It wasn't a difficult question to answer. In fact, it took Mike Cavic only a couple seconds to respond.
"I would swim for Yugoslavia if I were to go to the Olympics," he said, if given a choice. "Even though I was born in the United States and I love my country, Yugoslavia is where my parents are from, where most of my relatives live, my roots are there."
While Cavic, a Tustin High freshman, didn't want to dwell on the war in Kosovo, it was apparent the conflict is as much a part of his life as swimming.
"I wish this war would end today. . . . It's hard for me to believe the things that I hear in the news," Cavic said, shaking his head.
Cavic's father, Danny, who once owned a thriving business in Yugoslavia, said it has pretty much dried up in the last year. He said he partly blames himself for his son's anger.
"Maybe it's because of me. Maybe he's catching my sickness," Danny said. "CNN is on all the time in our house. The news is all I watch. We get phone calls all the time from relatives asking why they are bombing us. We love this country. It's a great country, but when bombs fall back there, they are falling on us too."
Said Mike: "It's been really tough for my dad and mom. Except for a few who are living in Canada, most of my relatives are living there. So, yeah, there is a lot of fear and anger about this war."
Though Cavic said he has been pretty much consumed by news, he turns to swimming to help keep his mind off the war. He has posted the county's third-fastest time in the 50 freestyle (21.53 seconds), second-fastest in the 100 free (47.71) this year and third-fastest in the butterfly (51.77).
For the moment, he's excited about making his first appearance at the Southern Section Division II meet. The preliminaries begin at 5 p.m. Friday at Belmont Plaza Pool. He will compete in the 50 free and the 100 butterfly. The Division II finals are 5:30 p.m. Saturday.
"I've heard about [Southern Section] from my friends," Cavic said. "I want to do good and I think I'll have a good meet, so I'm looking forward to it."
At last week's Golden West League finals, Cavic easily won both his events. He clocked his best times of the season in the 50 free and the 100 butterfly.
Cavic's personal best came in March at the Junior Nationals, where he swam a 21.17 in the 50 free.
"Jarrod Cruzat and Mike Garcia [both from Servite] are my main competition," Cavic said. "I've competed with them through the years at club meets, and I know what they can do."
Garcia is only a few tenths of a second behind Cavic in the 50 free, and Cruzat, who's versatile in all the strokes, could give Cavic a race no matter which stroke he chooses.
"Mike should have a good meet at Belmont," said Tustin Coach Boyd Philpot, who added that in the 20 years he has coached at Tustin, Cavic might be his best swimmer.
"He's only a freshman, but I think every record at our school is within reach," Philpot said. "And I'm sure, with each year, he'll get faster and faster."
Cavic, who has been swimming since he was 9, said freestyle has always been his best stroke, but it wasn't until he took lessons from Olympian Bjorn Zikarsky that his technique changed and his times really started to drop.
Zikarsky, who was training in Irvine at the time, was a member of Germany's bronze medal-winning 400 relay team in 1996.
"My time with Bjorn turned my swimming around completely," Cavic said. "He taught me how to reach, and bring my elbows up. How to focus on a race and prepare myself. He was very important in my swimming career."
Cavic holds six Southern California Swimming age-group records in the 50- and 100-yard freestyles (age 9-10); the 50-yard backstroke (11-12), and the 50 freestyle, 100-yard butterfly and the 100-meter butterfly (13-14)
"I try to give everything I have in every race," he said. "And even when I win, if I feel I haven't given the race 100%, then I feel I failed."
(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX / INFOGRAPHIC)
* What: Southern Section divisional prelims and finals
* Where: Belmont Plaza Pool, 4000 Olympic Plaza, Long Beach
* When: Today--Division I prelims at 11:15 a.m.; Division II prelims at 5 p.m. Friday--Division III prelims at noon; Division I finals at 6:30 p.m. Saturday--Division III finals at 11 a.m.; Division II finals at 5:30 p.m.
* Basics: Among the top participants in Division I are Olympic gold medalist Amanda Beard of Irvine (100 breaststroke), Jamie Call of Marina (200 individual medley and 500 freestyle), Daniel Kim of Irvine (100 breaststroke) and Mission Viejo's Allen Ong, who looks to defend his 50 and 100 free titles. Among the top swimmers in Division II are Jessica Hayes of University (200 free, 1:50.95, and 100 free, 51.48) and Shauna Bernard of Laguna Hills, who will swim in the 200 IM and 100 backstroke.
* Admission: $5 for adults at prelims, $6 at finals; $3 for students and children each day.