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Olympian Dad To Youth Olympian Daughter: Have Fun

By Paul D. Bowker | Aug. 13, 2014, 12 a.m. (ET)

Courtney Mykkanen and her father, John, pose for a picture at the 2013 Speedo Junior National Swimming Championships on Aug. 3, 2013 in Irvine, California. 

Just before Courtney Mykkanen headed to Los Angeles International Airport on Monday for her memorable trip to China for the 2014 Youth Olympic Games, her dad, John Mykkanen, had a last-minute piece of advice: “Have fun.”

Dad knows a little something about that. He won a silver medal in the men’s 400-meter freestyle at the Los Angeles 1984 Olympic Games, when he was the youngest member of the U.S. Olympic Swimming Team at age 17.

Courtney, also a swimmer, made her U.S. Olympic Team Trials debut at age 14 in 2012 in the 200-meter backstroke. She is one of eight swimmers on the 92-member U.S. team who will compete in the Nanjing 2014 Youth Olympic Games, beginning Aug. 16 (Saturday).

“I’m just really excited to go out there, do my best and have fun and just represent the U.S.,” she said.

Courtney Mykkanen, a senior-to-be at Foothill High School in Tustin, California, is among several YOG athletes with family connections to past Olympic Games. The list also includes foil fencer Sabrina Massialas, the daughter of three-time Olympian and current national coach Greg Massialas, and long jumper Rhesa Foster, the daughter of two-time Jamaican Olympian Robert Foster.

John Mykkanen is now a doctor of chiropractic medicine in Tustin, which is located in Orange County in Southern California. Courtney’s mom, Joanna, is a swimming coach at Irvine Novaquatics, the swimming club where Courtney trains. Her younger sister and brother are also swimmers.

“As a dad, I can’t even describe how proud I am,” John said. “I’m so lucky that the sport I love my daughter loves. That doesn’t happen often, so I’m so fortunate. … Actually, all three of my kids love swimming, and they’re good at it. I’m thrilled.”

“It (swimming) is a big part of our lives, but it’s also just one part of our lives,” Joanna Mykkanen said. “We don’t get obsessed with it or anything. We enjoy it. We have life outside swimming, too.”

For Courtney, the trip to the airport Monday morning was the same as any teenager being driven by a mom. Enjoy yourself. Make sure that you stay with your group. Be safe. Follow the rules.

“It’s exciting, it’s thrilling,” Joanna said. “But I’m going to miss her. It’s crazy.”

Courtney already competes on both the senior and junior levels for USA Swimming, including at last week’s Phillips 66 National Championships held in Irvine, California. But this will be the first time she’ll get a chance to compete alongside athletes from other sports in a major international event.

“I want to try to meet a lot of new people, so hopefully I’ll get the chance,” she said.

The Games in China are just the second Youth Olympic Games for summer sports; the event made its debut in 2010 in Singapore. Back in 1984, when John was a teenager aiming for an Olympic berth, there was no such event for international youth.

“It’s a great opportunity for these younger swimmers to get a taste of it, get them thinking and get them ready for the next step,” he said.

And, he said, the point is to have fun. Get some enjoyment out of it.

“No. 1 rule, have fun,” he said. “That’s the last thing I said to her today. Have fun. In terms of athletics, I just want her to improve and enjoy it.

“I’m not cracking the whip over her. I had my 15 minutes of fame. I want her to get out of it whatever she wants to get out of it. I will support her either way, however she wants to do it.”

Courtney will share the experience with some familiar faces. Jeri Mashburn, a coach at Irvine Novaquatics, is also coach of the U.S. Youth Olympic swimming squad. Other U.S. swimmers include Hannah Moore, Meghan Small and Clara Smiddy on the women’s team, and Patrick Conaton, Patrick Mulcare, P.J. Ransford and Justin Wright on the men’s team.

Mykkanen, who competed in both the senior and junior national championships and was a finalist in the backstroke events at the U.S. Open, began swimming at age 7 at Blue Buoy Swim School in Tustin. She soon moved on to Irvine Novaquatics. Her travels have been so extensive that she watched the London 2012 Olympic Games from a hotel room while on a swimming club travel trip.

“Just watching her grow in this sport has been amazing and to see her build her confidence and to realize what she’s capable of doing has just been wonderful to watch,” Joanna said.

Through it all, Courtney has developed a close bond with her dad. They talk often of the Los Angeles 1984 Olympic Games.

“He’ll tell me a lot of things that he experienced and how it’s changed,” Courtney said of her conversations with her dad. “He’ll give me stories like, ’Oh, back, in my day.’ He’ll just tell me about the Olympics and the opening ceremonies and stuff.

“It sounds really cool and I just want to do it myself.”

John is anxiously awaiting that special day.

“She’s a great student, she’s a great kid, she’s a great worker,” he said. “It’s just going to be fun to watch to see how her career, how her swimming blossoms over the years.”

Story courtesy Red Line Editorial, Inc. Paul D. Bowker is a freelance contributor for TeamUSA.org.