Pair of Texas swimmers juggle Olympic aspirations and college careers


Elisabeth Dillon

Senior Karlee Bispo, an 11-time All-American and 15-time Big 12 champion, is setting her sights on this summer’s Olympic Games in London. Bispo, who competed in five events in the 2008 Olypmic trials, also holds six school records and was named 2011 Big 12 Women’s Swimmer of the Year.

Rachel Thompson

Olympic dreams have long been in the making for swimming stars Karlee Bispo and Laura Sogar, but they aren’t letting the looming trials cramp their style in the pool during collegiate competition.

Bispo, a senior, and Sogar, a junior, are two of the women’s top contenders for spots on the Olympic team, among a group of other teammates who qualified for trials.

“Every young swimmer wants to go to the Olympics and I’ve always sort of had that dream,” Sogar said.

Bispo said she feels the trials will take place at an appropriate time in her career.

“It’s always been a dream,” she said of making the Olympic team. “I feel like I was kind of lucky having my first Olympic trials before I came to college and the next trials after four years of training in college, so I’m really excited to see the progress I’ve made and just really excited to be up there and contend for a spot.”

Bispo is an 11-time All-American and 15-time Big 12 champion. The northern California native was also the 2011 Big 12 Conference’s Women’s Swimmer of the Year with top times in the 100 and 200 freestyles as well as the 400 and 800 free relays and the 400 medley relay.

While she played a multitude of sports as a child, Bispo said she was naturally drawn to swimming.

“I would swim laps on my own when I was eight and begged my dad to let me join the team,” she said. “Now all my sisters swim, so it’s kind of become a family sport.”

At UT, the competitive spirit amongst teammates is one thing Bispo says propels her forward as a swimmer.

“The benefit of being on a college team is that you have other people just as fast as you or faster than you, so just having the dynamic of all those different speeds helps our team a lot in training,” she said. “One of my favorite things is to be able to train with people I know are going to push me every day.”

With the last regular meet before the Big 12 Championships behind her, Bispo will soon grapple with the fact that her time as a Texas swimmer is drawing to a close.

“I don’t think it’s fully hit me that it’s my last meet,” she said. “I’m sure after everything is over, it will hit me a little harder, but right now, I’m just trying to enjoy every moment.”

Bispo said while qualifying for the Olympic team won’t be an easy task, she has a clear plan of what she needs to do to nab a spot.

“I know that it’s really competitive,” she said. “The 200 free is probably my best shot, which is one of the most competitive races. I know I have to drop a couple of seconds to make the team, but that’s something I’m ready to do.”

Similarly, teammate Sogar has an Olympic mentality and a clear vision of the challenge ahead.

“It’s going to be really hard,” she said. “Breaststroke in America is really deep and there are only two spots. It’s going to be really hard, but I’m going to do everything I can to set myself up, so that I know when I leave trials I did everything in my power to give myself a shot at it.”

Like Bispo, Sogar has an impressive resume of accomplishments in the water. A three-time All-American and five-time Big 12 Champion, Sogar also holds school records in the 100 and 200 breaststrokes. She was named Big 12 Conference Women’s Swimming and Diving Newcomer of the Year in 2010.

Sogar said the Olympic trials have slightly altered the mentality of the team, bringing a focus on long-term goals.

“There’s a different edge to everyone this year because it’s four years worth of dreams and hard work,” she said. “It’s a little bit more pressure because you really need to nail it this year. There’s no room for error.”

Sogar said her teammates inspire her in and out of the water.

“It’s a really cohesive group. There’s talent across classes, so it’s fun to have everyone working hard and pushing each other,” she said. “Freshmen are challenging the seniors, so we’re really excited to see the team come together.”

For all her victories in individual races, Sogar said the closeness of the team is what she cherishes most about her swimming experience at UT.

“The day-to-day is what I enjoy the most with these girls,” she said. “The girls on this team are my best friends. It really makes training enjoyable when you’re doing it with people close to you.”

Head coach Kim Brackin said both girls embody similar work ethics and serve as leaders for their peers.

“They both have that focus, that really driven sense of purpose when they’re here,” Brackin said. “I think they both have really high goals for themselves this year through NCAAs and at trials.”

Brackin said the challenge ahead is a matter of mentality as the girls compete for spots on the Olympic team.

“They do the little things right ­— both are doing all the right things physically,” she said. “The challenge for them will be mentally not beating themselves up, enjoying the ups and not taking the downs so seriously.”

Both will strive to finish off their collegiate seasons with more wins, records and shaved-off times before extending their skills at Olympic trials this summer.

Printed on, Tuesday February 14, 2012 as: Pair of Longhorns pursuing Olympic dreams