Turning Heads

Jan. 25, 2007

By Scott MacDonald

When Georgia Tech head women’s swimming coach Stu Wilson recruited Jing Li, he knew that he was getting a quality student-athlete. What he did not know, was how fast she was going to go in the fall.

“The potential was there and she had some good times coming in to Georgia Tech,” said Wilson. “But to go as fast as she did in our first couple meets, really caught me off guard and showed me that she is ahead of schedule.”

Li, a native of Chapel Hill, N.C., currently stands 10th in the Atlantic Coast Conference in the 200-yard butterfly with a lifetime-best time of 2:03.78 against 18th-ranked Virginia on Nov. 4th. That time is fifth best all-time in Georgia Tech history and is just one second off from being a NCAA `B’ standard (2:02.55).

“I’ve typically swam pretty well during the season, compared to other swimmers that only go fast after they taper and shave,” said Li. “I didn’t lift weights last year, and that’s made a big difference when I got here. The strength and conditioning stuff that we do has been really beneficial for me.”

As soon as everything was looking upward and Li was racing past her competitors, a setback occurred. Li was diagnosed with a stress fracture in her foot, an injury that occurred a year ago.

“My foot started hurting one day and I went down to the training room,” said Li. “They thought that I hurt a tendon or something, and they treated that. It did not get any better, so they sent me in for an x-ray and Dr. Galante told me that I had a stress fracture.

“My team ran a lot more in Chapel Hill then they did in Arizona, so that might have caused the injury.”

Even with the setback, Coach Wilson believes that Li can be a driving force when the ACC Championships roll around, Feb. 14-17, in her hometown of Chapel Hill.

“She swam some really good times early in the season, before she was injured,” said Wilson. “She swam really well during our winter training session in Florida.”

Coach Wilson also made another decision for Li. Instead of training distance, he decided to place her in the middle distance group to increase her speed.

“She will still continue to swim the 1,000 free,” said Wilson. “But she will train with the middle distance group now, because we feel she can really score in the 200 and 500 free events.”

At the midpoint of the swimming season, Li holds the team’s top times in the 200 fly and 400 individual medley (4:32.52). When asked about what she expects at the conference championship, Li smiles and agrees that she could final in all three events.

“It’s something I looked at after I got here,” said Li. “When Stu [Wilson] passed around the ACC breakdown and I saw that I was really close to some times to make the finals, and very close to NCAA `B’ times, I knew that I had a chance. You look at the number of seniors who graduated, and you say, that’s your spot.”

A spot that would not be there if her mother, Yvonne Li, did not push her into swimming all those years ago.

“My mom got me into it,” said Li. “It was something I like to do, go to the pool in the summer and play around. Then my mom put me in some lessons. I tried gymnastics, ice skating, dancing and all that stuff, but I just ended up sticking with swimming.”

Luckily for Georgia Tech, Li stuck with swimming. With Tech all-time top times in the 500 freestyle (4:57.75-4th), 200 fly and 400 IM (4:32.52-7th), Li should even get faster as the training intensifies here at Tech.

“The potential is there,” said Wilson. “It’s always great for us when a student-athlete comes in here and swims fast without the heavy training. Once you add that on, they should get stronger and faster which bodes well for us in the future.”

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