Lincolnwood’s Jamie Kolar understands language of swimming
7/14/12 Chicago Jaimie Kohler swims the 100 meter backstrok at the 2012 Speedo Illinois Swimming Senior Championship at the Gerald Ratner Center on the University of Chicago campus Saturday, July 14th. | Dan Luedert~Sun-Times Media
Updated: August 20, 2012 6:08AM
LINCOLNWOOD — Jamie Kolar dropped into the pool right before the start of the 50-meter backstroke at the Italian National Olympic Committee Youth Games in Salerno, Italy, and waited for the “take your mark” command she’s heard so many times before the start of a race.
Instead, the starter spoke in Italian — a language Kolar doesn’t understand — and then she heard a whistle.
“The whistle went off and I was looking around and I was like, ‘Wait, where did everyone go?’ ” said Kolar, a 13-year-old from Lincolnwood who will attend Loyola Academy in the fall. “I was like, ‘Oh, I probably should have left.’ I went out, went after it and I still won, so I was very fortunate.”
Kolar overcame the language barrier and a two-to-three second deficit at the start of the 50 backstroke to win the race by a comfortable margin. Kolar’s excellence continued last month in her other three events — the 100-meter backstroke and two relays — and she won each of her events for CONI USA, a group of four girls and four boys of Italian heritage who swam against athletes from other countries’ who also carry Italian roots.
For those who have followed her young swimming career, seeing Kolar succeed on an international stage wasn’t surprising. She recorded three times that were among the top-10 fastest times in the United States for 11-12-year-olds last year, including the sixth-fastest 100-meter back, the fifth-fastest 100 free and the third-fastest 200 back.
After competing in the 11-12 age group last year, Kolar decided that turning 13 and moving up a bracket presented the perfect time to travel outside of the country and compete in an event offered to only 11-13-year-olds.
“I wanted to focus on my age group last year because I was at the top of the age group, so this year I said, ‘Hey, we’ll do something fun because I’m at the bottom,’ ” Kolar said. “This would have been my last year to compete, so I said, ‘Let’s go to Italy.’ ”
Once there, Kolar and the other seven swimmers on CONI USA not only represented their country, but they got to tour areas of Southern Italy. Kolar and her teammates traveled to downtown Salerno, Grotte di Padula and saw some the country’s ancient ruins.
While the experience of visiting Italy for the first time and swimming remarkably well for the United States is something Kolar isn’t likely to forget, the Italian National Olympic Committee Youth Games represents one exciting, high profile meet in a year which has included many.
Kolar recently competed at the University of Notre Dame July 6-8 with NASA Wildcat Aquatics. Kolar also swam at IUPUI this summer, and, in February, the 13-year-old competed at the Missouri Grand Prix, a meet comprised of Olympians, state champions and swimmers who were much older than she.
The experience of swimming a Grand Prix event, along with competing against so much quality competition in her young career, had a particularly positive effect when Kolar was in Italy.
“It really calmed my nerves knowing that I’d gone up against college kids or Olympians like Missy Franklin,” Kolar said. “It definitely helps knowing I could compete against them and hold my own.”
At the Speedo Illinois Swimming Senior Championships at the University of Chicago last weekend, Kolar won the 100 backstroke in 1:05.62 and placed fourth in the 200 freestyle.
Alec Hayden, her coach at NASA Wildcat Aquatics, believes Kolar can continue adding to her impressive résumé.
“Five years from now, we’ll be looking at her probably being a Division I swimmer and going to the next Olympic Trials,” Hayden said. “She’s already set some state records, so hopefully she can continue to do that.”