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Hinkle shines at Olympic trials

Mickayla Hinkle hit the pool for the Olympic trials held recently in Omaha, Neb., where she competed for a spot on the U.S. Olympic swim team and a trip to London for the 2012 Olympic Games.

Mickayla Hinkle won't be going to the Olympics - yet.

However Hinkle, a 15-year-old student at Math and Science Academy, swam in some rarefied waters recently.

Hinkle, who swims for the St. Croix Swim Club, hit the pool for the Olympic trials held recently in Omaha, Neb., where she competed for a spot on the U.S. Olympic swim team and a trip to London for the 2012 Olympic Games.

"I thought it was really crazy," Hinkle said. "It was definitely the biggest meet I've ever swam at. I thought I did a really good job. It was a really fun atmosphere. It was so cool for me personally because of everything that was going on. It was really cool to see all the great swimmers and people that you see on TV and read about in magazines."

At the Olympic trials, Hinkle, a Woodbury resident, shared the pool with the likes of American swimming greats Natalie Coughlin, Ryan Lochte and Michael Phelps.

"I was really nervous to be competing against some of the best swimmers in the world," Hinkle said. "They were really nice and approachable. I met a couple of them, but I was just trying to stay focused and do what I needed to do."

Hinkle reached the Olympic trials in the 100- and 200-meter backstroke. She was among 175 in the nation to qualify in the 100-meter backstroke and one of 205 to reach the trials in the 200-meter back. She competed in the preliminary rounds of the trials on June 26 and June 30, taking 55th out of 166 swimmers in the 100-meter backstroke with a time of 1 minute, 3.46 seconds and 83rd out of 190 swimmers who competed in the 200-meter backstroke with a time of 2:17.88.

Only the top eight finishers in each event earn the right to represent the U.S. at the London Olympics.

Colorado native Missy Franklin, 17, won the 100-meter backstroke with an American-record time of 58.85 and the 200-meter race in a time of 2:06.12. Minnesotan Rachel Bootsma, 18, a graduate of Eden Prairie finished second in the 100 back with a time of 59.49.

A competitive swimmer since the age of 8, Hinkle beat the qualifying times of 1:03.99 seconds in the 100-meter backstroke and 2:17.99 in the 200-meter backstroke at the Junior National meet in Orlando, Fla., to earn a trip to the Olympic trials in Nebraska. Hinkle's qualifying times were 1:02.96 in the 100 backstroke and 2:16.63 in the 200 backstroke - which was a team and 15/16-year old Minnesota club record.

"My main goal was to qualify for the trials, so I was happy I accomplished that," Hinkle said. "Overall I thought I did pretty well at the trials. I was very happy. I didn't make it to the finals, but I thought I did well."

Hinkle has been coached at Woodbury's Lifetime Fitness by Olga Espinosa, a two-time Olympian for the Czech Republic (1992 and 1996) for the past three years. Espinosa, the head coach of the St. Croix Swim Club, reached the Olympics when she was roughly the same age as Hinkle. In addition to year-round swimming, Hinkle is a member of the student council, the art club and on the FIRST robotics team at Math and Science Academy.

Next, Hinkle hopes to qualify for the U.S. Junior National Team with her sights set on the 2016 Olympic Games.

"It's just amazing to see all the effort you put in pay off," Hinkle said. "The swimmers at the trials all started out at the same spot. They all just got better and better and some of them get to go to the Olympics. Not everyone gets to go there, but it'd be really cool if it did."