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Thornton Goes the Distance to Improve His Swimming


SANTA ANA — When James Thornton started to swim at Blue Buoy Swim School in Tustin, he was a pudgy little boy with a natural talent for the breaststroke. That was 10 years ago. Today, the breaststroke is Thornton's worst stroke. And as far as being pudgy, well, that's a different story too.

Thornton, a junior at Foothill High, has developed into one of the top middle and distance high school freestyle swimmers in Orange County. His tall, slim shape epitomizes the form of most distance swimmers.

For the last three months, Thornton has been working hard in the pool, preparing for the Junior Nationals, March 18-22, at Texas A & M.

"I've been really putting in lots of yardage," said Thornton, noting that a typical workout with his club team, Los Caballeros Swim Club in Fountain Valley, consists of swimming between 16,000 and 20,000 yards a day.

For you lap counters, that's 800 a day in a 25-yard pool.

"My [club] coach, John Woodling, he comes from the old school of swimming. So he believes in lots of yards," Thornton said, laughing.

The drudgery of lap after lap might drive even the most dedicated swimmer crazy. Thornton said Woodling assigns challenging sets to break up the monotony.

A challenging set? "Oh, that would be something like 10 500 frees on six minutes [for each set]. And I would try to keep my time at 4:55 for each 500," Thornton said.

Thornton, who admits his social life is not that exciting because he spends most of his time in the pool, does have some interests outside of the pool deck.

"I like to do indoor rock climbing with my cousins and I like to fish. And I'll hang out with my friends on the weekend. But for the most part, it's pretty much swimming and school. It's not that exciting," he said.

Thornton realizes that if he wants to accomplish the goals he has set for himself, then it will require long hours in the pool.

"James is dedicated to his goals, which he says is to one day make it to the Olympics," said Woodling, who has been a swim club coach for 30 years in Los Angeles and Orange counties. "He never misses a practice and I'm expecting him to do well at juniors."

Although the prep swimming season has begun, Thornton will train with his club until juniors. But after that, he'll divide his workouts between Los Caballeros and Foothill.

"Junior Nationals will be important for me because I'll be going for my senior times," Thornton said. "But I'm looking forward to getting back with my high school team."

Thornton's specialty strokes are the 800- and 1,500-meter freestyle (1,000 and 1,650 in yards). In high school, where there is no competition in these events, his expertise is in the 200- and 500-yard freestyles.

As a sophomore last year, Thornton placed fifth in the finals of the 200 freestyle and eighth in the 500 free at the Southern Section Division I championships.

At section finals last season, Thornton swam a personal best in the 200 free of 1 minute 41.03 seconds for an All-American time. In the 500 free, he finished with another personal best of 4:33.85, also reaching the All-American time standard.

"I just missed breaking Bruce Furniss' school record [1:04.5, set 1975] in the 200 at Belmont last year. And I'm really close to the school record in the 500 too," said Thornton. Furniss, who holds many of the school records, is a former Olympian.

"I want Furniss' 200 record really bad," said Thornton. "I know I can get it this year."

In addition to the record hunt, Thornton will be glad to be back with his high school team, which he predicted would have a good year.

In addition to Thornton, water polo standouts Robby Arroyo and Jeff Pflueger will be the backbone of the team.

Thornton said his high school competition will be the same as in club swimming, with Philippe Demers of Santa Margarita, James Davison and Piotr Florczyk of Mission Viejo and Mark Warkentin of Santa Barbara San Marcos his chief adversaries. Although Thornton has faced these swimmers many times on the club circuit, it's different in high school meets.

"As far as I'm concerned, there's nothing like the high school meet, especially at [Southern Section] finals," Thornton said. "It's great having the crowd behind you, especially in the relays. It gets you so pumped up. Like at the [section finals] last year. When I swam my leg of the relay, I couldn't remember a second because I was so pumped with adrenaline. You don't get that at club meets."


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