About as far back as Kate Ziegler can remember swimming competitively, she has been going faster than her opposition. Friday night at the FINA World Cup in East Meadow, N.Y., the O'Connell junior went faster than any American woman ever in the 800-meter freestyle short-course final.
Ziegler's time of 8 minutes 16.32 seconds over the 25-meter course was more than four seconds faster than her competition in the pool Friday night -- and more than two seconds faster than the previous American record of 8:18.77, set by Cynthia "Sippy" Woodhead in Paris in 1980.
Ziegler's time is the fastest in the world this year at the distance.
"I saw it said, 'New American Record'," said Ziegler, 16, of her initial reaction. "You always watch Olympics and see stuff like that flash on the board and you never think it'll happen to you. It was just a rush of excitement and joy and shock."
Ziegler, who competes for her private club, The Fish, along with O'Connell, swam in her first Olympic trials in Long Beach, Calif., in July, narrowly missing a spot on the team after finishing fourth in the 800-meter final and fifth in the 400 meters. She followed that performance with a second at the world short-course championships in Indianapolis in October.
"Two or three years ago, I thought we had someone pretty special," said her coach with The Fish, Ray Benecki. "She was tenacious in practices and every goal we put in front of her she went after."
Ziegler will next swim for O'Connell at the metro championships on Feb. 26, then will turn her attention to Indianapolis in April and qualifying for the world championships this summer in Montreal.