Costella exited about 2004

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Like so many other young women and men who head off to college for the first time, Lauren Costella is excited about the first day of classes at Stanford on Monday.

Costella, who graduated from Carson High School in June, obviously has high expectations for the year to come, and not just because this is her freshman year in college. It also happens to be an Olympic year, and if all goes well, the 18-year-old Carson Tigersharks swimmer will have an opportunity to compete at the Olympic Games next summer in Athens, Greece.

Costella has already won two national championships and is coming off a bronze medal performance in the 1,500-meter freestyle at the World University Games held last month in Daegu, South Korea.

"Korea was fantastic. I had a great time; just being in another country itself was amazing," she said. "The most amazing part for me was the opening ceremonies and the closing ceremonies. The stadium was filled with about 100,000 people screaming and cheering for all the athletes. It was amazing. I have so many pictures; it was just so cool."

It was Costella's first experience in international competition, but hopefully not her last. However, there's still a lot of work to be done.

"I'm all right, I guess," Costella said. "But I need to be a lot faster because I know the Trials are going to be insanely fast for that 800 free."

The dates circled on her calendar are July 7-14, 2004, when the U.S. Olympic Trials will be held in Long Beach. The goal for Costella is to earn one of the two berths on the U.S. Olympic team for the 800 freestyle. The challenge will be formidable and not just because of prestige because USA Swimming is offering a million dollar reward to any American who wins a gold medal in world record time in the men's 1,500 and women's 800 freestyle events (the 1,500 isn't available to women in the Olympics).

"A lot of people are going for the money, but personally, I'd just like to make the team and break the record," Costella said. "I wouldn't care either way if they were giving money, but there's definitely a good number of people training for that."

For the record, Janet Evans set the women's world record of 8:16.22 in 1989.

Costella had a chance to swim with the Tigersharks at the RCP Tiburon Mile in the San Francisco Bay on Sunday. She finished fourth in the open water swim in 20:04, just 34 seconds off the winning pace set by Brooke Bennett -- the Olympic gold medal winner in the women's 800 free at the 1996 and 2000 Olympics.

"It was great because I took off two weeks after the World University Games," Costella said. "My Stanford teammates are in Colorado Springs right now, but I decided to forego that trip because I needed to take a little bit of a break before I started training for the Trials, and this was just kind of a race to get me going in the season. It's a great race to get me in shape, too."

Costella placed fifth in the 800 freestyle at the World University Games in a time of 8 minutes, 43.22 seconds. That probably would have qualified for the finals at the U.S. Trials in 2000, but it probably won't be fast enough to be a contender in Long Beach in 2004.

"I really believe, just talking with Jim (Puleo, Tigersharks coach) and other swimmers, that it's going to take probably a low 8:30 or high 20s to even make it back to the finals," Costella said. "And to make the team, I think it's going to take low 8:20s, maybe in the teens. So I have a way, ways to go but I do believe I can get a lot faster this year with the training and coaching I'll get at Stanford."

Which brings us back to that first day at Stanford on Monday.

"I'm really excited," Costella said. "It's a brand new experience, a brand new coach, a brand new team and I know my team here is excited for me."

Dave Price is a sports writer for the Nevada Appeal


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