While members of the Kansas men’s basketball team battled their way to a gold medal earlier this month in Gwanju, South Korea, a Kansas native was busy winning the most gold medals of any athlete involved in the World University Games.
Shannon Vreeland of Overland Park won four swimming events on her way to a dominant performance at the international showcase. The veteran of the 2012 Olympics in London now sets her sights set on the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro.
Vreeland, a 2010 graduate of Blue Valley West High, won the women’s 100-meter and 200-meter freestyle events at the World University Games, and was on gold-medal winning relay teams for 400-meter and 800-meter free. She also received a bronze medal in the 400-meter medley relay.
Vreeland’s performance helped her win Most Valuable Player honors on the women’s side at the Games.
“My times weren’t necessarily where I wanted them to be, but any chance to race internationally is great experience,” Vreeland said. “I’m confident in my training, and I’m hoping I’ll be even faster in a couple weeks.”
Vreeland, 23, is now training for the World Championships in Russia, which begin Friday.
Vreeland didn’t swim in high school, instead focusing on her club competitions with the KC Blazers. Club coach Pete Malone realized she was special when Vreeland pushed herself in hopes of making the U.S. Olympic squad in 2008.
“She’s extremely talented and extremely intelligent and hard-working,” Malone said.
Vreeland didn’t make the cut that year, but since then she has seen tremendous success on the international stage, including winning a gold medal in London as a member of the U.S. 800-meter freestyle relay.
“She’s a phenomenal person,” Malone said. “She applies her work ethic in everything she does.”
After winning a gold and silver at her first World University Games in 2011, Vreeland said she couldn’t quite grasp the level of success she attained this time around.
“If you’d have told me then that in four years I’d come back and win the most golds of any athlete at the (World University) Games, or even any swimmer, there’s no way I’d have believed it,” Vreeland said. “It’s such an honor.”
Vreeland swam at the University of Georgia, where she helped lead the Bulldogs to two national championships.
But the pride of wearing an American flag on her cap is second to none.
“Representing your country is different,” Vreeland said. “There’s another level of pride, another level of motivation maybe knowing that you’re one of the top Americans in your event, that you get to get up and wear a cap with your country’s flag on it and represent your country in what you do best.
“There’s such a feeling of national pride watching the U.S. flag raised above the others. Getting to represent my country doing a thing I love to do is such an honor.”