Skip to main content
Part of complete coverage on

Thorpe's legacy: Native American's Olympic dream

By Paul Gittings, for CNN
May 24, 2012 -- Updated 1328 GMT (2128 HKT)
Mary Killman will be the youngest member of the U.S. synchronized swimming team at the London 2012 Olympics. Mary Killman will be the youngest member of the U.S. synchronized swimming team at the London 2012 Olympics.
HIDE CAPTION
Technical artistry
Qualifying success
Silver medal
Olympic teammates
Early promise
Inspired by a legend
<<
<
1
2
3
4
5
6
>
>>
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Mary Killman will be competing in her first Olympics in London
  • The 21-year-old will be youngest member of the U.S. Synchronized Swimming team
  • Killman inspired by exploits of Olympic legend Jim Thorpe, also a Native American
  • She is a proud member of the Citizen Potawatomi Nation

(CNN) -- A century after her childhood inspiration Jim Thorpe won two gold medals at the Stockholm Olympics, synchronized swimmer Mary Killman will be competing in her first Games in London this year.

Like the legendary athlete, Killman comes from a part Native American background in Oklahoma, and is a registered member of Citizen Potawatomi Nation (CPN).

Thorpe, who grew up in the Sac and Fox Nation, was spoken of in hushed tones by her elders.

"I'm very proud of my background," Killman told CNN. Her tribe are proud of her as well, regularly highlighting her achievements in their publications.

In her first solo synchronized swimming competition in 2003, Killman's routine was set to North American flute music and she wore a decoration of the CPN seal on her hip.

While growing up, she visited the house where Thorpe had lived -- and he was the subject of one of her school projects.

Human to Hero: Mary Killman
'Fast Girls': Feel-good Olympics film

Thorpe was one of the greatest all-round athletes in sporting history, playing professional American football, baseball and basketball as well as his track and field exploits -- he won gold in the pentathlon and decathlon at the 1912 Olympics.

He was controversially stripped of his Olympic medals when it was discovered he had earned a few dollars while playing semi- professional baseball, but the International Olympic Committee restored them in 1983 -- 30 years after he died in poverty.

Effortless performance

While she has a long way to go to match Thorpe's Olympic achievements, Killman is already making her name in a sport where the required elegance and good timing in the pool is forged by a grueling training regime of up to 60 hours per week.

Mary Killman: Fast facts
Sport: Synchronized swimming

Age: 21

Born: Ada, Oklahoma, U.S.

Background: Registered member Citizen Potawatomi Nation

Training schedule: Up to 60 hours per week

Diet: Up to 2,000 calories per day

Relaxation: Listens to rock and pop music

Hobbies: Trains Arabian horses





But all the work in the water paid off when she and duet partner Mariya Koroleva qualified for the 2012 London Olympics earlier this year. A seventh-placed finish at the Olympic qualification event at the Aquatic Center in London served notice of their potential and sealed a place in the Games proper.

At just 21, Killman will be the youngest member of the United States team and will be gaining valuable experience.

Denise Shiveley, the national team manager for the squad, has high hopes for Killman and Koroleva, who has taken a break from her studies at Stanford University to concentrate on the Olympics.

They formed their partnership only last year and soon won the silver medal at the Pan-American Games behind Canada.

"They are both so young but their goal will be continue to improve and to keep getting better," Shiveley told CNN.

Early years

Killman was already a competitive swimmer in Texas when she was first introduced to synchro, aged 11.

"One of my friends invited me over to a summer program that she had got involved with and I absolutely fell in love with it," she said.

"The combination of music and athletics was amazing. It was something I felt I could do it for a long time. "

Showing early talent, Killman has made steady improvement each year, winning a clutch of junior and age group national titles, competing in both the solo discipline and duets.

Her first team was Pirouettes of Texas, where she was inspired to greater things by the exploits of Sarah Lowe, who represented the United States at the 2004 Olympic Games in Athens.

"I also looked up a lot to Ana Kozlova, a three-time Olympian, who won bronze in the duet in Athens," said Killman, who now competes for the Santa Clara club in California.

Grueling regime

To reach that medal-winning standard at major games, Killman knows that many hours of training are required both in the pool and gym.

"I train between eight and 10 hours per day, " she said.

Two three to four hour sessions in the pool are interspersed with a weight-training program that lasts about an hour.

It's mentally difficult just to push yourself that hard everyday. A lot of people don't realize just how difficult it is
Mary Killman

This schedule is repeated six days a week, and absolute dedication is required.

"It's mentally difficult just to push yourself that hard every day. A lot of people don't realize just how difficult it is," she admitted.

MK squared

All that hard work has started to pay off, particularly since she formed her partnership with Koroleva last year.

At 22, Koroleva is slightly older but they had known each other after competing for several years at the same competitions and they have formed a strong friendship.

"She's like a sister to me," said Killman. "We have to think the same, we have to hear music the same and we have to go to practice everyday and spend eight to 10 hours in the water with just each other."

Fellow U.S. squad team members have coined a nickname for the pair: "MK squared" as they share the same initials and have the same tastes.

Olympic dreams

The duo will go into their first Games without the pressure of medal expectation in a sport currently dominated by Russia, China and Spain.

But Killman is certainly not writing off their chances of causing an upset.

"There's always that chance that if we push ourselves hard maybe just maybe we can reach the podium," she said.

"This is it, this is what we've been working for. We really want to go out and show what we can do. "

With synchronized swimmers reaching their peak from their mid-20s onwards, Rio in 2016 remains a long-term target for Killman.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
August 13, 2012 -- Updated 1353 GMT (2153 HKT)
The moment that Team GB's Mo Farah won the 10,000 meters was a wonderful collision of electricity.
August 13, 2012 -- Updated 1534 GMT (2334 HKT)
His blistering pace and larger-than-life antics made him the king of the track in London, and bolstered his claims to be a "living legend."
August 14, 2012 -- Updated 0944 GMT (1744 HKT)
Disappointment for Nigeria's Muizat Ajoke Odumosu, who came last in the 400m hurdles final, London 2012 Olympics.
The Olympics are generally won and lost long before the opening ceremony cauldron is touched by fire.
August 12, 2012 -- Updated 0738 GMT (1538 HKT)
Fans of the home side, Team GB, wave Union Jack flags during the Olympic Games
CNN's Richard Quest believes the London Games will be regarded as having brought the Olympics concept home.
August 11, 2012 -- Updated 1633 GMT (0033 HKT)
Strategist Alastair Campbell says he never imagined London 2012 would be quite the triumph it turned out to be.
August 14, 2012 -- Updated 2057 GMT (0457 HKT)
Award-winning director Danny Boyle celebrates the best of British music in London 2012's Olympic Closing Ceremony.
January 31, 2013 -- Updated 1452 GMT (2252 HKT)
From Usain Bolt's record-setting achievements to an unexpected Ugandan gold, London 2012 has provided a wide array of highlights.
August 13, 2012 -- Updated 0305 GMT (1105 HKT)
CNN's Amanda Davies recaps the London 2012 Olympics from the opening ceremony on July 27 to the finale on day 16.
August 12, 2012 -- Updated 1702 GMT (0102 HKT)
Mo Farah and Usain Bolt celebrate their success at the London 2012 Olympic Games by copying each other's
It's been just over two weeks since the Queen parachuted into London's Olympic Stadium, her apricot dress flapping in the breeze.
August 15, 2012 -- Updated 1214 GMT (2014 HKT)
When the world's top marathon runners bid to win Olympic gold, they would do well to draw inspiration from one of the greatest athletes in the history of track and field.
August 11, 2012 -- Updated 1633 GMT (0033 HKT)
Team GB supporters with their faces painted in Union Jack designs at the Olympic Stadium in London.
Alastair Campbell always thought London 2012 would be a success, but never imagined it would be quite the triumph it has turned out to be.
August 10, 2012 -- Updated 1021 GMT (1821 HKT)
Adrien Niyonshuti is unlikely to win an Olympic medal, and he will do well to even finish his event, but his story is surely one of the most inspirational.
August 10, 2012 -- Updated 1605 GMT (0005 HKT)
The colors of the Olympic Rings at the Olympic Park in Stratford, east London, August 2012.
Olympic fever has cheered up London and made it a more welcoming place, but will optimism be one of the legacies of the Games?
August 10, 2012 -- Updated 1825 GMT (0225 HKT)
Wojdan Shaherkani's Olympic debut was short, but sweet -- the Saudi judoka said competing at the Games was
London 2012 is the first Olympics to feature women in every national team, with Jacques Rogge hailing a "major boost for gender equality."
August 10, 2012 -- Updated 0040 GMT (0840 HKT)
An impoverished South Korean gymnast has not only struck Olympic gold, but also reaped a $444,000 donation in a veritable rags to riches tale.
August 9, 2012 -- Updated 0046 GMT (0846 HKT)
Britain's hero Jessica Ennis is set to cash in after winning heptathlon gold, but the poster girl of the 2012 Olympics says fame is not her motivation.
August 8, 2012 -- Updated 0746 GMT (1546 HKT)
China is rallying around fallen hurdler Liu Xiang after he failed to make it past the first-round heat for a second consecutive Olympics.
August 3, 2012 -- Updated 1930 GMT (0330 HKT)
The first woman to win Olympic gold almost died in a plane crash, but remarkably returned to run again for the U.S. in 1936.
August 7, 2012 -- Updated 1504 GMT (2304 HKT)
Don Paige could not bear to watch the race he knew he could win. The 1980 Moscow Olympics were the death of a dream for many athletes.
August 4, 2012 -- Updated 1421 GMT (2221 HKT)
Ricardo Blas Jr
While Michael Phelps and Usain Bolt grab the headlines, little-known athletes from around the world keep alive the original spirit of the Olympics.
Athletes spend years eating the right foods ... and then must resist the free fast food in the Olympic village. How do they do it?
ADVERTISEMENT