It's hard to tell if Olivia Chan won or lost a race, because she shrugs at victory and shrugs off defeat.
Standing on the starting block at the state preliminaries for the 200-yard IM this year, Chan, who swims for Sewanhaka District, lined up next to her biggest competition. A 5-6 freshman at New Hyde Park, Chan looked the 6-2 parochial school standout up and down, strapped her goggles on and jumped in.
Emerging from the pool at the end of the race, Chan realized she placed second, 0.85 seconds behind her rival who began with an automatic eight-inch lead.
"Well," she said, "I guess I've just got to grow."
That's Chan in a nutshell. She's a swimming cliché: cool, calm and collected; mature beyond her years. And Newsday's 2009 swimmer of the year.
"Things don't seem to phase her," said Glenn Nielsen, the Sewanhaka District coach for the last decade. He's coached Chan since she made the varsity team in seventh grade. "She goes into an event and she looks perfectly ok and calm, but she goes in and she goes in to win."
Chan placed first in the 200 IM (2:06.35) and 100 breaststroke (1:04.48) in the 2009 State Public School Championships. She finished second in both events in Federation.
"It was one of my goals to be a state champion, but I never thought I could do it as a freshman," said Chan, who's been an all-division, all-county and all-state swimmer since she reached varsity in seventh grade. "I thought I'd be in the top five, but not first. It was actually pretty surprising, but it was a nice surprise, because it showed that what I've been working for had finally paid off."
She displayed her usual dominance at the Nassau finals this year too, winning the 100 free (52.91) and 50 free (24.73). She was also part of the first place 200-medley relay (1:51.20). At the 2008 finals she set county records in the 100 free and 50 free, and swam the anchor leg on the winning 400 free relay.
This year, she had the top Nassau time in four solo events during the regular season.
Chan began swimming at age 5, when her mom entered her in a swimming class. She immediately took a liking to it, and said that by the time she turned eight, she realized this could be a sport she could do year round.
But it's not as if Chan stepped from the cradle to the starting block with no stumbling blocks in between.
"She came in and she was very shy, very meek," Nielsen said. "But two years ago, she said, 'You know, I never thought about setting a record or winning all of these events.' She just really was almost unimpressed with what she was doing. At the same time I think as she's gotten older I think she knows she can do this and she knows she can set records."
At a county dinner earlier this month, Nielsen was speaking about Chan and the success she's had so early in her high school career.
"I'm really excited to see where she's going to go from here," he said. "If she stays where she is as far as her attitude is and her workouts, I could see her going to the Olympic trials. The need is there, I can see it. She knows what she's capable of."
Newsday's All-Long Island girls swimming team
Gaffey swam the lead leg in the winning 200-yard free relay (1:37.99), was part of the third place 200 medley relay (1:50.16) and finished third in the 50 free (24.24) at the Federation state championships. She won two individual events (100 breaststroke, 50 free) and was part of two Suffolk record-breaking relays (200 medley relay and 200 free relay) at the county championships on her way to being named "Most Outstanding Swimmer" at the meet.
Gaffey, who holds the 50 free (24.04) and 100 breaststroke (1:06.32) records for Connetquot, is in all AP and honors classes at school and is on the principle's honor role. She is also a member of the All-State orchestra for violin.
Long Beach, Senior
Harris won the Nassau diving finals with a score of 481.85 and placed third for the second year in a row at the Federation state diving championships, scoring 475.80. She has qualified for states since she started diving for the varsity in seventh grade, and has been all-division, all-county and all-state all six years. She has never been defeated in dual-meet competition, and won the county meet three times, the first coming when she was a seventh grader.
"It's consistency," coach John Skudin said. "If she doesn't dive well, she doesn't let it take her down, she gets over it. She's very competitive and doesn't want to loseshe's tough that way." Harris hasn't selected a college yet, but she is being recruited by several Division I schools.
Sacred Heart, Senior
She swam the anchor leg of the third place 400 free relay (3:35.78) and came in third in the 500 freestyle (4:55.26) and fourth in the 200 free (1:50.31) at the Federation Championship. Kelly, who will attend the University of North Carolina, won the 200 freestyle (1:50.25), 100 free (51.98) and was part of the first place 200 free relay (1:40.03) at the CHSAA championships. The 200 free relay set a CHSAA record.
In September, Kelly was selected as one of the top 23 swimmers in the nation to compete for the National Youth World Cup team. One of the region's best prospects, she had been the Federation state champion in the 500 free-style and had placed either first or second in the 200 freestyle three straight years coming into 2009.
Great Neck South, Sophomore
Sun took second in the 100-backstroke (57.57) and placed fourth in the 100-butterfly (56.84) at the Federation state finals. She set new county records for the 100-butterfly (56.76) and 100-backstroke (57.56) at the Nassau championship, and was also part of the winning 200 free relay (1:40.05) at counties.
Sun has been on the team since seventh grade, and while a strong swimmer in 2008, took a major jump this season, improving her backstroke and butterfly times by about two seconds.
How? "I know it sounds corny, but good old fashioned hard work," coach Andy Berlin said. "She's dedicated and works hard, but she keeps it very much in perspective." Sun was named all-county in four events, with her work on the 200 and 400 free relays joining her established specialties of backstroke and butterfly.
COACH OF THE YEAR