The Career Development of Kaitlin Sandeno by Vic and Renee Riggs (2001)


Thank you for the opportunity to discuss the development and recent training of Kaitlin Sandeno. It has been a tremendous honor to know and coach Kaitlin for the last ten years. She is not only a true talent but also a wonderful person. She makes a coach’s job easy with her enthusiasm and spirit.


Kaitlin began swimming summer league at age five and club swimming on a year-round basis at eight. She enjoyed her first success at the Junior Olympic level when she was nine and qualified for our local “Q” Meet, at that time a high level age group meet, when she was ten. While in elementary school she swam 3-4 times per week for 1 1/2 hours and participated in soccer and cross country running. She was showing signs of promise in the breaststroke events.


As a seventh grader (95-96) Kaitlin increased her training time over the year to 5-6 times per week for two hours. She averaged 5,000-6,000 yards per workout. She continued to excel in soccer and missed a fair number of workouts as a result. At our Long Course Jr. Olympics in August ’96 Kaitlin won the 200-meter Breaststroke in air. National time of 2:44.77.


During the ’96-’97 season (age 13) Kaitlin began to double once a week for a total of seven workouts per week. When she wasn’t in school (Christmas Break, etc.) she doubled 2-3 times per week. She was averaging 6,000-7,500 per workout. Her best stroke continued to be breaststroke but she really enjoyed the 200 and 400 IM as well. Kaitlin’s first Jr. National meet in College Station, TX was somewhat disappointing for her. She was sick when we left and suffered from the first case of meet jitters I’d ever seen. She swam 2:27 in the 200 yard Breaststroke, 4:35 in the 400 yard I.M. (time trial), and 1:08 in the 100 yard Breaststroke (time trial).


As she would many times in her career, Kaitlin turned her disappointment into motivation immediately after we returned from Juniors. She’d really enjoyed the travel, the friends she made, and the whole meet experience. One of her strengths has always been to enjoy the ride. Prior to summer Juniors Kaitlin picked up cuts in the 200 and 400 I.M. Clovis Juniors was a big break-through meet for her. She picked up her first National cut in the 200 Breaststroke with a 5th place finish (2:38.84). Her 200 and 400 I.M. times were; 2:26.89 and 5:00.36, respectively.


Kaitlin entered High School in the fall of 1997. She was now doubling twice a week (8 workouts). She attended her first Select Camp in October ’97. She trained harder than ever in the early season to prepare and had her first bit of shoulder trouble. She enjoyed the camp but was somewhat overwhelmed. She called home at one point to say that she didn’t think she belonged with this level of swimmer. It was years before that attitude changed.


In January ’98 Kaitlin went 10:08.14 in the 1000 Freestyle and 4:57.76 in the 500 Freestyle unrested and with no special distance preparation. We decided to swim both of these events along with the I.M.s at Junior in North Dakota. We would focus on that meet and then go straight to Nationals for the 200 Breaststroke. Kaitlin won the 1000 in a meet record of 9:54.35 (also a National cut) and placed 1st in the 500 with a 4:53.51. She went 4:25.42 in the 400 I.M. and 2:09.26 in the 200 I.M. When we arrived in Minneapolis Kaitlin was very tired so we didn’t expect much, which is good because we didn’t get much! We all understood that she was there for the experience so that next time she would be ready to really compete. She went 2:47.29 in the 200 Breaststroke.


After we got home, we had a meeting to discuss Kaitlin’s new goals. We suggested that pursuing the distance events might be a good idea, but we felt it needed to be her decision. She accepted immediately. Our long course season training is negatively impacted by our late High School swim season (February-May) and by the fact that tile kids don’t get out of school until the 3rd weekend in June. However, we got in some good training and Kaitlin competed well at SMOC. Despite illness at JEI in mid-July, Kaitlin went 4:53.98 in the 400 IM (1:09.7/1:15.0/1:23.7/1:05.5).


Clovis Nationals ’98 was selection meet for Pan Pacs, Pan Ams and World University Games teams. Kaitlin was healthy and feeling good but not really focusing on making any of these teams. At her second Nationals she placed 6th in the 800 meter Freestyle and qualified for the Pan Am team. Since she’d entered the meet with her short course time, she did her swim in the early afternoon. It was very exciting to see her time of 8:41.60 (4:20.6/4:21.0) hold up throughout the finals. On the second day of the meet Kaitlin went 2:40.79 in the 200 Breast. While strong for her size Kaitlin was still very thin and we felt she was having trouble recovering from tough events. On the third day of the meet, Kaitlin went 4:50.79 in the 400 IM (1:07.6/1:14.9/1:23.6/1:05.4).


We went into the ’98-’99 season with a great focus–Kaitlin’s first international competition. Kaitlin grew over two inches during the break and gained a little much needed weight. Due to parental restrictions, she was still allowed to double only twice per week during the school year. We extended her a.m. workouts by 15 minutes (making them 1 ¾  hours), lowered her intervals and increased Saturday a.m. volume. She competed very well short course in December and January (projection #1). During the Christmas break she doubled three times per week. It was high volume and high intensity and we saw all best practice times. Despite a two-week illness a month out of Nationals, we left for Long Island feeling confident.


Kaitlin swam four individual events and one time trial. Her increased size and strength allowed her to maintain very well throughout the five-day competition. This meet was significant for several reasons. Kaitlin won her first National title in the 400 I.M. with a time of 4:43.37 (1:05.7/1:11.9/1:20.2/1:04.5), which was 8th fastest All-time among American women at the time. She won the Kiputh Award after a very tight contest with Trojan swimmer Lindsay Benko. She faced premier distance swimmer Diana Munz for the first time in the 800 and 1500 Freestyle. Kaitlin was not in contention with Diana in either race but did finish second in both with best times of 8:34.91 and 16:29.17 (projection #2). Fina11y, her third place finish in the 400 Freestyle (4:15.43) put her on the Pan Am team in this event as well.


When we returned to California we dealt with H.S. season for 6 weeks. During that time Kaitlin had to train with her H.S. team. Since we share the pool with them on M-W-F we had Kaitlin stay in and do our main set once her H.S. workout was done. On those days she was in the water for 3 ½ hours straight. At the H.S, Champs she went 2:00.19 in the 200 IM (Olympic Trials) and 4.43.99 in tile 500 Free.


During the long course season of ’99 Kaitlin swam the 200-meter Butterfly for the first time at an “ABC” meet. She went a 2:18.14 and sudden1y we had another event to look at. In the finals at SMOC she went 2:12.61. The following week school was out and Kaitlin increased her training schedule to four doubles per week (10 total). Her yardage was high but varied to include Free, stroke and IM–mostly middle and long distance but some sprinting. Just before JEI she made her first OT cut in practice when she went 4:57.7 in the 400-meter IM. Physically Kaitlin was very confident. Emotionally she was struggling. She had become the focus of local media attention at SMOC where she won the high point award. She was insecure about traveling to the Pan Am Games without us. It was a good learning period for her and for us.


Kaitlin took detailed workouts with her to Pan Ams but our contact with her was minimal. She struggled through her taper unable to hit pace and generally feeling lousy. Not there we could only be reassuring and supportive when we did talk to her. Kaitlin’s first event was the 400 Freestyle. She came from behind to win the event by a touch in a best time of 4:10.74, Kaitlin’s 800 prelim time was much slower that we expected but she came back to win a second gold medal in a time of 8:34.65. “While it was her best time, we feel she was distracted from her normal game plan by pressure she felt to win another gold and might have swam faster otherwise.


Kaitlin traveled through the night with many of her teammates to arrive in Minneapolis for Nationals at 6:00 a.m. on 8/6, Kaitlin had decided that she wanted to try to defend her National title in the 400 IM, which was being contested that day. After a two hour nap, she qualified 2nd in the prelims and came back that night to win the event in a best time of 4:42.92. On the last day of the competition she swam the 200 IM (prelims only) and the 1500 Free. It was the first time she faced Brooke Bennett. As was the case in her first race with Munz, Kaitlin was never in contention for the top spot. She did improve her best time by eight seconds to finish second in a time of 16:21.33. The marathon three-week trip was good preparation for what she would face in 2000.


We were back in the water on August 30th, which was two weeks earlier than normal. But it wasn’t a normal year. Kaitlin had arranged her school schedule (in 9th grade) so that she would have a “senior light” year during the year leading into Olympic Trials, which was her junior year. She would train ten times each week with her a.m. workouts being from 6:00-8:00 a.m., the time we expected her to be warming up in Indianapolis in the summer of 2000.


One change we made was to increase the intensity of our dryland training. We were doing a lot more core bodywork than ever before. We also jumped rope, ran, did lunges, stretch cords, VASA trainers, and sit-ups (projection #3). We also did a lot of mental training during the first few months of the year. Each Wednesday in place of dryland we listened to the series of tapes by Dr. Alan Goldberg. Dr. Goldberg visited our team twice during Kaitlin’s early years, and we are enjoyed and benefited from his expertise. After 15-20 minutes of each tape we discussed the content as a group. We feel this helped Kaitlin, and all of our swimmers, in both training and competition.
In many respects, though, ’99-’00 was not unlike any other year except that we worked hard and longer. We had a meeting with Kaitlin in September to discuss the game plan. We discussed Olympic Trials in detail and agreed among the three of us that we would go to Indianapolis with the intention of making the Olympic team. It was one of the last times we even said the word “Olympics.” Kaitlin thrives in a setting where she is relaxed and having fun. Daily or even weekly focus on Sydney would have been stressful and unnecessary. Kaitlin’s goals were firmly set on making the US team so we just went to work.

As we went through our training logs in preparation for this talk, we were reminded of what an incredible training year it was. Kaitlin trained with a mostly quiet determination that kept us all excited. She competed very well in our fall short course meets, swimming many best times (projection #4). We were gearing up for our first trip to the US Open in San Antonio, TX. Kaitlin was excited to be swimming long course again but concerned at now tired she was. While she didn’t place particularly well, we were encouraged by the results (projection #5). After US Open we trained for two weeks and then went to Las Vegas for the SCS Winter Invite. Kaitlin swam 10 events and relays during the 4-day meet (projection #6). It was a very successful training meet.


Christmas training went well even when we took four days off to visit Renee’s parents in PA. We intended to treat the “Q” meet in January as we had the Winter Invite but a new rule allowed only seven events per swimmer so Kaitlin was done after the first three days (projection #7). Going into the February Senior meet Kaitlin was complaining of a sore shoulder. We cut back on her event schedule, which seemed to help initially. By the last week of February, however, Kaitlin was not progressing. She began a successful program with Physical Therapist Nick Theders who works with many top athletes in Orange County. After a week of mostly kicking and physical therapy, Kaitlin began to add yardage slowly. Still we hit her two-week taper for Nationals without ever getting back to full speed.


All things considered it was still a very good meet (projection #8). She felt well rested and in good shape. After a two-day break Kaitlin did single workouts for four days. She also competed in two HS meets, which was the minimum required to qualify for the HS, Championships. We had decided the year before that she would not swim HS at all if her coach wouldn’t allow her train with us. He did. The cumulative racing was hard on her shoulder and we spent another month struggling to heal the shoulder. For the month following Nationals Kaitlin usually made it through the pull set (without equipment) and possibly part of the main set for an average of 6,000 yards. On May 16th she did her first full main set since the end of February. It didn’t take long after that to get her back to where we had been. She continued physical therapy with Nick Theders through Olympic Trials.


At JEI in early July, Kaitlin raced her first negative split 800 Free (4:19.2/4:19.0 = 8:38.2). Her other events went very well, too. All of her times were unrested, unshaved bests. We were all feeling very excited and cautiously optimistic. Taper began (loosely!) on July 24th, 17 days before Kaitlin’s first race at Trials. We always do broken swims 9-7 days before competition. Kaitlin’s broken 200 Fly was a 2:09.8 and her broken 400 IM was a 4:40.6. The IM would be almost exactly true to form.


On August 6th we left for Indianapolis. Kaitlin, Vic, Renee and 5 ½ month old Abigail. When we arrived in Chicago we found that our flight to Indy had been cancelled due to weather. With single-minded purpose (or idiocy) we, along with the USC team, rented cars and drove to Indianapolis. We decided we’d rather arrive late and tired than stretch one travel day into two. We had two days to acclimate and get ready to race. On our first visit to the pool, a coach came up to us and said, “You must be really nervous because Kaitlin is really expected to make the team.” We’d never really looked at it that way so we thanked him profusely. We’d tried to impress upon Kaitlin and our other OT qualifiers that they were already huge winners for just qualifying to be in contention for the US Olympic Team. Now, reality set in!


The first day of competition seems like a dream. Kaitlin’s 400 IM (4:40.91) victory to be the first US swimmer to make the team plays back in slow motion. Seeing that joy in a swimmer’s eyes and knowing the sacrifice behind it is something indescribable. The remainder of the trip was icing on the cake. Kaitlin swam the 400 Free on day 2 and finished 3rd with a time of 4:12.40. After a day off, Kaitlin had the prelims and semi-finals of the 200 Fly on day 4. She finished 2nd to Misty Hyman the next night in a best time of 2:09.54. After the prelims of the 800 Free the next morning people began asking us if Kaitlin would scratch the finals having qualified a distant third. Honestly, that thought never occurred to us (and probably not to Kaitlin either as she never asked). At a meet like Olympic Trials, anything can happen. And it did. Kaitlin placed second in the 800 Freestyle (8:28.61) to make her third Olympic event.


After two days of celebration we headed home and back to work Kaitlin had a great training camp in Pasadena. She loved the team atmosphere, the coaches, the other swimmers. She really enjoyed training with the men’s team and had some impressive sets. We were not able to visit Kaitlin in Pasadena (although we met with Richard Quick prior to the start of the camp) as we were already in Australia enjoying a two-week vacation before meeting up with the US team in Brisbane. It was a surreal experience to be having coffee on the deck at the pool in Brisbane and to look up and see Kaitlin walking (in slow motion) in with our other great Olympic swimmers. The US Coaching staff was incredible. They welcomed us with open arms and encouraged us to work with our athletes at every opportunity. We appreciate this opportunity to thank them publicly.


Kaitlin had a very successful Olympic experience. On the first day of competition she swam a great prelim 400 IM (4:40.82). That night, even with her second case of meet jitters, she finished 4th with a time of 4:41. It was hard for us as coaches (and friends) to see that she was so disappointed with her “failure” to medal for the USA. We were glad to be able to see her for a few minutes afterward to hug her, remind her of what a great thing it is to be 4th at the Olympics, and hopefully, to help her refocus. Her 200 Fly swims were all impressive. She finished 6th in a best time of 2:08.81. The next day she qualified for her third final in the 800 Free. Her 800 Free final was an inspired swim. It was a swim that truly epitomizes the kind of swimmer (and person) Kaitlin is. She would not and could not be denied. She won a bronze medal in a best time of 8:24.29, which makes her the third fastest American woman of all time. And this may be just the beginning of Kaitlin’s story…



Notify of
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments

Sponsorship & Partnerships

Official Sponsors and Partners of the American Swimming Coaches Association

Join Our Mailing List

Subscribe and get the latest Swimming Coach news