INTERVIEW-Olympics-Chilean picks shorter swim to podium

ASUNCION Wed May 9, 2012 5:00am EDT

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ASUNCION May 9 (Reuters) - Chilean swimmer Kristel Kobrich is concentrating on just one race at the Olympic Games in London, to avoid a repeat of the psychological burnout that shattered her medal dreams in Beijing four years ago.

Kobrich, a veteran of two previous Games and one of Chile's medal hopes in London, will take part in the 800 metres freestyle and give the 10km open water race a miss.

The 26-year-old was 20th in the 800 metres heats in Beijing, a psychological blow that badly affected her performance in open water five days later when she failed to stay the course.

"The psychological aspect is fundamental. In fact, at the time of competing it's all down to psychology because you've done all the physical work," her Argentine coach Daniel Garimaldi told Reuters.

"You have to prepare your body so it can respond to the demands of the mind," he said in a joint interview on a visit to Kobrich's home city of Santiago.

"We need her to be 100 percent physically so that she can respond to all the mental demands she makes of her body."

Kobrich is in the final stages of preparation with a daily routine of six hours in the pool and three sessions a week with weights in the gym.

"We can improve the psychological part which is where we're placing a lot of our bets, and in the physical part we're polishing our competition rhythm, which is more about tactics," Garimaldi said.

"I hope to have matured a bit," said Kobrich, the 800 metres Pan-American champion and Chile's flag bearer as a teenager at the 2004 Athens Games opening ceremony.

"In those (Beijing) Games we were also in the open water (race) and that was tough, a learning curve seeking immediate responses. At the time, it was sad and painful (but) we picked ourselves up quickly.

"Today I'm in a position to choose knowing I'm in good shape and that nothing can distract me. I'm going for it."

Briton Rebecca Adlington, the Olympic champion, will be the favourite in home water in London.

TRACK TO POOL

Kobrich started swimming when she was nine, obliged to get in the pool because her parents had no-one to leave her with while her elder sisters went to swimming lessons.

For several years she practised athletics and swimming until at 13 her coach told her to choose one, and she now holds the South American 800 and 1,500 metres freestyle records.

"Her rivals aren't in quite as good form as we thought. That doesn't mean they're not good (but) chances have improved a bit to fight for (a place on) the podium. Those chances used to be a long way off," Garimaldi said.

"The possibilities of being among the top three or four have grown immensely."

Kobrich, who left her country nine years ago to train in Argentina, shares her coach's confidence and smiles timidly when she talks of her prospects in London.

"Today, we're sticking to the 800, it's a super difficult race but we're in the top 10. To be in the final would be historic for me and my country (Chile)," she said.

"You earn the respect of your rivals, who look at you differently and plan their races accordingly.

"Some go, others come... there's renewal but I'm still there. I'm proud to have been among the top swimmers for a long time. Very few can do that."

Kobrich and gymnast Tomas Gonzalez are Chilean fans' big hopes to see their country's flag raised at a medals ceremony in London.

Should they succeed, there will be celebrations all over Chile as there were when tennis players Nicolas Massu and Fernando Gonzalez won medals in Athens in 2004 and Gonzalez climbed the podium again in Beijing.

"We're trying to break the mould with individual sports that are totally amateur, sports in which it's difficult to make a breakthrough (in Chile)," Kobrich said.

"Only when you're at the top do you get a guarantee of (financial) support for an annual project which you've been seeking for a long time." (Writing by Rex Gowar in Buenos Aires; Editing by Ossian Shine)

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