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Triumph of a Swimmer: Flop at 12, a Star at 16

May 01, 1986|BOB MUIR | Times Staff Writer

Four years ago Nancy Grigg thought her competitive swimming days were over.

After suffering through four years of slow times in the Glendale YMCA swim program, the frustrated Grigg contemplated retirement--at age 12.

But she decided to keep on swimming--a wise decision.

Since those lean years, Grigg, now 16, has become one of her age group's finest freestyle distance swimmers in the nation.

"Nancy's probably in the top 10% of her age group (15-16), and she's done it all with her determination," said Dale Lundin, director of aquatics at the Glendale Y and coach of its senior national team.

Slowed by Injury

Grigg placed consistently in the recent National Junior Olympic Championships at North Forks, S. D., and the YMCA Nationals at Orlando, Fla.

Grigg, whose training was curtailed by a pulled thigh muscle in March, finished a respectable fifth in the 1,650-yard freestyle in 16:54.65 and seventh in the 500-yard freestyle in 4:58.91 at the junior championships.

At the Y Nationals, she placed third in the 500-yard freestyle with a 4:57 mark, fourth in the 1,650-yard freestyle at 16:54 and eighth in the 400-yard individual medley with a 4:37 clocking. Last year Grigg won the 1,650 in 16:51 at the Y Nationals, the nation's largest swim meet, featuring 1,500 swimmers.

While Grigg recorded some of her best times at the recent meets, she was not particularly happy with her performances.

Injury 'Made Her Hungry'

"The injury prevented us from doing the kind of leg work we needed to be doing in order for her to perform at the level she expected and I expected this year," Lundin said. "The legs were a little bit weaker, which affects her turns.

"If anything, this has made her hungry. She's a little upset with herself, but she really doesn't have a right to be. It's just going to make her strive to work that much harder to get where she belongs."

The next goal for Grigg is to compete at the senior national level, which features most of the nation's top swimmers.

Grigg has qualified for the senior nationals twice but has yet to compete, once because of illness, then because of lack of experience. Lundin believes Grigg will enter her first senior national meet this summer.

Until she does swim in the senior nationals, Lundin believes it will be difficult to judge how Grigg matches up against world-class swimmers.

Crucial Year Coming Up

"It's difficult for me to compare Nancy to someone in the world class until we get to the top national class in the United States," Lundin said. "I foresee that within a year she should be in the top 20 to 25 distance swimmers in the nation, which in my mind puts her in a world class."

Besides swimming for the Glendale Y, Grigg competes for Burbank High School. Last year Grigg, who competes in meets but rarely practices with the high school team, finished fifth in the CIF Southern Section 3A finals as a freshman.

"I really don't do well at the CIF finals because by that time I've already swum at junior nationals and Y Nationals and I'm usually tapered out," said Grigg, a sophomore.

Lundin has coached Grigg for four years and witnessed her quick rise to prominence.

"Nancy started out as what I would consider to be an average swimmer, but by the time she was 12 she started to improve at a pretty rapid pace," said Lundin.

'Substantial Jump'

"She was what we consider maybe an A swimmer or below until that time, but she jumped into the AAA level very quickly, a substantial jump for that short period.

"Then she started to swim with my group (senior national swimmers). There are very few 12-year-olds who get into this group."

By the time she was 13, Grigg had qualified for the junior nationals in the 200-, 800- and 1,500-meter freestyle events.

"She's worked hard for everything she's attained," Lundin said. "She has passed a lot of people who, when she was younger, were so much better than she was. But because she worked so much harder and strived to excel, she's been able to surpass many of those people. Now it would be ridiculous to even compare them."

Uses 'Inner Clock'

Grigg's forte is endurance.

"She has the natural ability that is very specific for distance swimmers," Lundin said. "She has an inner clock that she uses to hold a pace and maintain that pace within a couple 10ths of a second over a long period of time. That's unique for a distance swimmer.

"She also has the innate ability to come home strong and come back the second half of the race faster that the first half. That's also unique. That's what makes her excel in that particular race."

Even with all of her accomplishments, Lundin believes Grigg still sells herself short.

"Nancy still doesn't recognize the level she's on. She doesn't have quite the confidence to go into a national race and feel comfortable about going in as the person to beat. She still looks at herself as the underdog.

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