It was pretty much a perfect replica of a Gatorade commercial. Just picture then-junior Stefano Caprara walking around Minneapolis, Minn., getting ready for the NCAA men’s swimming championships. He walks past Michael Phelps, says hello, then gets into the pool. He’s all set to race the 100-meter backstroke against, among others, Olympic gold medalist, Brian Locke. The race starts and then there is an orange lightning bolt on the screen along with Gatorade’s signature slogan, “Is it in you?”
At last spring’s NCAA championships, Caprara placed 29th in a 40-person field in both the 100-and 200-meter backstroke.
He qualified for the event with his time at the EISL championships, but had to wait two weeks before hearing the great news.
“I was just sort of swimming around in the pool one day when [head] coach [Joe Lucia] got the call. He just stood up on the blocks and yelled, ‘We’re going to Minneapolis!’ It was awesome,” Caprara said.
Caprara is the first member of the Red to qualify for the NCAA championships in Lucia’s 19-year tenure at Cornell.
“I think swimming is the hardest sport to qualify for individually in the NCAAs,” Lucia said. “It’s only the fastest 23 guys in the country [for each event].”
Traditionally, Caprara has been a goal-motivated swimmer. As a sophomore, he was determined to make the Canadian Olympic swimming team.
“I didn’t go out [partying] at all that year,” Caprara said. “My mind was only on swimming.”
When he missed the cut for the Olympic team, Caprara matured as a swimmer. He took some time away from the pool that summer and came back to Cornell as a junior more relaxed and ready to go. His goal was to qualify for the NCAA championships and by the time he got to the EISLs at the end of the year, he knew he could achieve his goal.
“I was so much more relaxed at the league championships. I had been there before,” Caprara said.
That was part of why Caprara had trouble at last year’s NCAAs.
“It was all nerves,” Caprara said. “I was next to Olympic gold medalists and national champions. But over the three days, I started to get to know the guys pretty well. Next time, I won’t be going up against an Olympic gold medalist, but instead I’ll say, ‘that’s the guy I raced against last year.'”
Caprara is always looking for new challenges. He plans on qualifying for the Canadian Olympic team in 2008 and wants to swim even better at this year’s NCAA championships.
“Last year, I wanted to get there,” Caprara said. “But this year, I want to get back and place in the top-16 or top-8 and be an All-American.”
Caprara’s accomplishment hasn’t just been significant to him and the rest of the men’s team. The enthusiasm about qualifying for the NCAA championships has spread to the the members of the Cornell women’s swimming and diving team.
“We are absolutely focused on winning an Ivy League championship,” said senior captain Ashleigh Walker. “But after watching what Stefano did last year, now we really want one of our girls to qualify for the NCAA championships.”
Archived article by Lance Polivy
Sun Staff Writer