Latvian Lightnin'

Two-time Olympic competitor finds a home at Kenyon

"I am the Princess of Kenyon College," declares Agnese Ozolina, a 23-year-old junior who hails from Latvia and definitely has a sense of humor. She bases her claim on the fact that Acting President Ronald A. Sharp and his wife,Inese, are her host parents.

Informed that Kenyon is not a monarchy, Agnese takes it in stride. "That's okay," she says with a laugh. "I will be president of Latvia instead."

Agnese has good reason to be confident. After swimming in the 1996 and 2000 Olympics, she is already a hero in her own country. At the College, she is a seven-time All-North Coast Atlantic Conference swimmer and a seven-time All-American.

But the economics major who regularly appears on Kenyon's merit list isn't one to brag, especially about her Olympic exploits. "Latvia is so small," she says. "It is like half of Ohio. And usually I would finish something like fortieth at the Olympics."

Out of how many swimmers?

"Oh, maybe seventy or seventy-five," she answers.

That sounds pretty good.

"Whatever," she deadpans.

Asked for tales of Olympic glory, Agnese mentions being star-struck by the top athletes, stunned by just how big and powerful some of the female swimmers are, and annoyed by the terribly slow lines in the Olympic Village cafeteria in Sydney.

She's more enthusiastic when it comes to life at Kenyon in the time she spends visiting the Sharp household. Inese Sharp is of Latvian descent, so the two have a special bond. "Inese is just like my mom," Agnese says, "and she's a good cook!"

Inese Sharp reports that Agnese can cook, too. In fact, they spent one morning making "klingeri," a Latvian bread in the shape of a pretzel that isn't easy to pull off.

"It's been a real pleasure to have someone around with whom I can converse in my native language," Inese says. "My family is all in California, so I don't get to speak Latvian very often."

Ron Sharp adds, "Inese and I have become very close to Agnese. She's amazingly talented in so many areas, and she is one of the funniest and sweetest people I know."

So how did Agnese end up at Kenyon? She got several offers to swim for Division I schools the year before the 2000 Olympics. She held off on a decision, took a year off to travel after the Olympics, and the schools stopped pursuing her. "So they maybe forgot about me," she speculates.

When Agnese was ready to swim again and start school in the United States, she remembered that a friend from her days as an exchange student in Ohio in the mid-nineties had praised Kenyon as "a very good school." Agnese sent the College and a few other schools letters inquiring about becoming a student athlete. Kenyon answered first.

"Training at Kenyon has been even harder than what I was used to," she says. "It's good to change and improve. Coach Steen has really renewed my excitement about swimming. He's inspired me."

Nicknamed "Grandma," owing to her "advanced age," Agnese is one of the most animated of the College's swimmers, loudly cheering on her teammates. In addition to her individual events, she anchors the team's dominant relay team.

Agnese Ozolina: 2003 NCAA Championships
1st place 200-yard freestyle relay 1:33.58
1st place 200-yard individual medley 2:05.57
1st place 400-yard medley relay 3:49.05
1st place 200-yard medley relay 1:44.95
2nd place 200-yard freestyle 1:51.84
3rd place 100-yard freestyle 51.54
1st place 400-yard freestyle relay 3:26.01
She's been impressed with the worldliness of her fellow students. "Students at Kenyon actually know where Latvia is!" she says. While she's obviously enjoying life at the College, she admits that she still misses her home country-nestled between Russia on the east and the Baltic Sea on the west-and her mother, who has never been to the United States. "I hope she will come for my graduation next year," she says.

Graduation? When Agnese leaves town, who'll make the klingeri?

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