Sports

Tungate earns spot among nation's best swimmers

Olivia Tungate - Jim Waller / Whidbey News-Times
Olivia Tungate
— image credit: Jim Waller / Whidbey News-Times

Toss exceptional talent, work ethic, desire, competitiveness and intelligence into the athletic blender, and the concoction brewed will come out a winner.

Those ingredients describe Oak Harbor’s 12-year-old Olivia Tungate, one of the United States’ leading swimmers in her age group.

Tungate, who swims for the North Whidbey Aquatic Club, was named to the Pacific Northwest Swimming all-star squad, which will challenge elite teams from Pacific Swimming, Southern California Swimming and the Mexican Swimming Federation Thursday and Friday, Aug. 8 and 9, at the King County Aquatic Center in Federal Way.

Selection of Tungate to the team was a no-brainer for PNS officials. The Oak Harbor Middle School eighth-grader holds six USA Swimming top-25 times in her age group, led by the country’s third-best time of 2:24.15 in the 200-meter butterfly.

She also sits ninth in the 400 individual medley (5:17.97), 12th in the 200 backstroke (2:28.86), 16th in the 200 IM (2:30.19), 19th in the 50 backstroke (32.43) and 24th in the 100 backstroke (1:09.59).

NWAC coach Bill Patterson estimates there are 350,000 athletes involved in USA Swimming.

In USA Swimming’s IMX (Individual Medley Extreme) Challenge, she ranked 12th out of 2,414 following the Pacific North Swimming championships last weekend. Tungate ranked 88th in 2012.

Her accomplishments didn’t come by accident, nor are they a surprise.

Patterson, who took over the NWAC program this spring, called Tungate one of the “standard bearers” of the team when it comes to effort and consistency in practice.

He said Tungate’s hard work and commitment to practice are an excellent example how those qualities lead to success.

Former NWAC coach Neil Romney, who guided Tungate from her first days on the team as a 6-year-old until last fall, called her a “tough and talented athlete” and “smart, mature and disciplined.”

Romney spotted something special in Tungate from the beginning: “I remember watching our entry-level group one day back in 2007 as they did underwater kicking across the width of the pool. What caught my eye was this little hatchling kicking dolphin in a tight streamline most of the way across the pool like a veteran while her peers were surfacing right after pushing off, flailing their limbs and gasping for breath.”

By 8, Tungate broke all of the NWAC age-group, long course meter records.

Romney noted that many young swimming stars are “soon eclipsed by later-developing peers.” But not Tungate, she “is faster now relative to her peers than she ever has been,” he said.

He added that the “ferocity with which she competed this past weekend [at the PNS championships] and the consistently high performance level she mustered…demonstrates that she has become more determined than ever.”

Romney added one more trait to Tungate’s already impressive list – emotional toughness.

“She does not complain, she does not make excuses, and she accepts constructive criticism with unusual composure,” he said.

Cliff Tungate, Olivia’s father, said that he and his wife, Shinobu, always try to keep their kids active and brought Olivia to the pool at an early age. It was evident from the beginning, he said, that she was a good swimmer and “loved the water.”

Olivia’s success, he said, should be credited to his wife: “She’s an incredible mom.”

He noted Olivia developed a strong bond with Romney, and that Patterson is keeping her pointed in the right direction.

Cliff Tungate emphasized that Olivia is even a better student than swimmer, earning “A’s” across the board.

With her talent and academic achievements, it is not surprising Olivia’s goal is to swim for Stanford someday.

A more immediate goal, she said, is to lower her times and move up the national best-time lists. In particular, she needs to trim less than a second off her 200-meter butterfly time to jump to the top spot, a feat she hopes to achieve this week.

Olivia Tungate said her accomplishments are a result of being pushed in practice by her coaches and teammates Emily and Kelly Huffer.

The accolades and accomlishment are heady stuff, but Tungate is still a typical 12-year-old. She said her swimming hero is Olympic champion Nathan Adrian, but not so much because he, too, is from Washington (Bremerton), but because he is “cute.”

With that response, one can add “normal” to her recipe for success.

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