Four years, four championships.
That’s the collegiate line for Jackie Pangilinan, a senior on the Harvard women’s swimming team. Last Saturday, she notched her fourth Ivy League individual championship with a win in the 200-yard breaststroke.
“It was definitely the most rewarding sports moment of my life,” Pangilinan said. “I had no expectations of winning the event going in. I couldn’t believe it.”
The weekend victory added to Pangilinan’s three past individual championships. She won titles in the 100- and 200-yard breaststroke as a sophomore and took home the 200 in her freshman year.
Pangilinan’s path to Saturday’s race, a brilliant finish to her career for the Crimson, started four years ago, before she even took a stroke in Blodgett Pool.
It was half a world away in Athens, Greece.
In 2004, Pangilinan competed at the Summer Olympics. She represented the Philippines, where she holds two national records in the 100- and 200-meter breaststroke.
“I was so young. It was the first time I was away from my parents,” Pangilinan said. “I stayed in the Olympic Village with all of the athletes. I was so naïve. I just went in there, so wide-eyed, so excited to be there.”
After placing 20th in the 200-meter breaststroke in Athens, Pangilinan turned to a very different venue: Cambridge, MA.
“It was strange going from that into a college career,” Pangilinan said. “Being here at a school and competing for a team, you’re doing something other than for yourself.”
It was a transition Pangilinan executed masterfully. By her senior year, she was co-captain of the Crimson along with teammate Lindsay Hart.
“Her strength is leading in terms of what she does in the water and what she does behind the scenes,” Head Coach Stephanie Morawski said. “She can inspire people vocally, and she can also do it in the pool.”
Leading by example is exactly what Pangilinan did with her win on Saturday, the final day of the Ivy League Championships.
“She went for it,” co-captain Lindsay Hart said. “It was a great race, and a lot of the rest of the team drew from that. Everyone is really tired by the third day. Having those break-out runs in the last day inspires people.”
The rest of the Harvard squad was behind her the whole way, both in and out of the water, as she raced for the title.
Senior Meaghan Colling, who swam alongside Pangilinan in the 200-yard breaststroke, helped fuel her drive.
“Meaghan is a big part of the reason why Jackie is so good,” Morawski said. “They’re training partners. She pushes her. Meg’s swim wasn’t exactly what she wanted, but Jackie’s victory was partly hers as well.”
Just as the team contributed to Pangilinan’s run, she gave right back with her stirring performance.
“After 100 yards, she was out in 1:03.07,” Morawski said. “It was unbelievably fast. All of the team turned and looked at me.”
They knew it was going to be close. Really close.
“At 150 yards, she had a two-second lead,” Morawski continued. “One of Jackie’s teammates said, ‘If she wins this, I’m going to cry.’ I said the same.”
After coming fourth in the prelims, to have Pangilinan lead after 150 yards was a surprise, especially with top seed Lisa Hamming of Princeton breathing down her neck.
About 30 seconds later, the team was in tears. Tears of joy, naturally, as Pangilinan touched the wall first with a time of 2:14.69.
“Those are big shoes to fill for next year,” Morawski finished.
It was a gutsy win on a day with quicker times than normal, a phenomenon that will likely keep Pangilinan out of the NCAA Championships.
“The time she had to win the Ivies this year was faster than the time it took to be an All-American back in 2005,” Morawski said. “But she will not make it to the NCAAs, sadly. This year it was just incredibly fast.”
Despite the setback, Pangilinan came away from the weekend with no regrets. She only had pride for her team.
“It’s bittersweet,” Pangilinan said. “But at the same time, it felt so good to win that for my team. It was a great way to go out, even if I don’t make the NCAAs.”
The exceptional speed in the pool on Saturday was largely attributable to the extra training many swimmers are putting in for the 2008 Summer Olympics in Beijing. As of Monday afternoon, Pangilinan was still mulling whether or not she would try to qualify for the games.
“I remember leaving 2004 wanting to come back so badly,” Pangilinan said. “I’ll have to decide in the next couple of days.”
Her coach and her teammates had advice for her.
“Go for it,” Morawski said.
Hart echoed the same sentiment.
“Jackie should follow her heart,” she said. “As long as she has fun with it, she can do great.”
With that, an update on Jackie’s plans came yesterday afternoon. Her career trajectory that started in Athens might just end in Beijing this summer.
“After debating back and forth, my coach and I decided that it would be in my best interests to try and make the time standard for Beijing this summer,” Pangilinan said. “If I make it, I’ll go to the Olympics.”
Four-Time Champ Pangilinan Looks To Beijing
Four years, four championships.