Feb. 9, 2012
By Amy Hughes
Not many kids growing up in Hamar, Norway know how to eight-clap.
Junior swimmer Karoline Sanderud, however, was raised a Bruin, thanks to her father, Tron, who spent time in high school as an exchange student in Pasadena with a family of UCLA alumni. Years later, UCLA became an obvious choice for Sanderud when she began looking at colleges.
Sanderud comes from a family of swimmers. Both of her parents and her older brother Mikkel have all had competitive swimming careers. Mikkel chose academics over continuing with swimming, as it is not easy to do both in tandem outside of the United States.
"At home, if you go to University, you have athletics on the side, but it's hard to combine," said Sanderud. "Here, I can do both school and swimming full-time. That's what I wanted to do."
Sanderud and her family came to the United States and looked at several schools in the southwestern part of the U.S. On that trip with her family, she unofficially visited UCLA and a handful of other schools. She was on head coach Cyndi Gallagher's recruiting radar prior to her visit, primarily because her father had previously made contact.
"I don't really recruit international kids because there are so many good California kids," said Gallagher, "So when they come, it's because they know about UCLA and the athletics and the academics. When [Karoline's] dad contacted me and said they were coming out to LA and wanted to visit some schools, I said sure.
"Karoline came here on her own for that visit, and the team just loved her. She fit right in," Gallagher continued. "She clicked with the team, and her dad just loves UCLA, so it was this big bonus."
Sanderud had many adjustments to make upon her arrival in Westwood to start her collegiate career. Despite English being a very prevalent language in Norway, classes were a bit of a challenge.
"I think everyone has some transition problems coming into college," said Sanderud. "The biggest thing for me was that even though I spoke English pretty well, it was hard to have everything in English. When I went to class, everything was in English, and some of the words the professors used, I'd never heard before. That was hard."
There were adjustments to be made in the pool as well. Sanderud was used to swimming long course meters, with each length of the pool a full 50 meters. Collegiate swimming is contested in a short course format, with each length of the pool measuring at 25 yards.
"Going from just long course to short course yards is a huge transition," Sanderud said. "I needed to work on my turns and my details. I missed every wall because every length was too short. That was hard, but you get used to it. It took a little while, but now I like it."
"Short course meters and yards make a little bit of difference, but I think the biggest difference is the racing," said Gallagher. "In Norway, Karoline didn't really see the competition that we get here, especially in the Pac-12 dual meets. Every meet, you have to be good, or you're not going to help your team win. That's an adjustment for all high school kids, but even more for kids where there isn't as much competition."
Sanderud has been fearless in the pool for the Bruins, continually improving both athletically and academically during her two-plus years in Westwood. The Bruins host their final dual meet of the 2011-12 season on Saturday at noon versus USC at the Spieker Aquatics Center.
"The competition in the Pac-12 is huge," said Gallager. "You're going to see those same people at NCAAs and at the Olympics. [Karoline] is definitely not intimidated by anybody in America. Either she doesn't know them, or she has already competed against them, and sometimes she wins and sometimes she doesn't.
"It has taken a little time for her to adjust," said Gallagher, "but I think this is her year."
With the 2012 London Olympics just around the corner, Sanderud has set her sites on qualifying for the Games. Because she is from a smaller country with far fewer swimmers than many other nations, the qualifying process for her is drastically different from her American counterparts. The U.S. qualifies two people on each event through the Olympic Trials, while Norway sent just four swimmers total at the last Olympics.
Sanderud has until early summer to meet the FINA (Federation Internationale de Natation, the international governing body for water sports)/Olympic Selection Time and be approved by FINA to compete. The qualifying time must be recorded on a long course (meters) sanctioned event. For Sanderud's best event, the 400 individual medley, her goal is a time of 4:41.75.
"We (Americans) have one meet, one Olympic Trials, and either you make it or you don't," said Gallagher. "For Karoline, she has to make a FINA time. It's an extremely fast time, almost as fast as making it to the U.S. Team. We have to go to a FINA-approved meet and make her time there, so it's not a one-day type of thing."
Sanderud's first shot at getting her long course qualifying times will take place at the Canadian Olympic Trials, where they allow foreign athletes to compete. The competition takes place March 27-April 1 in Montreal.
"Going to another country's Olympic Trials is kind of cool," said Gallagher, "There's a special kind of intensity at an Olympic Trials, so it's going to be a great meet. It's also right after NCAAs, so it falls in a good spot for us. We can go to NCAAs, come back and go to work for a week, take finals, then start resting again."
While Sanderud has high hopes for an Olympic berth, she is also sharply focused on the upcoming Pac-12 and NCAA Championships. Her parents, who visit their daughter in the U.S. fairly frequently, are scheduled to attend the Pac-12 Championships in Federal Way, Wash., Feb. 22-25.
"I obviously want to qualify for NCAAs," said Sanderud. "It would be my first time to qualify, so that's my main goal and my main focus for the rest of the collegiate season. We have USC on Saturday, so that will be a really fast meet and a good opportunity to qualify for NCAAs. I'm really excited I have many shots to qualify for NCAAs."
Sanderud's positive influence on the Bruins swimming program has been clear, both in and out of the pool.
"She brings a kind of lightness, a goofiness with her that everyone really likes," said Gallagher. "She's a really nice girl, and she's really funny. She's a really caring kid, so she's always looking out for other people. The fact that she's so driven in everything can be a little surprising. You think she's just this cute little blonde girl from Norway, but she's very bright, and when she gets in the pool, she wants to win.
"This year, she's definitely stepped up her game and brought an intensity because she wants to make the Olympic team. Any time you have someone with that single-minded vision, it's going to help," said Gallagher. "She's such a nice kid, but she's very driven too, both athletically and academically. The maturity this year in her swimming and her focus has increased a lot. It's always great to have international kids that are trying to make their Olympic team, because everybody else tries hard with them."