Some of these swimmers have been competing since they were 4 years old.
By PHIL NOVAK
VINDICATOR STAFF REPORTER
YOUNGSTOWN -- A strong odor of chlorine combines with the intense humidity in Youngstown State's Beeghly Natatorium.
Swimmers, place your feet!
The swimmers sit motionless in the water, their hands clutched to the pool wall, their feet flat against it.
Take your mark!
Parents, coaches and teammates perk their heads up and turn their attention to the pool.
A deafening roar continues from both the bleachers and poolside for the next 30 seconds as the swimmers race short-ways across the Olympic-size pool in the backstroke competition.
Whether they think they've done well or not, the kids climb out of the pool, grab their towels and find their coach.
It's not over yet. There's still more racing to go.
Area competition: This was the 2001 Youngstown Swim League All-Star Pentathlon, a once-a-year competition that brought together 244 swimmers from the YSL's 10 area swim clubs.
Sponsored by Penguin Swimming, Youngstown's USA Swimming Club, Saturday's pentathlon required swimmers to compete in five different events -- butterfly, backstroke, breaststroke, freestyle and the individual medley -- in an ironman-type event that tests endurance and overall athleticism.
The coaches of the area swim clubs selected four boys and girls to compete in five age groups, starting at the 8-years-old-and-younger category and going up to the 15-18 category.
Most of these kids have been swimming since before they can remember, and they're as competitive as professionals.
"When he was younger, I had to temper him," said Terry O'Halloran of his son, Tyler, just as Tyler begins to race the 50-meter butterfly.
The coach of the Boardman High School Swim Team, O'Halloran holds a stop watch in his right hand as his son approaches the wall.
"He easily broke the record there, I think," he said.
He did. As a matter of fact, O'Halloran broke his own record from last year by a half-second.
The 16-year-old who will be a junior at Boardman High School held eight records in this meet before Saturday's event began, two in his current age group and six in his two previous age groups.
"This is a great place to swim," O'Halloran said. "We swim a lot of high school meets here. I always like this pool."
State finalist: He also placed sixth in the state finals this year, and he qualified for next year's U.S. Open. Obviously, this athlete works hard.
"In the summer, I do two practices a day," O'Halloran said. "In the morning, I'll be at the Boardman Swim Club from 7 a.m. to 9:30 a.m., then I'll come back here later and I'll swim with the Penguins from 4 p.m. to 6 p.m.
"Usually, on average I'll do about 10,000 laps a day."
O'Halloran said he's been swimming since he was about 5 years old, but that's nothing compared to some of these competitors.
Started early: "He's been in the water since he was about 3-months-old," said Canfield's Jackie Treeilcock of her 8-year-old son Gavin, a Hilltop Elementary School student and Tippecanoe Country Club swimmer.
"He's been swimming since he was about 3 and in competition since he was about 4," Ms. Treeilcock said.
And Gavin said he loves it. After all, there aren't too many 8-year-olds who don't love to be in the pool. Hailey Sturtz is one of them.
"I'm pretty fast," said the Firestone Area Swim Team member.
Hailey said she loves to compete, but swimming is more than that to her.
"It's recreational and you can have fun with it."
But competition is still the name of the game, and for Meghan Linnelli, 16, a Canfield High School junior, a swimmer with the Canfield Swim Club and a qualifier in next year's U.S. Open, it's doubly rewarding.
"I was in the same meet with my sister, and she really wanted to beat me," Linnelli said. "But she didn't."