Katya Bachrouche: London Bound
Former Virginia swimmer Katya Bachrouche, a member of the class of 2011 that was the first to win four Atlantic Coast Conference Championships, is officially London bound this summer. Bachrouche will represent the Republic of Lebanon, the country where her father grew up, at the 2012 Olympic Games. Already the Lebanese record holder in five events, Bachrouche caught up with VirginiaSports.com to talk about her international journey, as well as the upcoming Pan Arab Games, which begin next week in Qatar.
Question: First of all, talk about your last two college meets and how exciting they were for you.
Bachrouche: My last ACCs and NCAAs were my most successful of my four years. I think it had a lot to do with coming off a really good third year and staying injury-free. One of the best memories from ACCs was going under 4:40 in the 500 freestyle and breaking the (school) record that I had my eye one for awhile. Pulling off the win in a comeback sort of way definitely made it special. Rolling into NCAAs, I was really excited because in 2010 I just missed out on scoring. I wanted to contribute in both of my events. The 500 was one of the most competitive events there – 10 girls had the ‘A’ cut in prelims. But I was just happy with making it back. I was really happy for Rachel (Naurath) to go and break the record. It was nice to leave knowing someone was there to fill you shoes and go even faster. It was the last meet of my college career and it was special to be there and leave on the highest note possible.
Question: For some of your classmates it was the end, but for you it was only the beginning.
Bachrouche: They were celebrating their retirement and I was celebrating the end of my college career. I knew that I wasn’t going to be able to retire quite yet.
Question: How did the opportunity for you to swim for Lebanon come about?
Bachrouche: Every summer since my freshman year of high school, I have been telling my dad that I wanted to swim for Lebanon. He never really explored that possibility while he was over there. In December 2010, I asked him to just go see what we could do. He has a cousin in the Lebanese military and he got my dad in touch with a few people. We had a trip planned to Lebanon after graduation and so he was told to set up a few meetings for that time to see if we could get the ball rolling.
Question: And that was your first trip to Lebanon?
Bachrouche: Yes, it was my first time visiting so it was extra special in more ways than one. I got to meet my grandfather for the first time. I got to get my feet wet in the swimming program over there. I went to the Lebanese University and the athletic director there was in charge of signing me up for the World University Games. I trained there for a little while – it was a gorgeous outdoor pool – I was in heaven.
Question: Talk about the history you made for Lebanon at the World University Games.
Bachrouche: First of all, WUGs were definitely a learning experience for me. The team was really small and we didn’t have a coach. The first day was a little rough. The next day I had the 400 (freestyle) and I was ready to go. I took advantage of the opportunity to make top eight and came back seventh. I knew I could go faster at night; I stayed seventh and it was really special for me. For Lebanon, it was the first time in their history they had anybody make it back in finals, ever. It was a big deal for them. For me it wasn’t the time I was going for, it was about knowing my country was proud. It made me really happy.
Question: What happened next?
Bachrouche: I came back to UVa to train for two weeks, then went to the Lebanese Championships, which was more of a fun meet for me. It was a carnival; no warm-up/warm-down pool and little kids jumping on me during my warm-up. But it was really fun getting to know the people of Lebanon. I had language on my side and it was really easy for me to communicate. The actually swimming part wasn’t the most important thing for me. I made some connections with the IOC and the VP for Lebanon came to see me swim. I kind of got thrown into the politics of it all, but basically they told me they would be crazy not to let me swim and that they wanted to offer me sponsorship. They formally invited me to the Olympics.
Question: What did that mean to you?
Bachrouche: That was the end point of my mission over there. They told me they were honored to have me and hope I do great things at the Olympics. I am shooting pretty high and want to work as hard as I can until that time. It’s weird; I guess as it gets closer it will become more real. Who gets to go to the Olympics? I am really lucky to have dual citizenship and grateful to my dad who sort of made this happen, getting me in touch with the right people. I have Lebanese blood running through my veins, and I’m really proud of it. My family over there is beyond excited. They are really proud, which makes me really proud. I left my grandma my medals from the championships.
Question: What is the significance of the Pan Arab Games?
Bachrouche: It will just be nice for me to see a lot of familiar faces; people who I met at the Lebanese Championships back in September. And it will be neat that there will be a lot of other sports competing, too.
Question: What will you be up to from the point you return from Pan Arabs until the Olympics?
Bachrouche: I am training as much as I can at UVa. I have an apartment here so I am going to be here. I need to practice my long course swimming; that is the only way I can get better. I might take a training trip in the spring. If there is an opportunity for me to train with other people outside of the college realm, I am going to be open to it.