“I kind of used it as an experience to move forward and that definitely gave me that heartbreak experience and I guess it did drive me to hope for something better than that."
Five-hundredths of a second. Faster than the blink of an eye. Not much time exists in the span of five-hundredths of a second. For senior swimmer Thea Oman, the minuscule fraction of a second made all the difference.
Swimmers dedicate their focus to the smallest aspects of the sport. Mastering their entrance. Conquering their turns. Getting the most out of each movement. For Oman, dissatisfaction from the previous season led to a year’s worth of rigorous training and determination which may have contributed just enough for five-hundredths of a second to serve as the difference between heartache and ecstasy.
“That was definitely the biggest letdown,” Oman said. “My time didn’t go down at all. There were just girls from below that swam faster the second day. It was more of a disappointment in placing, but not disappointment in myself because I didn’t have a bad time.”
By the end of the 2017 Section 8A Swimming Meet, Thea Oman’s junior season came to a close. Oman entered finals after a second place finish in the prelims. Maintaining that placing for one more race meant advancing to her first state meet as an individual.
Unfortunately for Oman, such a moment never came and the then-junior walked away a fourth place finisher and missed a state qualification by two spots.
Silver lining: Oman would get another chance to break through in one year as a senior.
“I kind of used it as an experience to move forward and that definitely gave me that heartbreak experience and I guess it did drive me to hope for something better than that,” Oman said on her fourth place finish at last year’s section meet.
Oman qualified for state before. Once in 2015 as part of a 400 yard freestyle relay and again the following year in the same race. But never as an individual.
Out of Crookston’s fall sports, swimming lasts the longest at three-plus months, an extensive amount of time to compete in a sport that demands the usage of nearly every muscle in the human body. Rather than dwell on a meet three months away, Oman took it upon herself to fill the time with various goals.
A simpler goal included swimming the 500 freestyle relay, a challenge for a predominant sprinter. Oman described the race as “not pretty,” but felt satisfaction from finishing the race.
One down, two to go.
Another objective which lingered in Oman’s mind for a few years came in the form of breaking a school record in the 200 yard freestyle set by Ana Koch in 2007 at 2:04.60.
“For the past two years, I’ve been one second off,” Oman said. “This year, it’s my last chance so I really wanted to go for it. I’ve been looking at it and I looked at it the day before and I’m like, “Okay, here we go.’”
As fate would have it, Oman did not break the school record during any of the regular season meets with her personal best at 2:06.93.
Knowing the section meet could be the last opportunity, Oman cut 3.07 seconds from her fastest time and shattered the record in the section prelims. Oman’s new personal best and school best of 2:03.86 earned her third and a spot in the finals with a chance to qualify for state the next day.
Oman’s finals time in the 200 free slowed by 1.26 seconds from the day before which kept her out of a state qualification at third place, but the thrill of another accomplished goal persisted.
“Since I did it in prelims, it didn’t matter as much because it wasn’t during finals,” Oman said. “That had nothing to do with going to state. I was just really excited that day so even though I didn’t move on to state in that event, I still think having that success didn’t make it feel as much of a downer getting third place.”
Two down, one to go.
The last chance for Oman to place a check mark by her largest goal would have to be in the 100 yard freestyle. Oman tracked the seedings for the event and saw how close the top swimmers’ times sat from each other. Add the memory of last season’s section meet and Oman could not help but feel anxious.
“Seeing the seedings about a week beforehand, I was getting really nervous because I’ve ended up in the second and third place spots before and finished, on the second day, third or fourth place and it’s been kind of disappointing,” Oman said. “I really had more of a drive this year because it was my last possible chance to qualify and qualifying individually was one of my biggest goals.”
Oman swam the prelims with a time of 55.73, a 1.59 second drop from her previous season best, placed second and advanced to the finals.
Oman now found herself in familiar territory. Second place. Finals upcoming. But this time, history would not, could not, repeat itself.
One hundred yards sat between Oman and state. Then 50 yards. Then 25 yards. Then inches. Then, in the blink of an eye, Oman touched the wall after 55.59 grueling seconds. Oman touched five-hundredths of a second before the third place finisher.
“Before I saw the clock, I saw [Coach] Marley [Melbye] jump up and down,” Oman said. “I turn, I see Marley jumping and then I see the second place by my lane. Before I even looked at the clock, I knew I made it and that was really exciting.”
With one more race as a high school athlete, Oman decided to set one more goal.
“I’m not too focused on my placing,” Oman said. “I’m more focused on getting my best time or just swimming with my heart in my last race of my high school career.”
Oman will get that opportunity on Thursday, November 15.
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