By SCOTT PURKS
© St. Petersburg Times,
published July 18, 2001
TAMPA -- Work, work, work. That's all Maritza Correia did before the Olympic trials last August.
"I felt great," she said. "I don't think I could have worked any harder."
That's why after her first race at those trials in Indianapolis, the 200 freestyle, Correia was shook up.
She finished 34th, saying after all those years of preparation, nerves got the best of her.
"My stomach was full of butterflies," said Correia, who had won the 200-meter NCAA title for Georgia just months before. "I was definitely crushed after that."
She was more crushed when she finished 18th in the 100 free semifinals two days later. Outwardly, she put on her best face.
"I'm going to use this as an experience; as a lesson to be learned," she said minutes after the race. "I'm never going to let this happen again as far as becoming part of a team that I know I can make."
She went back to Georgia and kept working because, "I had an obligation to my team." In the process, she kept getting faster.
So fast, in fact, that at March's Senior National Championships in Austin, Texas, she finished second in the 100 free and ninth in the 200 free, qualifying for the U.S. national team.
The next stop is Fukuoka, Japan, July 22-29 for the world championships, an Olympic-caliber event.
"This is not a surprise to me," said Peter Banks, who has coached Correia and Olympic gold medalist Brooke Bennett at the Brandon Swim and Tennis Club. "I always thought (Correia) had the talent and the drive to reach this level of competition.
"It was unfortunate at the Olympic trials because I think she just burned up a lot of nervous energy there. I think now, though, that is all behind her."
Banks said some swimmers peak in their teens, but he believes Correia, 20, will only get better, putting herself in position to make the 2004 Olympic team. "She has taken small strides all through her development," said Banks, who helped Correia become the first swimmer in Florida high school history to win five individual state titles while at Tampa Bay Tech. "But she has always taken those strides.
"She is still as determined as ever; really more determined. And that is why you have to believe in Maritza Correia."
Ex-Tornado to continue quest to reach Athens (July 17, 2001)