Justin Barber churns up age bracket

December 8 is an important date in Justin Barber's life - it'll be his 15th birthday.

But it's not just Barber who's looking ahead to that day. Several dozen of Nevada's top age group swimmers will also be glad to see Barber turn 15 and finally leave the under-14 age bracket he has dominated during 1999 for the Carson Tigersharks.

Just as he did at the Far Western Championships in July, Barber swept the 14-under age group this past weekend at the Nevada State Short Course Swimming Championships, winning the nine (Seven through Saturday night - Please update if possible!!!!!!!) events he entered during the four-day meet held at the Carson Aquatic Club.

Through Saturday, Barber had won state titles in the 400 and 200 individual medley, the 200 breaststroke, the 200 and 1,650 freestyles, the 100 butterfly and the 200 backstroke (distances in yards). His 400 IM time of 4:17.85 is a state record and he's currently ranked No. 3 in the nation in his age group at 1,500 meters.

Barber, a Carson High School freshman, joked that he won't wake up upset on Dec. 8 fearful that swimming victories will be hard to come by in his new 15-16 age group.

"It's fine," said Barber, who's been swimming for the Tigersharks for seven years. "I'm looking forward to it. There'll be more people to compete against.

"Depending on how big the meet is, my times will still be competitive. I won't be the fastest, but I'll be working my way up."

Barber would like to see himself work all the way up within the next 10 months to a spot in the U.S. Olympic Trials for the 2000 Olympics in Sydney, Australia. If Barber can reach the qualifying standard, he'd be one of only a handful of 15-year-olds in the trials. In order for Barber to qualify for the Sydney Olympics at the trials, set for Aug. 9-15, 2000, in Indianapolis, Ind., he'd have to finish in either first or second place.

"It would be good to get there (to the trials) just to see what it's like," said Barber, who will probably be at the peak of his swimming career for the 2004 Olympics in Athens, Greece. "That's the most stressful meet there is."

Tigershark coach Jack Simon doesn't dismiss the possibility of Barber becoming one of the youngest participants in next year's Olympic Trials, most likely in either the 400 IM or 1,500 freestyle.

"Very few swimmers can qualify for the Olympic Trials at his age, but he's got a pretty good shot," said Simon, who noted Barber needs to slice about 8 to 9 seconds off his 400 IM time to reach the trials' qualifying standard. "There have been 15-year-olds in the past who've made Olympic Trials finals. In the 1,500, who knows what could happen if he makes the final - that race comes down to who's got heart and will."

Simon said Barber's outlook on swimming is what separates him from the majority of young swimmers.

"More than his dominance in races and more than his fast times is his attitude that he wants to succeed," Simon said. "He's continuing to make a constant progression and we'll start to see him grow bigger and stronger in the next 6-7 months."

Although Simon has seen plenty of great 15 year olds "who weren't around at 16," the Tigershark coach doesn't see any sign of Barber losing his interest in competitive swimming anytime soon. He believes Barber's comfortable with the fact he'll have to work his way up through a new age group after completely dominating his old bracket.

"(Changing age groups) didn't seem to affect him during the summer when he was competing against senior swimmers," Simon said. "He understands the (progression) process and it doesn't seem to bother him."

Barber, who moved to Carson City at age 5 from Arizona, is also looking forward to helping the Senator boys swimming team this spring. Just last week, he and fellow Tigersharks Evan Fischer and Ryan Costella competed for Carson High in another sport when the trio ran in the state cross country championships, helping the Senators to a sixth-place team finish.

After his experience in cross country, Barber implied he can still enjoy competition even if he's not coming in first-place every time.

"It was a new challenge and kept me from getting bored with one sport," Barber said with a smile, "but I was in something like 56th place."


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