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After Silver-Medal Summer, Haley Cope Relishes a Normal Life
By Scott Ball

Haley CopeAlthough Haley Cope is not so far removed from her days as a Golden Bear – competing for Cal and coach Teri McKeever from 1998-01 – a catching up of Cope’s accomplishments among the worlds’ swimming elite is in order.

Cope, 25, is finally taking a break from the aquatic scene after being immersed in competitive swimming since age 11. After 14 years of almost daily workouts and high-level competition, cumulating with the 2004 Olympics in Athens and most recently the FINA World Short Course Championships in Indianapolis, she is just now settling down in Chico. Cope grew up in the Northern California town, and even though she has been married to Brian Clark since October of 2002, she is just now returning home to normalcy.

“I was so lucky to be a professional swimmer,” said Cope, who along with being a member of the USA National Team, is sponsored by Nike and has done some modeling. “But for right now, I am definitely on a break. I might get back into swimming because they say it is difficult to quit cold turkey. My husband and I have just started living together, even though we have been married for two years. I always said I would come home after the Olympics and maybe have children and get a job. Swimming is a selfish sport and now I have obligations to someone else. It might be time to get my jollies doing something else. I am done swimming for awhile. It was so much fun that I always felt like I was getting away with something.”

Cope did get away with something, or more accurately, earned something. Her latest exploits came at the world short course meet in October. Cope started the competition with a first-place in the 100-meter backstroke with a time of 59.03. She later won the 50-meter back with a mark of 27.49, while was also a member of the U.S. silver medal-winning 400-meter medley team.

In the world stage of the 2004 Athens Olympics, Cope was among 13 other swimmers and two coaches (Teri McKeever and Mike Bottom) with ties to Cal and represented herself in impressive fashion. She earned a silver medal by swimming in the prelims of the 400 medley relay, and individually qualified for the finals of the 100-meter backstroke, placing eighth with a career-best time of 1:01.13.

“It was helpful having a lot of Cal people around at the Olympics,” said Cope. “There were all kinds of folks with Cal connections, and it definitely helps you when you are around people you are familiar with.”

A couple of people Cope was obviously familiar with in Athens were McKeever and standout Natalie Coughlin. It was the Cal connection of Coughlin and Cope that placed 1-2 at the Olympic Trials in the 100-meter back, enabling both Bears to compete together at the Olympics.

Cope gives a large amount of credit for her development into a world-class swimmer to her coaches and teammates at Cal. She came to Berkeley from Chico High School and the Chico Aqua Jets Swim Club, and thrived behind the coaching of McKeever and the competition within her own team.

“I told people coming out of high school that I was going to swim under a 55.0 in the 100-yard back,” said Cope. “Terri was the only one who said, ‘What the heck’, and gave me a chance. I really enjoyed swimming with people like Marylyn Chiang and Staciana Stitts. It was Staciana who told me what to expect at the Olympics after she had been to Sydney in 2000.”

It was a good thing McKeever gave Cope a chance as she made the most of her opportunity in Berkeley, In 2000, Cope was named the Pac-10 Swimmer of the Year, helping Cal to a fourth-place national finish. Cope was the second of three consecutive Pac-10 Swimmers of the Year under McKeever, following Marylyn Chiang in 1999, and preceding Coughlin (2001-03).

“Cal was really a great place to go,” said Cope, who majored in mass communications. “It was a great environment and a huge key in my development as a swimmer. It had a lot to do with the people I trained with. You had to be super fast just to keep up, and the competition just within your team pushed you. There is no way I would be as good as I am now without my Cal teammates.”

 
   
 
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