Justin Barber experienced a double thrill Saturday at the U.S. Junior Swimming Championships in San Antonio, Texas, when the 15-year-old Carson Tigersharks swimmer not only won his first national championship in the 1,500-meter freestyle, he finally achieved his goal to qualify for the U.S. Olympic Trials in Indianapolis.
"That was a fun race. Everybody was going crazy," said Barber, who won the 1,500 freestyle in a personal record time of 16 minutes, 1.82 seconds. "It wasn't too hard. It was just a great race. I was ready to go, I got in it, got comfortable, got out in front and just kept going."
And on to a junior national title with a time that gave him a berth in the men's Olympic Trials 1,500. The Trials begin on Thursday and Barber will swim the 1,500 next Tuesday.
Barber, who is preparing for his sophomore year at Carson, also became the fourth Tigershark to qualify for the Trials, a list that includes Lauren Costella, Dustin Riley and Jeff Maynor.
-- Costella, also 15 and heading into her sophomore year at Carson, is entered in the women's 800 freestyle on Monday.
-- Riley, a Carson High graduate who swims for Syracuse University, is entered in the 400 individual medley on Friday. He placed second in that event at the East Coast Athletic Conference finals last winter.
-- Maynor, a Douglas High graduate who competes for Louisiana State University, is entered in the 100 butterfly and 800 freestyle on Monday
The top two finishers in each event qualify to represent the U.S. at the Summer Olympic Games on Sept. 15-Oct. 1 in Sydney, Australia.
Barber may have been the last of the four to qualify, but his story is one to remember.
"Before, I was less than a second off and so I was like, 'Come on, I've got to get this,' and finally I pulled it down," Barber said, flashing a wide grin.
So, which was more important, winning the national title or qualifying for the Trials? That's a tossup, according to Barber.
"I was going for both," he said. "I really wanted to win. Winning is what it's all about and the time was definitely right there, too. When I looked up and saw the time, everybody was going crazy, and I was like, 'It's about time, thank you.'"
This is truly a special occasion for both Costella and Barber, simply because they will be among the youngest competitors at the Trials.
"This is real exciting. Since when I started swimming, it's been a goal of mine to make the Trials for 2000 and then to go on and make the team in 2004," said Barber, who has been involved with Carson's swim program since he was 8.
Meanwhile, Costella is brimming with confidence after earning the women's high-point trophy at the recent California State Championships in Clovis.
"I plan on being in the final heat, and I'll see how I do there," she said. "I'm very confident. This is my first shaved and tapered meet since March, so I'm ready.
"I got my first cut in January, so I've been looking forward to this for seven months. I'm excited about going; I younger than most of my competition and if I'm in the top now. I'm a little nervous, but not really. I definitely plan on being there in another four years and making the Olympic team."
Barber moved within striking distance of his dream last January with a fourth-place performance at the Canadian National Championships in Toronto.
"I dropped a lot of time there and that's when I just missed the (Trials) cut. I was happy about placing, but I was a little disappointed because I was right there. I was only one second off in the mile, so I've been thinking about that one second all summer long, and I finally pulled it down."
Needless to say, Barber will be ready to go on Tuesday.
"I just want to get my mind prepared to go there, get another best time, do the best I can do and have fun," he said.
Riley, a junior, turned in two sterling performances as he placed second in the 400-yard individual medley and sixth in the 200 breaststroke for Syracuse at the Big East Conference Championships in February. Riley logged a time of 3 minutes, 55.85 seconds in the 400 I.M., losing by a scant .03 to Pitt's Mike Pron, the Big East Swimmer of the Year.
"I'd like to make consolations, which is the second final," the 21-year-old Riley said. "It's not quite the Olympics, but it's still up there."
Maynor graduated from LSU with a degree in chemical engineering - he posted a perfect 4.0 grade point average - and he go back to school this coming year to begin work on his masters environmental engineering and to finish up his final season of swimming eligibility.
His goal for the 100 butterfly is to hit a time of 55 seconds or better. He turned his best time of 57.7 at the recent California State Championships in Clovis.
"I went 57.7 in Clovis unshaved, eight minutes after swimming the 100 breaststroke, so with some rest and shaved, I should be able to go 54," he said. "How far will that get me? I have no idea. The main thing, I'm there; four years from now, I'll go again. I think if I can keep improving over the next four years like I have the last four, I should have a decent shot at making it (Olympic team) in 2004."