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by Katharine Palmer, Athletics Media Relations

Virginia alum Fran Crippen claimed two national titles and a bronze medal at the FINA World Championships over the summer. But neither of those things is as big of an accomplishment than his comeback.

Crippen, a two-time Atlantic Coast Conference swimmer of the year and a 12-time All-American as a Cavalier, has broken into the open water circuit since he graduated in 2006. The 10K open water event was first featured in the Olympics last summer in Beijing.

It was always a dream of Crippen’s to represent his country at the Olympic Games. And when, in 2008, that goal did not become a reality, the Conshohocken, Pa., native took a long, hard look about his future in the water.

“Getting the chance to represent your country is the reason I still swim,” Crippen said. “It was always a goal to be an Olympian and last summer when I didn’t make the team, I was extremely disappointed and down on myself. I didn’t know what the next step was.”

“The Olympic Trials was the race that really left him mentally distraught,” UVa head coach Mark Bernardino said. “I told him to take a break, but to not necessarily call it quits because if he changed his tactical approach to how he swam the races I thought he still had a chance to be really good at it.”

Crippen spent the next five to six months out of the pool. He was trying to decide what his career path would be, what he still had left in him. Crippen stayed in good shape. He continued to run and lift weights and even competed in the New York City marathon. He stayed close to the sport by keeping busy with camps and clinics.

He was also asked to be a mentor with the junior national team, which includes the 40 best 18-and-under kids in the country.

“I was still on the national team, so I was asked to go to Guam with them and that was another thing that made me want to swim again,” Crippen said. “Those kids had a great outlook on the sport. It was a great experience for me.”

It was easy to start training again. In February, Crippen got back in the pool with the goal to make the World Championships team. He made that the focus.

At the national championships, Crippen won both the 5K and 10K races. It was one of his career highlights – not because he swam well or collected the hardware, but because of the way he bounced back. Crippen didn’t let not making the Olympic Team define his career.

Bernardino helped Crippen along the way.

“I definitely talked to Mark,” Crippen said. “We are very close and I talk to him all the time. If I wanted to be done with swimming, he would support me. But he didn’t want me to stop for the wrong reasons – because I was discouraged or disappointed. He believed in me and knew I could swim even faster and still improve, be a force on the international level. He is always the voice of reason and told me to make the decision when I was ready and not when I was emotional.”

After winning two national championships, Crippen had punched a ticket to Rome for the World Championships.

In Italy, he placed seventh in the 5K race (56:47.1) a day before finishing third in the 10K (1:52:10.7), behind only gold medalist Thomas Lurz of Germany (1:52:06.9) and USA teammate Andrew Gemmell (1:52:08.3).

“There was one goal and only one goal, to win a medal,” Bernardino said. “Otherwise, he would have deemed that meet unsuccessful. That was totally Fran’s goal – that is all he wanted to do. I had never heard him believe in himself so much. That is really a credit to his tenacity, dedication and perseverance.”

Crippen will next compete in a series of World Cup races, the first of which is Labor Day weekend in New York City. He continues to work swimming clinics around the country, and will head to some Virginia swimming meets to cheer on his younger sister, Claire, who is a junior this season.

“I am proud of winning two national championships and a bronze medal,” Crippen concluded. “But the thing that matters most is that I was able to come back and define myself and my career. To me, that is a much bigger accomplishment.”

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