by MICHAEL DASHIELL
The athletes cross great distances, some of them crossing the largest ocean in the world, to the heart of China where they challenge their peers in friendly competition and celebrate the rich Chinese culture.
This is the opportunity for Olympic Games athletes, who open the 29th games Aug. 8 in Beijing.
But Sequim’s Danika Duncan and a group of Washington state swimmers and divers have them beat by more than five months.
Duncan joined 19 other Washington swimmers and divers on a 10-day cultural exchange this February, visiting some of the top young swimmers in China in friendly competition and peering into the daily lives of Chinese student-athletes.
Duncan, an 18-year-old 2008 graduate of Sequim High School, said she wasn’t sure what to expect after making the 19-hour flight across the Pacific. But what she found were gracious smiles and inquiring minds from her Chinese peers, from the streets of Hong Kong to poolside in Guangzhou, in mainland China.
“They were all really friendly, which I wasn’t sure about; they’re really welcoming and happy to see you,” Duncan recalled. “The older people were … very serious.”
During her tour from Feb. 17-26, Duncan and a delegation of athletes from Washington Cultural Exchange, led by coach Susie Miller of Skyline High School, toured Hong Kong and Guangzhou (population about 6 million), highlighted by friendly competition at the Guangzhou Sports Training & Technical College, a center for China’s Olympic Games athletes and 2008 Olympic training base.
In late February, there already was plenty of buzz about the upcoming summer Olympics, Duncan said.
The Sequim woman said she was impressed with her team’s Chinese counterparts, even if the competition was more like an exhibition.
“They were really good. There were these 12-year-old kids, so fast. Their divers were also really good,” she said.
No stranger to long travel, Duncan has traveled to Europe and Australia but never to Hong Kong, China or any Asian country. A swimmer for the Sequim High School varsity swim team for four years, she had heard about the WCE program as a sophomore but waited until her senior year to take the trip. Along the way, she had to raise more than $2,600 for airfare and other expenses.
But the trip was worth it, the recent grad said, particularly after visiting a kindergarten class in Guangzhou, joining the young students in singing, dancing, playing games and exchanging gifts.
“We played some recess games — it was so cute,” Duncan said.
It was a fitting setting for Duncan, who said she aims to attend Western Washington University to study international business and art while learning several languages. Her primary career goal, however, is to follow her dad’s footsteps in becoming a pilot. After a couple of years of commercial flying, she hopes to see other far-off countries as a pilot of missionaries.