By SCOTT PURKS
© St. Petersburg Times,
published August 8, 2001
She was in Japan, in front of thousands of fans, with television cameras above and in the pool, competing in the biggest race of her life -- the world championships -- and Maritza Correia said she was not nervous.
"Actually," she said, "I was very relaxed."
The buzzer sounded, and she watched teammates zip down the lanes for the first two legs of the 4x100 free relay. Then she dived in and swam the fastest 100 meters of her life, touching the wall in 54.94 seconds.
Courtney Shealy completed the Americans' race in 3:40.80, good for second place and 78 hundredths of a second behind Germany.
Then Correia got more exciting news.
The 4x100 was supposed to be her only event, but when teammate Lindsay Benko suffered a knee injury, Correia found herself in the individual 100 free the next day.
She swam a morning prelim in 56.13 and followed with an evening prelim of 55.60, which placed her ninth, 17 hundredths of a second from qualifying for the final.
She was disappointed with missing the final but also immensely encouraged. Ninth in the world isn't too bad, especially because she has three years to improve before the Olympics.
After the 100 free, she again thought she was done. But once again, she was called into duty at the last minute. This time for the 4x100 medley.
"I really had no idea I was going to swim the medley, and I had been walking around for the 48 hours before the event sightseeing," Correia said. "Then they told me I was going to swim."
She did, and once again brought home a silver. A couple of days after that, she was back home in Valrico. And then it was off to Toronto to visit relatives. She will rest there for another week before heading to the University of Georgia, where she has won NCAA titles and will swim for the next two years.
"I'm enjoying the rest, but I'm eager to start working again," said Correia, 20. "I'm real excited to see what the rest of my career is going to bring."
A statement that is a million miles from an admittedly nervous performance at last year's Olympic trials, where she placed way back in all of her events.
"I would have to say my attitude has flip-flopped from that time," she said. "It's turned 180 degrees.
"When I got back from Japan, I told (Peter Banks, her personal coach at Brandon Swim and Tennis Club), that this time, I brought home relay medals. But the next time, I'm going to bring home individual medals. Now, that's my goal."