Big 10

Michigan swimming’s DeLoof trio lives ‘sister dream’ at Olympic trials

June 25, 2016

ANN ARBOR – Richard DeLoof remembers guiding his daughters through the water at the Grosse Pointe Park pool during their first swimming lessons.

Next week, DeLoof and his wife, Patty, will be part of a sellout crowd of more than 14,000 watching three of their girls compete for spots on the U.S. Olympic team.

Ali DeLoof, Gabby DeLoof and Catie DeLoof – all University of Michigan swimmers – will compete in the 2016 U.S. Olympic Team Trials at CenturyLink Arena in Omaha, Neb.. The trials start Sunday and end July 3.

“When you look at that,” Richard said, “it’s an awesome experience to think, wow … never did we think they’d make it to the Olympic Trials.”

Ali, 21, graduated from Michigan in the spring. Gabby, 20, is heading into her junior year and Catie, 19, will be a sophomore. They also have a younger sister, Jackie, 17, who will be swimming for the Wolverines in the fall. So it’s fitting that their family group text message name is “DeLoof Dynasty.”

“They’re awesome,” Michigan coach Mike Bottom said. “It’s just a smile a minute. You look at one DeLoof and if she’s grumpy, you look at the other DeLoof and she’s laughing. The dynamic between them, the supportiveness between the three of them – and yet they’re sisters.”

During a media session at Canham Natatorium on May 31, Ali, Gabby and Catie stepped to the podium at the front of the room. Before a single question was asked, all three burst into laughter. They are nicknamed the “DeGoofs,” but that just masks the competitive nature that’s ingrained in all of them — evidenced by all three going to the trials with a chance to qualify for the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro in August.

“During practice it’s nice to race them,” Catie said of her sisters, “because you get someone to compete against and they make you better every day. It’s fun.”

Neither of the girls’ parents were competitive swimmers. But all three sisters started with swim lessons at Grosse Pointe Park, moved onto club swimming at Pointe Aquatics, then year-round training. They swam for Grosse Pointe South High School and then headed to Michigan.

Ali began swimming at about age 6. The others followed her in to the pool and all three are standouts in the backstroke.

“One thing led to another where they just excelled and received a state (finals) cut or they received an Olympic Junior cut,” Richard said. “They just kept advancing. We ended up moving along with them as they continue to advance and excel in the sport of swimming.”

Ali was a two-time All-American as a senior and is slated to compete in three events at the trials, which will be broadcast on NBC and NBC Sports Network. She’s seeded seventh in the 100-meter backstroke (1:00.10), 35th in the 100-meter freestyle (55.71) and 91st in the 50-meter freestyle (25.98). The top two finishers in each event, and top six in the 100 freestyle, qualify for the Olympic team.

“Obviously I have a shot to make the final in the 100 backstroke, so I’m just kind of going to see what I can do,” said Ali, who finished second in the event to 2012 gold medal winner Missy Franklin during the AT&T Winter Nationals in December. “I didn’t make the 2012 Olympic Trials, so it’s really nice to have that opportunity to see what can happen.”

It’s Ali’s first Olympic Trials and the second for Gabby and Catie, who competed in 2012, and both will swim in multiple events next week. Gabby, a two-time All-American honorable mention last season, will swim in the 200 backstroke (22nd, 2:11.33), 100 backstroke (28th, 1:01.63) and 200 freestyle (60th, 2:01.20).

“We obviously all have goals for trials but Ali, as of this year, 2016 for Rio, has the best shot,” Gabby said. “I’m looking to possibly semi or final in my events.”

Catie, also a two-time All-American honorable mention last season, will compete in the 100 backstroke (75th, 1:02.72) and 50 freestyle (141st, 26.10).

“I’m just going for best times, and to have fun,” Catie said.

Ali said there’s not as much competition among the sisters as there was when they were growing up and in high school. That’s because the focus shifted to helping the Michigan team.

“The way they support each other and yet bicker a little bit and push each other and nip at each other is just fun to watch,” Bottom said. “I have three girls of my own – 10, 9 and 5 – so it’s fun for me to watch and go, OK, I hope my girls are like this when they grow up because they’re really amazing.”

Ali, Gabby and Catie will be supported in Omaha by their parents, younger sister and an aunt and uncle, who are all scheduled to make the trip. It will be the culmination of combined decades of training to get a chance to represent their country, right alongside each other.

“I feel like every young swimmer always talks to their parents and their family and friends about how they want to go to the Olympics, whether that be to the Olympic Trials first then to the Olympics or just have that Olympic goal in mind,” Gabby said. “It’s really cool that the three of us are actually going together as like a sister dream.”

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