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VALLEY / VENTURA COUNTY SPORTS

From Russia With a Love for Swimming

Taft's Uchitel sets sights on winning City titles in 50 and 100 freestyle and passing test to become a U.S. citizen.

April 23, 1999|LAUREN PETERSON | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Dmitry Uchitel has come a long way, in more ways than one.

Ten years ago, Uchitel emigrated with his family from Kiev, Russia, to the United States when he was 9.

At 11, he learned to swim.

He's now a senior on the Taft High swim team and the defending City Section champion in the boys' 50-yard freestyle.

By September, he hopes to be a naturalized U.S. citizen.

"It's going to happen soon," said Uchitel, who also goes by David.

Uchitel has diligently studied for a test of U.S. history and government that is required of naturalized citizens.

"That's been a big goal for me," he said. "I kind of grew up here, and I'm glad I had the opportunity."

He had to do it in a hurry.

When Uchitel arrived in the U.S., he didn't know a word of English. "Not a letter," he said.

But Uchitel proved a quick study.

He took to water just as easily, learning to swim at the East Valley YMCA in North Hollywood. He loved the new sport so much he gave up karate, which he had studied for several years.

"I just like the competition," Uchitel said.

He won all his races in the 50 free last season, capturing the City title in 22.58 seconds. He was third in the 100 free. This year, his goal is to win titles in both events.

Lately, Uchitel's attention to the sprints has been divided, but with no apparent harm.

He swam an impressive 22.60 seconds--two-hundreths of a second off his City title-winning time--in the 50 free against El Camino Real this week.

For the first time in four seasons at Taft, Uchitel has competed regularly in the 500 free, the longest race in a high school meet.

"It's difficult," he said. "It's a whole change of pace. If you go out the way you do in a sprint, you'll be dead.

"I'm basically a sprinter, but I do [the 500] to see where I'm at, what kind of shape I'm in, basically."

Going into today's West Valley League championships at Pierce College, Uchitel is in great shape.

Although Taft (3-4 in league meets) has struggled at times, Uchitel is unbeaten and acknowledges, "I'm kind of shooting to go undefeated."

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