View Full Version : Taormina qualifies for Olympics in third sport

June 26th, 2008, 10:38 AM
Taormina qualifies for Olympics in third sport (6/24/2008)

BY DIANE KRIEGER SPIVAK//Special Correspondent

Sheila Taormina already carved a place for herself in Olympic history back in 1996 when she took home gold as a member of the U.S. 4x200 relay team.

But that wasn’t enough. On June 2 the Livonia, Michigan native made her mark again. By earning a spot on the modern pentathlon team, she became the first person in Olympic history to qualify for the Olympic games in three different sports.

Taormina just keeps expanding her repertoire. She competed in the Olympic triathlon in 2000 and 2004. That sport incorporates running, swimming and cycling. Now, in modern pentathlon, Taormina will take on swimming, running, fencing, shooting and equestrian show jumping in Beijing.

Taormina admits she had never participated in the last three until she decided to try out for the modern pentathlon team.

“I’d never been on a horse or held a gun, and I didn’t even know what a fencing uniform looks like,” Taormina said.

But the now defunct Modern Pentathlon Federation saw Taormina’s background in swimming and triathlon and decided to take a chance on her. So early in 2005 Taormina began training…26 workout sessions a week. She’s down to 20 now, but it’s a full-time commitment.

“I pretty much gave up my social life,” Taormina said. “I have two cats. What a life. I can’t even have any dogs right now.”

But Taormina doesn’t regret her difficult decision to sell her house to help finance her training, although it’s grueling maintaining two sports and trying to master three new ones.

“As a swimmer you’re used to swimming 60,000 meters a week,” said Taormina. “You physically can’t do it with five sports.

Taormina admits she took on the modern pentathlon with the goal of making Olympic history, but she’s also got an ulterior motive. At 39, and one of the oldest members of the Olympic Team, Taormina says she wants to be the catalyst that breaks down two paradigms: One, that a person is too old to learn new sports, and two, that it takes 10 years to learn a new sport.

“This isn’t normal,” Taormina said of her quest. “Even for a swimmer age 36 who’s never been in a pool and wants to swim in the Olympics in three years, swim coaches would think that’s crazy.

“It’s been up and down and by far the most challenging thing I’ve ever done in my life,” Taormina said. “There are times when I think I’m getting it, but then the next training session, I’ll be a complete fool.”

Fencing, for instance, doesn’t involve the consistency the sport of swimming has, Taormina said. “In swimming and running, you train at a tempo. You don’t do that in fencing. Everything you do, you have an opponent who’s trying to keep you from succeeding. I’ve stayed here for four hours until I get a movement right. For someone who’s been ranked as high as fourth in the world, you can have a horrible day in swimming, and maybe you’ll be 2 seconds off your best 200 time, but on a bad fencing day you could be 300 points off your best score,” she said.

In equestrian show jumping, athletes draw for their horse and get 20 minutes to get to know their 1,200-pound teammate.

“Shooting is extremely challenging,” Taormina said. “I can shoot in my garage when there’s nobody watching. There’s no pressure.

“But the minute you’re shooting for a spot on the Olympic Team, that changes the nature of the game completely.”

USA Swimming’s Director of Field Services Ira Klein worked with Taormina in 1995 when she was a member of the World University Games Team, prior to her making her first Olympic Team.

“We reconnected while she was training here in Colorado Springs,” said Klein, who calls Taormina a “coach’s dream.”

Klein helped coach Taormina for the swimming part of the Pentathlon for most of last year before she moved closer to home.

“Sheila’s a great athlete and an awesome individual,” said Klein. “She deserves to be recognized for her awesome accomplishment.”


June 26th, 2008, 11:18 AM
I'm so glad she made it. She is such a fantastic athlete!!!!


June 26th, 2008, 12:49 PM
I remember her from USS swimming back when I was growing up in Michigan. She was always a real dynamo. Sort of like Janet Evans: small but astoundingly fast!