Cougar grabs Gold at Aquatics competition in Rome

Kim EesonOlympian and University of Houston alumna Yulia Pakhalina struck gold in Rome, as she dove into first place at the 13th International Swimming Federation (FINA) World Championships.

The 31-year-old Russian diver won the gold medal in the women's 1-meter springboard diving event with a total of 325.05 points on Sunday. The victory came nearly a year after the 2008 Olympics, when Pakhalina captured two silver medals—one in the women’s 3-meter springboard diving event and the other with partner and fellow Cougar Anastasia Pozdniakova in the women’s synchronized diving competition.

Pakhalina is among 2,600 athletes from 179 nations participating in the 17-day competition, which ends Aug. 2, but she is not the only Cougar at the championships. Pozdniakova and freshman Kim Eeson also are vying for top spots.

Earlier in the week, Pozdniakova, who is also a member of the Russian diving team, placed seventh in the 3-meter springboard diving category with 320.65 points. Pozdniakova may yet win a gold medal when she teams up, once again, with Pakhalina for the women’s synchronized diving competition on Thursday, July 23.
The other Cougar, Eeson, is one of eight swimmers vying for her home country, Zimbabwe. She is scheduled to compete starting Sunday, July 26.

“I think Kim is going to swim outstandingly, and I think she's going to swim her best times,” said UH’s head swimming coach Mark Taylor. “She going to represent the university well.”

Taylor will continue his role as Eeson’s trainer in Rome, where he will be one of two American swimming coaches working with the Zimbabwean team. The 2009 FINA World Championships is not the first time Taylor has coached on an international level.

Prior to his arrival at UH seven years ago, Taylor worked with the Danish swimming team at the 2002 European Championships in Berlin, the 2002 World Championships in Moscow and the 2001 European Championships in Antwerp. He also served as head coach of Swim Team Odense 95 in Denmark.

Taylor’s presence at the competition in Rome is welcoming to Eeson, who admitted being “really nervous” despite her previous experience at the 2007 FINA World Championships with the Australian swim team.

“I trained so much harder than I have done in the past, so my expectations and goals are a lot higher,” Eeson said.

Her chief priority is to beat her best times, which are 12.4 in the 200 freestyle and 4.24 in the 400 freestyle, she said. Her other goal is to place in the top 50 in her events, but she has a more ambitious long-term objective.

“I just miss my country’s cut for the 2008 Olympics,” Eeson said. “I hope to make the team in 2012, and that’s when I think I’ll reach my peak.”

With an intensive training regimen, which includes swimming five days a week and weight lifting twice a week two hours a day, Eeson possesses the stamina and athletic prowess to achieve her dreams.

“The university has a great facility and great coaches,” Eeson said. “The program is amazing. It has really done wonders for me. I have improved a lot.”

Even though she misses her family and her homeland, Eeson said the team “is like a family. The coaches and the girls are very supportive.”

Since joining the UH team, Eeson has finished second in the 200-yard freestyle at an invitational at Louisiana State University and was a top six finisher in four other events.
During her years at the university, Pozdniakova also has made a big splash, racking up several honors in diving competitions. In April, she was named the Conference-USA Diver of the Year, after winning the 1-meter event at the 2009 NCAA Championships. She and Pakhalina won silver in the 3-meter synchronized springboard at the 2008 World Cup. Her other honors include being named the 2007 Conference USA 3-meter diving champion.