Lara Korhammer

Class of 1989
Australian Swimming Representative

Lara Korhammer vividly remembers her first foray into swimming as a five-year-old at the Springwood pool.

‘I just didn’t want to be there. I wouldn’t talk to my instructor, Laurie Lawrence, so he picked me up and threw me in the deep end. I didn’t tell him my name for two months.’

Lara obviously lived to tell the tale. She went on to spend 14 years with Laurie Lawrence who coached her to an Olympic final and a Commonwealth Games gold medal. Throughout her time with Laurie, she was known as ‘Freddie’, the name Laurie gave her when she refused to tell him her name all those years ago.

Lara can’t recall when she knew she was ‘good’ at swimming.

‘I don’t know if you ever had a choice with Laurie, he just told you that you were going to the Olympics, at five years old!’

By age eight, Laurie had earmarked Lara as a breaststroker, her flexibility ideally suited to the stroke.

By Year Eleven in 1987, Lara was Australian record holder in the 50m breaststroke but needed to qualify in the 100m (the Olympic distance) to make the Australian team for the Seoul Olympics. She deferred Year Twelve in 1988 to concentrate on training for the trials (‘a bit of a risk if I didn’t make the team’) and was subsequently selected to become John Paul College’s first Olympian at 17 years of age.

Lara remembers certain things about her Olympic experience. She recalls Duncan Armstrong’s gold medal swim, the East German competitors and her fourth place as part of the 4 x 100m medley relay team.
‘It was bittersweet. It was nice to be in an Olympic final, but I think fourth is probably the worst place to come.’

Lara completed Year Twelve in 1989, juggling the demands of international competition and study. She found the transition back to school quite easy, being a whole year older.

‘School forced me to be really organised. I found high expectations and a dose of healthy fear really helped.’

At the 1990 Auckland Commonwealth Games she joined Nicole Livingstone, Karen Van Wirdam and Lisa Curry to win the 4 x 100m medley relay — a medal she subsequently gifted to the College.

In 1991 Lara transferred her studies from QUT to take up a scholarship with the University of Michigan (she would graduate in 1994 with a Bachelor of Arts in Communications). Success continued with Lara being named the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) Female Swimmer of the Year in 1993, winning the 100 yard breaststroke in US Open record time and the NCAA 200m breaststroke title.

Lara reflects on how far Australian swimming has come, in light of her retirement at the age of 22 — young by today’s standards.

‘Back then, 20 was seen as being old for a swimmer; there was a mentality that at 20 you were done. The Australian women didn’t even qualify for the 4 x 100m freestyle relay in 1988, now we’re world champions. More money in the sport today means that swimmers can compete for much longer.’

Today, Lara lives at Raby Bay and is still actively involved in swimming at masters level. She still keeps in contact with the man who threw her in the deep end all those years ago.


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