WRITTEN BY SHARON ROBB
FORT LAUDERDALE—Arlene Semeco is more than ready for this week’s South American Championships.
The Venezuelan national record holder won the 50-meter freestyle Saturday night on Day 3 of the Speedo Champions Series Southern Zone Southern Sectional Championships at Fort Lauderdale Aquatic Complex.
Semeco, 26, of the Coral Springs Swim Club, won in 26.04 seconds. Teammate Lindsey McKnight, 15, was second in 26.53 after finishing second to Olympian Elizabeth Beisel in the 200-meter individual medley.
It was a near carbon copy of last year’s race where Semeco finished first in 25.55 and McKnight finished second in 26.83.
“I am in the middle of my taper right now, so it’s hard to race fast in the middle of a taper,” Semeco said.
“I felt really good,” said Semeco, who took three breaths during the sprint race. “I just need to rest for next week and I will be ready to go. I am very excited to race.
“I was faster the second half of my race, that has always been my problem,” Semeco said. “I should be faster in the first half and then bring it home. It’s something I have been working on. It was a good race for me. I was ahead of everybody at the end.
“I could see Lindsey through the whole race and how fast she was going. She was just coming out of the 200 IM. Lindsey is a little monster. She did a good job.”
Coral Springs Swim Club coach Michael Lohberg was pleased with Semeco’s effort and form in the water.
“She was very solid with a strong second half,” Lohberg said. “She has good technique and is very high in the water. She is still a little bit in the taper so she lost the snappyness she usually has.”
Semeco has showed tremendous improvement since she started training with the six-time Olympic coach in 2007. Lohberg worked with her stroke and technique the first few months.
It also helped having five-time Olympian Dara Torres and Sharntelle McLean of Trinidad and Tobago to train with leading up to the Beijing, where Semeco made it to the semifinals in the 50.
“I feel like I didn’t become a swimmer or know how to race until I got to Coral Springs,” said Semeco, one of the most popular swimmers in Venezuela. “I feel so much better as a swimmer. I love to sprint. I don’t like to do more than 200 meters.”
“Michael totally changed my stroke, took it apart and rebuilt it,” Semeco said. “I feel so much more efficient in the water.”
Semeco is funded by her swim federation which allows her to train full-time and work on her masters in nutrition at Florida International University.
Semeco will compete in the 50- and 100-meter freestyle events in the South American Championships in Colombia. It will be her fourth appearance. She will be joined by clubmate Leo Andara at the prestigious meet.
Semeco, a University of Alabama graduate, represented her native country in two consecutive Summer Olympics in 2004 and 2008. She won two gold medals at the 2007 Pan American Games.
Semeco was a late bloomer in the sport. She started swimming at age 9 and didn’t get good until age 17.
“I started kind of late for a swimmer,” Semeco said. “I loved it and when I started breaking national records I knew I was going to be around for a while.”
After the South American Championships, Semeco will compete in Europe and then follow up with the Central American Games in July and after that start preparing for the World Championships in December.
“Making the Olympics was a dream come true,” Semeco said. “I would like to try and make it again for London. My plan is to stay around and train for the next two years.
“My first Olympics was hard,” Semeco said. “I didn’t qualify until two months before the Games and then I was scared out of my mind when I got there. In 2008, I felt more confident about myself and swimming. I am very excited about the future. I want to make London for sure and then see where life takes me after that.”
McKnight had another good finals night. She was second in the 200-yard individual medley in 2:17.71 after cruising in the prelims (2:23.31). Lohberg has been particularly pleased with her racing strategy.
“She is beginning to understand the difference between qualifying in the morning and racing at night,” Lohberg said. “She is getting cleverer and cleverer, better and better. She is learning all the tricks. She knows what she is suppose to do in the morning and then she comes back at night and races. I am really happy with her progress overall. And, I am a little surprised at what we are doing at this meet. It is a very nice surprise.”
Beisel, 17, of Bluefish Swim Club, won the 200 IM in 2:15.09 after she finished second in the 100 backstroke in 1:02.21.
Olympic gold medalist Ryan Lochte, 26, won his third event of the meet, in the 100 backstroke in 55.08, another World Champion Trials cut time. Lochte will sign autographs and pose for pictures on Sunday, the final day of the meet, between 2 and 4 p.m. on the pool deck.
Sharon Robb can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org