Alumni & Friends
In Sync and Beijing Bound
It's clearly not free swim at the Martin Luther King Jr. pool in San Francisco's Bayview neighborhood on this Thursday afternoon. Shiny pointed feet and muscled thighs spiral through the surface, 20 slick legs moving with split-second timing. The limbs disappear, then re-emerge in perfect Ziegfeld Follies pyramid formation.
Below the water paddles Kim Probst (B.A., '06), preparing to launch a teammate into the air for a splashy, gravity-defying lift. On deck stands head coach Tammy McGregor (B.A. '98), correcting leg positions and shouting counts. The two SF State alumnae form a dream partnership, giving the U.S. Olympic Synchronized Swimming Team a shot at gold in Beijing this August.
"Kim is the engine," says McGregor of the 27-year-old Probst, a diminutive but fiercely muscled five-foot-three, who serves as the team's co-captain but also its "base" -- the swimmer responsible for hoisting other swimmers' bodies above water seemingly through sheer will, since synchronized swimmers are not allowed to push off the pool's floor.
"Tammy is an inspiration," Probst says of McGregor, who won her own gold medal as a swimmer with the U.S. team in the 1996 Atlanta games. "She can relate to any athlete she coaches."
The "synchro" team practices 40 hours per week, ramping up to 50 hours a week in the summer. In addition to four hours a day in the pool, the swimmers' lives are devoted to cardio workouts, weight training, acrobatics and land drills, in which the women nail down their routines while on their feet. And yet both McGregor, who studied fashion, and Probst, who majored in psychology, draw on their semesters at SF State in surprising ways.
"I do most of the swimsuits," says McGregor, who designed the fluorescent one-pieces that the team wore when they took first at the 2006 FINA World Trophy Cup, upsetting favorite Russia. Her honed eye for trends also gives her a competitive edge with innovative choreography. "This sport changes too fast," she says. "The people who win stay ahead of fashion. It's like Madonna."
Probst was inspired to attend SF State by McGregor's example. Though she'll transition to coaching soon after the Olympics, her degree -- which she earned over a span of seven years while practicing "only" six hours a day -- gives her extra career confidence. "It opened my mind," says Probst, who fell in love with synchro at age 10. "State was the first time I realized I could do something else if I wanted. What I want is to coach, but knowing I could do other things makes me even more certain."
Meanwhile, what both women want is gold in Beijing, and it may be within their grasp. "If anyone can upset Russia, we can," says Probst. "We're young and powerful and exciting."
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