Granite Bay's Haley Anderson already got a taste of the competition she expects to face in Thursday's (4 a.m. our time) Olympic Open Water Marathon in London's Hyde Park Serpentine.
Anderson won the 2012 FINA Olympic Marathon Swim Qualifier in Portugal by the slimmest of margins, beating 40 other women, including favored American rival Ashley Twichell.
Although the race was 10 kilometers, Anderson edged Hungary's Eva Risztov by 1.4 seconds. She won in a time of 1 hour, 44.30.6 seconds.
Anderson trailed most of the race, winning with a dramatic sprint in the final 500 yards.
In London, Anderson will again take a back seat, this time to Great Britain's Keri-Anne Payne, the defending world champion and gold-medal favorite.
That's just how Anderson likes it.
"It's kind of nice to be the underdog," said Anderson, who swims for USC and won the NCAA women's 500 freestyle championship earlier this year. "With open water, people haven't expected much out of me because I've only been doing a handful of races and there are so many girls with more experience than me."
Once a reluctant long distance swimmer, Anderson has come to love the variety of the venues, the strategy, the unexpected (in the case of the 28-acre Serpentine it was a group of ducks that left Anderson wary as she did her practice run through them) and the physicality.
"It's definitely a lot more physical than swimming," Anderson said. "There's a lot of jostling around and you could sense the desperation (at the trials) because everyone was trying to make the Olympics."
Anderson said the biggest treat of being in the Olympics is that she is spending time with her family, including older sister Alyssa.
Alyssa also is a member of the USA Olympic Swim Team and earned a gold medal earlier as a member of the women's 4x200-meter freestyle relay team.
As an elite-level swimmer, Haley Anderson doesn't see her family often, especially younger sister Jordan, 15, an accomplished swimmer in her own right at Granite Bay High School and with the Sierra Marlins.
"I feel bad for my sister because she comes to all our meets and is always there for us, but we don't get to go to her meets," Anderson said. "So I know that being in London is going to be fun for her."