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Two BYU swimmers hope to shine at London Olympics

Published July 20, 2012 11:47 am

This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2012, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

Provo • Neither one will be mistaken for Michael Phelps or Ryan Lochte. They don't have the medal collections, high profiles or world-record times of the legendary swimmers.

But two athletes from Brigham Young University will be racing at the London Olympics, just the same.

Swimmers Andrew Rutherfurd and Rafael Alfaro are among a dozen athletes from Utah who will be competing in London, albeit not for the United States. Although both men live in Provo and compete for the Cougars, they're representing Bolivia and El Salvador, respectively.

"It is very exciting," Rutherfurd said. "It's honestly something that's literally unbelievable. Anyone who swims and does it at a serious level, that is their goal. For anyone. … It was honestly like a dream come true."

In all, six athletes from Utah will compete for other nations in London — seven, if you count former Jazz star Andrei Kirilenko playing again for Russia.

The list includes three current and former University of Utah basketball players who play for Canada — Kim Smith, Shona Thorburn and Michelle Plouffe — and Southern Utah University track star Cam Levins, who also represents Canada. The group would have been larger, but the Swedish Olympic Committee decided not to send discus throwers Nik Arrhenius and Leif Arrhenius, brothers from Orem who starred at Mountain View High School and BYU.

Spokesman Thomas Engdahl said the Swedish Olympic Committee wants athletes to be capable of a top-eight finish before they're sent to an Olympics, and the Swedish Athletic Association did not nominate the Arrhenius brothers because it doesn't believe they can meet that standard — even though Nik Arrhenius competed at the 2008 Beijing Olympics.

The swimmers, on the other hand, were chosen to compete by FINA, the world governing body for swimming, as the best swimmers from their countries based on their top times and performances at the world championships.

Rutherfurd will swim the 100-meter freestyle on July 31, while Alfaro will race the 400-meter individual medley on July 28 — a race that features both Phelps and Lochte. They both know they're not going to make the finals, but are focused instead on performing their best.

"I just want to do my best and enjoy the ride, really," Alfaro said. "I have been waiting for this moment since I was 8 years old. I have already put in all the hard work, so we'll see how everything goes."

Rutherfurd has dual citizenship and lived in Bolivia for seven years with his family (his mother is Bolivian) before returning to the U.S. as a teenager and attending high school in suburban Atlanta, while Alfaro is a Salvadoran citizen who came to the U.S. to join the Cougars. His mother and two uncles attended BYU, including Piero Ferracuti, who also swam for the Cougs and competed for El Salvador in the 1976 Montreal Olympics.

"Making the Olympics has always been a dream for me," Alfaro said, "and since early last year I knew that it was me or one other guy that could be selected to compete, so I was very aware that I had a good chance of making it."

Both swimmers are part of small Olympic delegations, too, neither of which has ever won a medal.

The Bolivians are sending only five athletes — two swimmers, a shooter and two track athletes. The Salvadorans have nine members of their team: two athletes in swimming and rowing, and single athletes in track, cycling, judo, shooting and weightlifting.

By comparison, the Americans have 530 athletes competing in London.

Nevertheless, both men are hoping they can enjoy their best performances of their lives on the grandest stage they will ever occupy.

"What I'm expecting to do is just do my best," Rutherfurd said, "and honestly just represent Bolivia as best I can and make the country and my peers, my coach, and anyone who knows me proud."

mcl@sltrib.com

Twitter: @MCLTribune