier this year in Mesa, Ariz.; and Elizabeth Beisel (2:08.33), the 2012 Olympic bronze medalist in the event.
In the 200 back final at the 2012 Trials, Franklin swam a 2:06.12 and Beisel a 2:07.58 to advance to the London Olympics.
In her first trip to the Trials, Bratton, a Tri-City Channel Cats club swimmer who had just completed her sophomore year of high school, clocked a 2:16.53 to finish 16th in the semifinals. Her best time came in preliminaries (2:13.57).
Bratton and her college coach, Steve Bultman, think a 2:07 is within reach for her this time.
The U.S. Olympic Team Trials are June 26-July 3 in Omaha, Neb. The Trials will air on NBCSN and NBC.
“Whether that’s gonna be fast enough, who knows?” said Bultman, who was on the U.S. Olympic Team coaching staff in 1988 and 2012. “She’s just gotta get herself in the final, and she’ll have a shot.”
Bratton is coming off a season in which she helped the Texas A&M women win their first SEC title since joining the conference in 2012.
At the SEC championships, Bratton won the 200-yard backstroke and 200 IM, took second in the 400 IM and swam on the first-place 400 medley relay team.
Bratton didn’t get much rest before the competition, and she has kept that in mind during her Trials preparation. After school ended this year, she stayed in Texas and trained for the Trials.
“I wasn’t one of the ones who tapered (for SECs),” Bratton said. “There was a handful of us that didn’t taper for the meet. We came down just a little, but not a lot. I swam really well on that little bit of taper. And we learned from SECs and the NCAAs that I don’t need as much taper, so that’s why we think I didn’t swim as well at NCAAs.”
At the NCAA meet, she was fourth in the 200-yard back, fifth in the 200 IM and seventh in the 400 IM.
Out of the pool, Bratton has been chipping away at her undergraduate studies in ocean engineering.
Her Texas A&M teammates voted her as a co-captain for next year, so she’s also working on being more vocal.
“She wants to do well,” Bultman said. “She works hard. She pushes herself. She’s got some high goals for herself.”
Unlike DiRado, who says she will retire from competitive swimming after this summer, Bratton plans to go for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.
As far as the recent worries over the Zika virus that has affected Brazil, Bratton isn’t losing sleep over it.
“I hear about it, and it is a little concerning, but it wouldn’t keep me from going, by any means,” she said. “To be able to represent Team USA at the Olympics, that’s definitely the highest goal of any athlete, and I’d never turn that down.”
Bratton is scheduled to swim Sunday in the 400-meter IM, Monday in the 100 back and Tuesday in the 200 IM. The 200 back starts Friday.
Meanwhile, former Walla Walla High School swimmer Tyler Jones will compete Saturday at the Trials in the men’s 1,500 freestyle.
Jones, who has signed a national letter of intent to swim for the University of Cincinnati, earned his Trials cut (15:46.27) at the Speedo Grand Challenge in late May in Irvine, Calif.
Jones, 19, swims for Team Santa Monica. His older brother, Carl, finished 36th in the 1,500 free at the 2008 Trials.