Janet Evans Invitational: Cheerios and hard work fuel rising swim star

La Jolla's Aram Kevorkian finished third in the 800 at the Janet Evans Invitational — his first swim against Olympic-caliber swimmers  Credit: Travis Hill/Allsport
Pssst! Whats the secret?

People always want to know what makes a successful athlete. The search for better training habits is insatiable, and its all in the name of speed.

Want to know what makes 17-year-old swimming phenom Aram Kevorkian so fast?

Cheerios, Kevorkian said. I love Cheerios with strawberries before a workout.

The easygoing Kevorkian raised quite a few eyebrows with his third-place finish in Thursdays 800-meter freestyle at the seventh Janet Evans Invitational at USC McDonalds Swim Stadium.

It was his first race against Olympic-caliber swimmers and he exceeded even his own lofty expectations. He finished behind South Africas Ryk Neethling and Erik Vendt of USC not bad company at all. Both will likely be racing later this summer in Sydney.

Kevorkian most likely wont be joining them at this years Olympics, but he has qualified for the Olympic Trials in August. The Janet Evans meet will provide him his first look at world-class swimmers. But it is also giving the swimming community its first look at this young buck.

He was great today, said Jeff Pease, the coach of North Coast Aquatics, Kevorkians club in San Diego, after Thursdays race. He swam seven seconds ahead of his lifetime best and he was unshaved.

Its no secret that Kevorkian is rising into swimmings elite very quickly. There was a buzz around the pool, as college coaches drooled over Kevorkians potential. Its no secret that Kevorkian has "Olympics" written all over him.

But what is so refreshing about this La Jolla High School senior is his attitude. He may be young, but he is definitely from the old school. He doesnt believe in high-tech diets or equipment. He hates the new bodysuits, which are the latest rage in swimming and were in use by some swimmers at the Janet Evans meet.

They should outlaw it, Kevorkian said of the bodysuit. There should be nothing allowed past the knees or the shoulders. I tried one once, but I didnt like it. It didnt help me that much besides, it was a pain to get in and out of.

He doesnt need any of that fancy, new-fangled stuff. Kevorkians secret is hard work.

Im not on a diet, Kevorkian said. I just eat in between my practices. He paused, and smiled. I eat a lot, he laughed.

Indeed. Kevorkian practices with Pease and North Coast nine times a week, including three days of morning and afternoon workouts.

On a typical double day, Kevorkian said that he has a bowl of Cheerios with fruit (hopefully strawberries) before his morning workout; then have a protein shake and a turkey sandwich for lunch afterwards. Before his afternoon session, he will have an energy bar (or something similar). For dinner, he said he usually has chicken.

We are a chicken family, Kevorkian said with a smile. We have it a lot.

Nope, there are no training secrets for this exuberant kid, just lots of time in the pool.

He trains better than anyone Ive ever coached, Pease said. He is very determined.

"Aggressive" might be the better word. In the 800, Kevorkian did not flinch in the face of his competition. He jumped out to the early lead and still led after the halfway point. He was eventually overtaken, but he did prove a point he is not to be taken lightly.

He liked racing those guys, Pease said. I wasnt surprised at all that he jumped out in front early. Thats the kind of swimmer he is. Hes got to get out there and set the pace. When he sits back, he doesnt do very well. Thats the way he races, and thats the way he trains, too.

Pease isnt exactly lounging in an easy chair. He is a very active coach and trains his team hard. According to Pease, Kevorkian doesnt have anyone fast enough to push him in the pool, so he sets paces for him difficult paces.

And while Pease is a stern taskmaster, there was no one more proud of Kevorkian when he jumped out of the pool.

I told him today that this race was optional, Pease beamed. It was his decision to race, and I am definitely pleased with his decision. He is just a great swimmer.

Kevorkian was all smiles when the race was finished, and while he was being congratulated for his effort, his eyes kept darting about the stadium.

Sorry kid, they dont have Cheerios in the snack tent.

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