For Makayla Sargent, the dream of swimming in the 2020 Olympics at Tokyo continues to edge toward reality.

Oh, the former Olean High star had already qualified for the U.S. Olympic trials next June at Omaha. But, her most recent accomplishment — a gold medal in the 400 individual medley at the World University Games at Naples, Italy on the Fourth of July — has added even more glitter to an already impressive resume.

Sargent, who transferred from OHS to Victor, just south of Rochester, to pursue elite training, had earned a scholarship to the University of Florida at Gainsville. But, after two seasons, she transferred to North Carolina State in Raleigh where she was part of a 7-swimmer Wolfpack team which competed in the World University Games.

Now 21, the psychology major who minors in health and medicine, swam a career-best, long-course 400 IM time of 4:37.95, beating the silver and bronze medalists by over two full seconds.

“It was definitely a lot of fun … an experience I’ve never had before,” she said, “… a lot of different troubles along the way but overall it was really good.”

SARGENT, who now calls Bellport, Long Island home, was seeded fifth of the 32 swimmers in her specialty.

“Going in my goal was to medal,” she admitted. “I’ve always been a really good racer so I wanted to have a really good prelim swim and set myself up in the top eight to make finals … which I did.

“In the finals, I wasn’t really worried about my time, or a medal, I just wanted to race. At the 200 mark I was in second and then I just kind of took off … I got this drive of excitement to race and had a really good back-half swim. I’ve always had a

better second half of my 400 IM (breaststroke and freestyle), so I knew being second at the 200 (after the butterfly and backstroke) I was set up pretty good.”

Mostly because it’s her race of choice.

The 400 IM has two formats, short- and long-course.

The short course is utilized for the college and club seasons in a 25-yard pool. The long-course, used in international events, is contested in a 50-meter pool.

Last winter, in the NCAAs, Sargent turned in a short-course, career-best of 4:05.81 to finish 11th and earn All-America status.

“There’s not really any conversion time because all swimmers are so individualized with their strength,” Sargent said of long and short courses. “For instance, my weaknesses are turns and under water so in long-course there’s less turns and less underwater. “Some swimmers are better at short-course because they’re taller or stronger or better at starts or turns.”

CURRENTLY, Sargent’s time of 4:37.95 — her previous best was 4:40 — ranks third in the country this year and if it stays there, or at least in the top six, after this week’s nationals in California and the subsequent Pan-Am Games in Peru, she will be part of the U.S. National team.

“The benefits of that,” she said, “is national-team status at bigger meets and access to the U.S. Olympic Team Training Center where you can train with them.”

Sargent will be a senior athletically, this coming year but still needs two years to graduate — she’s a member of Atlantic Coast Conference’s All-Academic Team — after having taken a semester off to train.

Of her transfer from Florida, Sargent explained, “It was a combination of a few things … I don’t think the type of training was working for me (there). And though I’m still far from home, it’s like half the distance and being a bit closer helps me a little.

“I just don’t think Florida was where I was meant to be and I’m a lot happier where I am now. I feel like I fit in better at North Carolina State with the training and the people.”

TO MAKE the 2020 U.S. Olympic team, Sargent has to finish in the top two in the 400 IM at the trials next June in Nebraska.

And what if she comes up short … are the 2024 games in Paris a possibility?

“If I don’t make the team,” she said, “I’ll decide if I still want to continue swimming. If I’m still loving it, still seeing results and happy with where I’m at, I’ll probably keep swimming.

“If I decide it’s time for swimming to be done and take a different route in my life, I probably will. I’m trying not to focus on the future because there’s a lot going on now and I don’t want to put too much stress on myself.”

Indeed Sargent has temporarily ratcheted back her training, visiting friends and family here and on Long Island before heading back to N.C. State in mid-August to get ready for the 2019-20 season and ultimately prepare for those Olympic trials.

(Chuck Pollock, a Times Herald senior sports columnist, can be reached at cpollock@oleantimesherald.com)

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