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Clearwater’s Melanie Margalis swims to Rio

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Not many know about Melanie Margalis, who has spent the last few days in Omaha, Neb. at the Olympic swimming trials. When Michael Phelps is involved in a swimming event, he will be the center of attraction.

That’s just the way it is. Both were trying to make the Olympic team on Wednesday night. For Phelps it would be an incredible fifth Olympiad, while Margalis was trying for the third time to make her first Olympic games.

Though relatively unknown outside of Pinellas County and the University of Georgia, Margalis and Phelps were swimming in prime time on national television to earn their spots. When the night was over Margalis, like Phelps, knew they would be going to Rio de Janeiro later this summer as a member of the swimming contingent.

The Clearwater native and graduate of Countryside High School heads to Rio to compete in the 200-meter Individual Medley (IM) event. She barely edged out Caitlin Leverenz by five one-hundredths of a second to grab second place in the final and become an automatic qualifier.

Her list of accomplishments leading up to the trials is impressive. While at Countryside she was a three-time Florida state champion and state record holder in the 200 IM (a combination of butterfly, backstroke, breast stroke and freestyle). She also won the state championship in the 500-meter freestyle in 2009.

Margalis also swam for St. Petersburg Aquatics and went on to the University of Georgia. While in Athens, she set the school record in the 200 and 400-meter IM. Her brother Robert Margalis was an NCAA Champion while at Georgia.

For those who considered her a long shot to make the team, it was even longer as the event final entered the final stages Wednesday night. As the field made the final turn to swim the last 50 meters, Margalis was fifth.

She somehow had to pass three swimmers to earn her spot on the team. Her final leg in the freestyle was the fastest among all competitors, including event winner Maya DiRado. She was a full second faster than Leverenz enabling Margalis to get her fingertip on the touchpad a split second ahead of her competitor.

Margalis was also competing in the 200-meter freestyle event, which was also being contested on Wednesday. There was concern that this “double” would sap her energy and prevent a strong finish in the IM event.

Her strong kick at the end showed the concern to be unfounded. But even Margalis was not sure as the race entered its final stages.

“Now (competing in both events) it feels worth it,” said Margalis. “After the turn I didn’t know if it was going to be worth it at the end, but yeah, it was worth it. All I could think of was ‘get to the wall.’”

So instead of “hitting the wall” she got to the wall. By getting to the wall, the girl from Clearwater is going to Rio.

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Bob Sparks is President of Ramos and Sparks Group, a Tallahassee-based business and political consulting firm. During his career, he has directed media relations and managed events for professional baseball, served as chief spokesperson for the Republican Party of Florida as well as the Florida Department of Environmental Protection and the Attorney General of Florida. After serving as Executive Deputy Chief of Staff for Governor Charlie Crist, he returned to the private sector working with clients including the Republican National Committee and political candidates in Japan. He lives in Tallahassee with his wife, Sue and can be reached at Bob@ramos-sparks.com.

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