Shopping in a furniture store with her older sister recently, Debbie Babashoff discovered a shift in name recognition. Not a big shift, but a glimmer of change.
The name she usually hears associated with Babashoff is Shirley. As in Shirley Babashoff--winner of two Olympic gold and six silver medals--her older sister.
Debbie Babashoff, a senior at Fountain Valley High School, has spent her life being compared with her older sister, who swam in the 1972 and 1976 Olympics.
"People always ask if I'm related to Shirley," said Debbie Babashoff, whose brother Jack won a silver medal in the 1976 Olympics. "It doesn't bother me. People just remember Shirley."
But on this day, the scenario was different.
"The store manager looked at the check our mother sent with us and asked, 'Are you related to Debbie Babashoff?' " Debbie said.
"Shirley fell over backwards, laughing," Debbie said. "She thought that was great. It was the first time a stranger thought of me first when he saw the name Babashoff."
Probably not the last.
Debbie Babashoff is making a name for herself. Along with three other Orange County high school swimmers, she has qualified to compete at the Olympic trials Aug. 8-13 at the University of Texas.
Chad Hundeby of Woodbridge, Amy Shaw of Capistrano Valley and Janet Evans of El Dorado, who holds world records in the 400-meter, 800-meter and 1,500-meter freestyles, also will be there.
Christy Carolin of Capistrano Valley, Gary Van Boxtel of Mission Viejo and Greg Larson of Villa Park also are hoping to make qualifying times by Aug. 3, the last day of the junior nationals.
All will compete in the Mission Viejo Swim Meet of Champions, which begins today and runs through Sunday at the Marguerite Recreation Center.
"In some ways, it's a bit surprising to have so many high school swimmers from one area going to the trials," said Flip Darr, who coaches Babashoff and Hundeby on the Irvine Novaquatics.
"And, on the other hand, it's not surprising. You're talking about some very talented swimmers. Evans holds three world records, after all, and Shaw holds an American record."
Shirley Babashoff was 17 when she competed in the 1972 Olympics at Munich.
But, with the advancement of college swim programs and the incentives for staying in the sport longer, the average age of swimmers has climbed in recent years.
"Before 1976, 90% of the Olympic swimmers were of high-school age," said Terry Stoddard, coach of the Mission Viejo Nadadores. "Once you turned 16, you were done. Especially with the women.
"Now we have a surge of older swimmers. With corporate sponsors and college programs, they hang on longer."
The chances of the Orange County swimmers making the Olympic team range from certain (Evans) to probable (Shaw) to possible (Babashoff) to slim (Hundeby). But each is looking to get something out of the trials.
"I'm optimistic, but I'm also realistic," said Hundeby, who will swim the 400-meter and 1,500-meter freestyles. "The way I look at it, if I don't make it this year, there's still 1992 and 1996. I have a lot of time."
Hundeby, who swims for the Irvine Novaquatics, has been training with the trials in mind since he qualified at last summer's junior nationals. He swims up to 18,000 yards per day in workouts.
He also has solicited advice from John Mykkanen, a teammate on the Novaquatics and a member of the 1984 U.S. Olympic team. From Mykkanen, Hundeby has gained insight as to what the trials will be like.
"It's going to be brutal," he said. "There are a lot great swimmers who will be there. John won a silver medal in 1984 (400 freestyle), so he's a good one to look to for leadership."
Hundeby is looking for experience at the trials; Shaw and Babashoff are looking for success.
As teammates on the Nadadores in 1985, the two discussed the possibility of making the 1988 Olympic team.
"We've had the same goal all along," said Shaw, who will swim the 100 and 200 breaststroke and 200 individual medley. "We'd talk at times how great it would be to be on the team together. But people will be coming out of nowhere for the trials. You don't really know who your competition will be, so it's hard to say what our chances will be."
Shaw's chances would seem pretty good; she set the American record in the 200 breaststroke (2 minutes 30.77 seconds) last summer in the the U.S. Long Course National Championships.
"When I was 12, I started feeling I had the talent to do it (make the Olympic team)," she said. "This year it's just more intense. The training is harder, but I know what it's about. If Terry tells me to do something, I don't ask why. I know it's to help me at the trials."
Babashoff, who now swims for the Novaquatics, has been working toward the trials for nearly three years; she qualified in 1985 in the 400 and 800 freestyle. Even her switch from the Nadadores to the Novaquatics was, in part, to improve her chances for the Olympics.
Last summer, as Babashoff's times began to slip, her mother, Vera, talked her into switching teams.
"That was a big help," Babashoff said. "It shook things up a little and helped my motivation. All along, the trials have been on my mind."