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Auburn honors Olympian Kukors with special ceremony
Ariana Kukors is still "trying to wrap my mind around it," still "can't believe" it.
But if Kukors needed a reminder that she'd actually, really, truly swum in the Summer Olympics in London, the chorus line of pompom-waving Auburn Mountainview High School cheerleaders were there it give it to her, chanting over and over, "We are proud of you, we are proud of you."
Then were was the sea of beaming faces, the speechifying by local bigwigs and all the applause that kept finding her out whenever she appeared.
Gotta be someone pretty special to get that.
And of course, Ariana Kukors is.
The City hasn't had Olympian since Al Rossi did it as a member of the bronze medal-winning men's rowing team in 1952, and now that it's got one, people decided to kick up their collective heels about the fact Monday night with ceremonies honoring Kukors outside and inside City Hall.
Kukors placed fifth in the 200-meter individual medley in London after qualifying for the team by finishing second in the trials at Omaha, Neb.
"I would have loved to come home with a medal and make my community as proud as possible, but that was the best race I could put together on that day, and I really felt my community was behind me, and it meant a lot," Kukors said.
Mayor Pete Lewis noted that Kukors holds the world record in the 200 IM and has won seven medals in major international competition – two golds, three silvers and two bronzes spanning the World and the Pan Pacific Championships. Kukors, an Auburn Mountainview graduate and Pac-10 champion at the University of Washington, set the world record of 2:06.15 in Rome in 2009.
"She placed fifth in the entire world in a time of 2 minutes, 9.83 seconds, that's just amazing," Lewis said of Kukors' Olympic finish. "Imagine, fifth best in the entire world? What an achievement."
The City even named Kukors a Home Town Hero, a designation it hasn't bestowed on anyone in 10 years.
Kukors, a veteran of several world championships, revealed that she'd been more nervous at the Olympic trials than at the Olympics.
"Even though the Olympic Village was unlike anything I had ever experienced, the pool and the competitors were the exact same. It felt familiar and comforting," Kukors said.
Looking ahead to 2016
Is another Olympics' bid in the cards?
Bit of an open question at the moment, says Kukors.
"I'm still going through pictures and reliving it and enjoying this experience," Kukors said. "Rio is four years away. I'm definitely going to have to assess my career and figure if I want to have another go at it. I love swimming, it's a part of who I am. It's really formed me into the person I am today,l and I am so thankful for these opportunities. The Olympics is unlike anything I have ever experienced before. I just feel blessed to represent my country on that stage and to represent my community."
At the moment, Kukors said, she is busy unpacking, making sure all of her "stuff" has made it safely back to the United States. She is also determined to enjoy "family and friend time." And as a 2011 graduate of Chapman University in California with a major in business, she'll also be looking for a job.
"I would enjoy a great vacation. Somewhere tropical. That would be wonderful. I'm not ready to get back in the water yet. I'd like to take a couple weeks off, and this is really a perfect opportunity.
"... I'd like to thank everybody who supported me and my family. This has really been a team effort and a team journey, and I'm so thankful you all were able to come along for the ride with me. I felt the love and I felt the support all the way from London. No matter where I am in the world, Auburn's home," Kukors said.