Apostalon takes circuitous, fulfilling route from Albuquerque to Olympics - Albuquerque Journal

Apostalon takes circuitous, fulfilling route from Albuquerque to Olympics

This trip for Anika Apostalon has routed her through eastern Nebraska, the Czech Republic, Los Angeles, South Korea and Albuquerque.

The next stop is the best one of all: Japan.

“It’s been a long time coming,” she said. “A long process.”

In Los Angeles, where she lives, the roster of Olympic athletes is extensive. In Albuquerque, where Apostalon was born and grew up, they’re somewhat rare.

The 2013 Albuquerque Academy graduate will be competing in the Tokyo Olympics, swimming on the 4×100-meter freestyle relay team for the Czech Republic. Since her mother, Radka, is from VlaÅ¡im, a city of about 11,000 people located roughly 45 miles south of Prague, Apostalon, 26, was eligible for dual citizenship.

After years of wishing to become a dual citizen, she finally availed herself of the opportunity and did so in the spring of 2018. At the World Championships in South Korea in July of 2019, Apostalon swam a leg of the 4×100 that earned the Czech relay squad an Olympic berth.

“It’s a great thrill for a coach to have a swimmer who reaches that apex of competition,” said now-retired Academy coach Dave Barney.

The women’s 4×100 is scheduled July 24 (prelims) and July 25 (finals), the opening weekend of competition in Tokyo.

It’s a long way, in every way, from where Apostalon was in the summer of 2012, when she first swam in Omaha, Nebraska, at the U.S. Olympic Trials.

“I just remember walking onto the deck in Omaha and being in awe of the pool and the facilities and the people I was competing against,” Apostalon said in a recent telephone interview from her suburban LA apartment. “It’s been a fantastic journey, honestly, from being starstruck and being very nervous at that first Trials … and now, I can go compete and see friends at the Olympic Games.”

Apostalon wasn’t even yet a senior in high school when she first competed in Omaha in the 100-meter backstroke.

“That,” her father Mark said, “is when we felt she had an aptitude.”

Four years later, she returned to Omaha, where she was 12th in the 50-meter freestyle, 24th in the 100 free and 39th in the 100 backstroke.

Apostalon is the Czech Republic’s record holder in the 50-meter free; there is a tiny chance she could swim the 50 in Japan. “It’s very much up in the air,” she said.

Building to Tokyo

In 2017, Apostalon, who grew up bilingual (Czech and English), first approached the Czech federation about becoming a citizen and asking what it would take to swim for them.

“I don’t know how serious they took it,” she said. “When I came on the scene in 2018, they said, ‘We had no idea about you.'”

The “came on the scene” comment referred to the Czech nationals in the summer of 2018, when she qualified to the European Championships.

As a young girl, she spent many summers in Vlašim, where the family has a cottage, and swimming for the Czech Republic was probably her most likely passage into an Olympics.

“I decided I wanted to take myself to the highest level I possibly could,” she said. “The Czech Republic always was a part of my childhood.”

Her résumé is sparkling. Apostalon’s name remains plastered all over the state and school records boards inside the Academy Natatorium.

She was a four-time state champion in the 100-yard freestyle at Academy, and still holds New Mexico state records in the 100 free, 50 free and 100 backstroke.

The first half of her college career was spent at San Diego State, where she swam and played water polo, having excelled at the latter during her last couple of years at Academy. Keen to narrow her focus, however, she transferred to the University of Southern California after her sophomore season and left water polo behind.

“I was so very fresh as a player,” she said. “I did not have a lot of game experience. At elite colleges like Stanford or USC, (more experienced players) had been playing since they were 8. … It was a hard decision in the sense that I loved playing water polo, but I saw, to be good, I’d have to dedicate a lot more time to it. Swimming would have taken a back burner, and at that point in my career, I could not put the swimming aside.”

Said Radka Apostalon: “That’s where her swimming career took off. A change of environment really helped.”

Competing for renowned coach Dave Salo at USC, Apostalon anchored a national championship 4×100-meter relay team with the Trojans in her junior year of 2016, and graduated from USC in 2017 with a degree in psychology. She is a four-time NCAA qualifier and 17-time All-American.

She soon zeroed in on her dream of competing in an Olympics, something her father once attempted in judo.

“I was close. I was an elite athlete. I was ranked,” Mark Apostalon said. “But I’m happy she had that same dream within her to make it to the Olympics.”

It wasn’t long after the 2016 U.S. Olympic Trials that Apostalon thought she should make a serious push and try to represent the Czech Republic.

Even when she’s not training, Apostalon is constantly around the pool; she is a coach for Rose Bowl Aquatics, and the pool resides on the same property as the Rose Bowl in Pasadena. She trains at USC.

Expectations

Apostalon wasn’t sure how to answer when asked what she hopes to get out of this Olympic experience, especially since athletes largely will be quarantined in Tokyo, and outside families won’t be allowed to travel into Japan to watch the Games in person.

“These Games are going to be very different. I think racing-wise, swimming-wise, I just want to be able to put together a well-crafted race, swim like I know how to,” she said. “All of us, we’ve done these races at so many meets over so many years.”

Apostalon leaves California for Japan on July 11, and will rendezvous with the Czech team there for a pre-Olympics training camp.

Watching, hoping

As Apostalon competes in the Tokyo pool, more than a few New Mexicans will be transfixed.

“I’ll be hanging on every stroke, I can tell you that,” said Barney. “And probably sweating a lot.”

A good number of people from Vlašim, too.

“I always cry,” Radka Apostalon said, and she began to cry when thinking about watching her daughter compete in the Olympics. She moved to the United States in 1991. “Because it’s a lifetime achievement. And she did a great job to get there.”

And although she’ll be a California resident representing the Czech Republic in Japan, a huge piece of Apostalon belongs to Albuquerque, and New Mexico will be on her mind at the Olympics.

“I’ve always had hometown Czech (Republic), and hometown Albuquerque,” she said. “It’s kind of stunning in a way.

“If I could tell my 9-year-old self, when I was watching the 2004 Athens Games, and say, ‘Hey, I want to go there’ … it’s incredible to think back and think this is a reality. I’m so proud that I get to say that Albuquerque has a spot there. That’s really cool for me.”

 

The Anika Apostalon file

AGE: 26

BORN: Feb. 2, 1995, Albuquerque

HIGH SCHOOL: Albuquerque Academy (2013)

COLLEGE: Southern Cal (2017)

NICKNAME: Annie

HIGH SCHOOL: Apostalon was a multiple All-American and twice (2012, 2013) was named the New Mexico water polo MVP. She won 18 state swim titles with the Chargers — eight individually and 10 as part of a relay. She was a four-time state champ in the 100-yard freestyle.

TOKYO WATCH: Apostalon will swim in the 4×100-meter freestyle relay with the Czech Republic in prelims on July 24. She may also swim an individual race, either the 50- or 100-meter, at the Games.

RACING UP: Apostalon often would compete against older kids when she was young. “Later,” said Radka Apostalon, Anika’s mother, “I realized that must have been tough for a young kid like that.” Said Anika: “I remember being really frustrated. I was always so mad because I kept getting those second-place ribbons.”

DID YOU KNOW? Apostalon plays a couple of musical instruments, including the guitar and piano. In fact, she is in the midst of a move to Pasadena, just north of Los Angeles, and recently moved her piano into her new apartment.

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