The first time
Chloe Sutton ever raced in open water, she made a big splash. On June 2, two
weeks before finishing eighth grade, she participated in the 5K women's
national championship while attending an open-water instructional camp in Fort
Myers, Fla. She plunged into the Gulf of Mexico and led the other 85
competitors for 800 meters before finishing second.
Two days later
the lithe hairpin of a 14-year-old from Ashburn, Va., signed up for the women's
10K event on a whim and made an even bigger splash. Though she started dead
last in a field of 34 and got elbowed in the eye, Sutton outsprinted three
swimmers over the final 400 meters to finish first in just over two hours,
coming out of nowhere to become the national champion.
Asked how it felt
to dip her toe in the Gulf to such startling effect, Sutton says, "Getting
through the race was exciting, and winning was even more exciting." Most
exciting of all for her is that 10K open-water swimming will make its Olympic
debut in 2008. She is the poster child for a sport in which the U.S. is a
neophyte in uncharted waters.
Until now, Sutton
has been known as a freestyle prodigy. She took to the water when she was seven
and by age 12 she had set age-group records at 800 meters (8:59.95) and 1,000
yards (9:57.33). Last year she qualified for the Olympic trials in the 400- and
800-meter freestyle and is now No. 1 in her age group at 400, 800 and 1,500
So even though
Sutton will make her international open-water debut in the 10K next week at the
Pan-Pacific Championships in Victoria, B.C., she's still pursuing medals in the
pool. Last week she was the fastest meter maid, 14-and-under, in the 400 and
800 at the senior long course nationals in Irvine, Calif.
But the rap on
Sutton has been that her modest height (5'8") and meek flip turns have
limited her. Neither is a factor in open water. "This event better fits
Chloe's temperament," says mentor Carol Breiter, who in 1983 swam the
English Channel. "Strategy is the key." In the helter-skelter of
pushing, shoving and kicking, good positioning is paramount; an open-water
swimmer must hang back early and let others fight the waves and the currents.
"Chloe's strength is her sprint," says her coach, Grady Hough. "She
can break away whenever she wants to."
father, David, a lieutenant colonel, played offensive tackle on an Air Force
team that beat Texas in the 1985 Bluebonnet Bowl and finished No. 8 in the
nation--approaches swimming with an obsessive single-minded devotion. She
practices in a pool more than four hours a day, which doesn't leave much time
for being a teenager. Asked if she likes music, she says, "Not really."
Movies? "Not really." Dating? Don't ask. "Chloe can be a normal
14-year-old," says her mother, Wendy. "She's just very focused on
Sutton was one of
eight elite female freestylers at the camp in Florida where she raced in that
5K national championship. She and 15-year-old Kirsten Groome swam side-by-side
for pretty much the entire race, but with 1,200 meters left, Sutton went wide
around a buoy. Groome went tight. In the ensuing collision, Sutton lost her
goggles and about 30 seconds. "Kirsten beat me by two body lengths,"
she grumbles. Chloe may not be mad about boys, but she's still mad about the