Chris Knaute Prepares for US Olympic Trials
April 29, 2008
Chris Knaute is undeniably one of the most decorated swimmers in Air Force history. In his tenure at the Academy, Knaute was a nine-time Mountain West Conference champion, two-time conference swimmer of the year and three-time NCAA qualifier. Yet upon his graduation in 2007, Knaute's career as a swimmer did not end. He, along with classmate Paul Parmenter, was admitted to the Air Force World Class Athlete Program (WCAP).
The WCAP is a two-year program that provides Air Force personnel the opportunity to train and compete at national and international sports competitions with the ultimate goal of selection to the United States Olympic team. It targets athletes who have already achieved world class status in their respective sports. The program ends with the Olympic Trials or after competing with the national team at the Olympics.
Knaute started thinking about the WCAP as a freshman, when he earned all-conference honors in three events and captured his first MWC title. Some of his older teammates encouraged him to keep the WCAP in the back of his head, where it remained throughout his career.
"I first heard about [the WCAP] my freshman year, and that was probably the first time it ever stuck," said Knaute. "We had a great group of guys that graduated in 2004 who taught me a lot. A lot of them were saying, `This guy's gonna be good', and `You should keep this World Class Athlete thing in the back of your head, so I did. I remember talking to people about it for a long time, for almost three years."
Finally, in his senior season, he and Parmenter competed at the U.S. Open, where they each earned Olympic Trial cuts, the first step in qualifying for the WCAP. Just before graduation, the two former Falcon swimmers discovered they had been accepted to the program.
"This is an incredible opportunity for [Chris and Paul]," said Air Force head coach Rob Clayton. "[They] were the foundation of our team during their time here. This is just a great way for them to see what they can do when they spend a whole year when all they're doing is focusing on swimming. They've made some tremendous improvements during the year and really learned some great things from the team there in Charlotte."
While the past year has certainly been a learning experience for Knaute, training among some of the nation's best, the importance of his experience at the Academy has not been lost. Recently, Knaute spent several weeks back in Colorado on a training trip, working to improve on some of his fundamentals in an environment that has helped shape him into the swimmer he is today.
"I was in this program for four years, and I saw a lot of success and a lot of improvements," said Knaute. "I wanted to come back to where my roots are, to the kind of training that I'm used to and the guys that I feel comfortable around. When I go back to Charlotte, I'll be mentally more relaxed. I'm fresh and I'm ready to go and I have a lot more confidence in my training."
In addition to providing a comfortable training environment for Knaute, the Air Force has given him something that few of his teammates enjoy--financial security. While other swimmers at the MAC have been forced to acquire second jobs or coach at the Aquatic Center to help work off their dues, Knaute and Parmenter continue to receive their lieutenant's pay and have nothing to worry about other than their current focus--swimming.
"Unlike most other swimmers after college, these guys have no financial concerns, because they're getting paid by the Air Force," said Clayton. "For Chris and Paul, they had the opportunity to pursue their dream of swimming in the Olympic Trials and earning a spot on the Olympic team. The Air Force is the one that's supporting them in that."
Just as important for these former Falcons is the fact that once they are finished with their Olympic journey, their future plans are already set. Knaute, who was slated to attend pilot training following his graduation, has a slot remaining open for him when his stint with the WCAP ends. Knaute's association with the WCAP will continue until the conclusion of the Olympic Trials, or the Olympics in August, should he be fortunate to qualify for the US team.
Knaute, one of five former or current Air Force swimmers who will be participating in the 2008 US Olympic Trials, is already qualified to compete in both the 200 and 400 IM. His dreams of representing the United State in the Olympics remain alive, and he has the support of the WCAP and the Air Force Academy swimming program to thank for it.
For more information on the US Olympic Trials, which will take place June 29-July 6 in Omaha, Neb., visit www.usaswimming.org. Meanwhile, to learn more about the Air Force World Class Athlete Program, visit www.usafsports.com/WCAP.htm.