St. Croix teen Natalia Kuipers admits that she didn’t turn in her best swims during the Youth Olympic Games, especially in Friday’s heat race in the women’s 400-meter freestyle.

But, as it turned out, neither did the rest of her competition.

Kuipers, 16 and a junior at Good Hope Country Day School, finished 25th overall in the women’s 400 freestyle, touching the wall in her heat race in 4 minutes, 45.60 seconds.

That was nearly six seconds off of her qualifying time for the Youth Olympics of 4:39.69, which earned her a bronze medal at the CARIFTA Swimming Championships in Jamaica in late March.

“For today’s race, I’d say that it definitely wasn’t my best,” Kuipers said in an email.

“But was a beneficial and valuable learning experience that will guide me in the right direction for future races and training.”

Kuipers finished second in the first of four heat races held Friday morning, coming in nearly 15 seconds behind winner Sandy Atef of Egypt (4:30.88).

However, she wasn’t the only swimmer off the pace.

For example, Ajna Kesely of Hungary took the event’s gold medal in 4:07.14, nearly 1½ seconds off her personal best of 4:05.75. Bronze medalist Marlene Kahler of Austria swam 4:12.48 in the final, after qualifying in 4:11.62 and posting a time of 4:13.10 in her heat race.

The only swimmer to pick up time was silver medalist Delfina Narella Pignatiello of Argentina, who swam 4:10.40 in the final. She qualified for the Youth Olympics in 4:15.90, and swam 4:11.86 in her heat race.

“I think a lot of people were way off of their best times because this meet is at an unusual time of year,” Kuipers said.

That happened to Kuipers in the women’s 200-meter freestyle heat on Wednesday, when she touched in 2:15.17 — nearly two seconds off her qualifying time (2:13.52).

But swimming the 200 freestyle had its advantages, Kuipers said. “It helped me prepare for [Friday’s] swim by helping me know how to pace myself for this longer event,” she said.

Kuipers said she has two more meets to worry about before the end of the year – next month’s U.S. Virgin Islands Short-Course Championships on St. Thomas, and a meet in Florida.

“This past week helps me prepare for my upcoming short course meets by helping me figure out the areas that I’m weaker and stronger in, and adjust my training accordingly,” she said.

Up next

Virgin Islands athletes wrap up their participation in the Youth Olympic Games on Sunday, with a pair of athletes competing in track and field events.

• St. Croix’s Mikaela Smith, 18 and a freshman at Austin Peay University, will run in the C final in the women’s 800-meter run.

Smith ran 2:23.92 to finish eighth in her heat race Thursday morning.

She will race against Sudan’s Amal Kowa, St. Vincent’s Zita Arusha Vincent, Albania’s Relaksa Dauti, Eritrea’s Sebah Amar, Serbia’s Nikolina Mandic, Spain’s Lucia Sicre, Tanzania’s Regina Deogratius Mpigachai, and Palestine’s Nada Ghrouf.

• Malik John, 16, of the British Virgin Islands, will run in the D final in the men’s 400-meter dash.

John made it into Sunday’s final races despite being disqualified from his heat race Thursday for a lane violation.

He will race against Bermuda’s Clevonte Lodge-Bean, Grenada’s Jared Sylvester, France’s Ludovic Ouceni, Bahrain’s Yusuf Anan and Macedonia’s Berat Mustafa.

Contact Sports Editor Bill Kiser at 340-714-9117, or email

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