Sunday, February 10, 2008

Fil-Am Swimmer to join RP Olympic Team

A FILIPINO-AMERICAN TABBED as a replacement for one of the United States’ top swimmers has opted to don the Philippine national colors instead.

Christel Simms, a member of the junior stable of swimming powerhouse United States, recently became the first female swimmer of the Philippines to qualify for the 2008 Beijing Olympics this August.

The 16-year-old Simms met the Olympic qualifying standard with a time of 57.17 seconds in the 100-meter freestyle set during the USA Junior National Swimming Championship last Aug. 17 in Indianapolis.

Executive director Cornel Marculescu of the international swimming federation confirmed the record Saturday.

Philippine Amateur Swimming Association president Mark Joseph said Simms had been identified by US swimming as a potential replacement to four-time Olympic gold medalist Natalie Coughlin in the 2012 Olympics.

The mother of the 21-year-old Coughlin also traces her roots to the Philippines.

But while Coughlin’s mother did not stand in the way of her daughter representing the US, Simms’ mother was a little more adamant about the issue.

“I call the shots,” Simms’ Filipino mother Jocelyn was quoted as saying recently. “My daughter is Filipino and will swim for the Philippines. Her uncle was a Filipino national tennis champion so our link to Philippine sports is solid.”

Simms, a member of the 2007 US national junior team, joins the RP Olympic swimming bid spearheaded by Southeast Asian Games Best Male Athlete Miguel Molina and fellow SEA Games gold medalists Daniel Coakley, James Walsh and Ryan Arabejo.

Simms, a high school student at Punahou School in Honolulu, owns several Hawaii records set during state meets.

“Like Coakley, she is the Hawaii State champion, so that gives us two Pinoys, a male and a female, as the fastest swimmers in USA swimming’s Pacific jurisdiction,” said Joseph.