Nicole Frank set to end 80-year wait for family and qualify for Tokyo 2020

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Angelika Rädche qualified for the 1940 Olympics, but lost her chance to compete as they were cancelled due to World War II. Now, 80 years later, her granddaughter, Nicole Frank, could finally make her family dream come true and qualify for Tokyo 2020.

Angelika Rädche was a Uruguayan living in Germany.

The swimmer, who had national and European titles to her name, managed to qualify for the 1940 Olympics in Helsinki (after being re-scheduled from Tokyo) but the Games were cancelled due to the outbreak of World War II. Instead of competing in the pool, Angelika was sent to war alongside her husband.

Although her Olympic dream had come to an end, the couple survived, and after the war they returned to Uruguay to start a family.

In 2004, their granddaughter, Nicole Frank, was born.

Frank is now 16 and one of Uruguay's best swimmers. So much so, that she is on the verge of qualifying for Tokyo 2020 and making her family's dream come true.

Although her grandmother is not able to see it happen, Frank hopes qualifying for the Games will be the best tribute to her memory.

"In my family, everyone has done some sport, mostly swimming - both my grandmothers, my aunt, my dad, my mum, my brother... everyone has tried this sport," she told Tokyo 2020.

"I don't feel that I am under pressure now, but I am motivated to continue in my grandmother's footsteps. I can make her dream and my dream come true, at the same time. This is a thought that I've shared with my father; her son."

Nicole Frank when she was a child poses with her two grandmothers. Angelika Rädche is the one on the right.
Nicole Frank when she was a child poses with her two grandmothers. Angelika Rädche is the one on the right.
Provided by Nicole Frank.

The hypnotism of water

It was precisely thanks to her family that Frank took her first strokes in the water, practising swimming alongside artistic gymnastics.

"When I was a child I did swimming and artistic gymnastics. But at some point I couldn't do both at the same time. So I chose swimming because I was already in love with water. I couldn't be outside the water. And I don't regret that decision. Now I wouldn't be able to do the things that I did in gymnastics!" she said.

"My mother was a high level gymnast and now she is PE teacher, so she really understands sports. She guides me a lot to make me improve. My family, in general, help me a lot, but they let me to follow my own path. They want me to enjoy and give my best, but they accompany me in the process."

It is a process that hypnotised her at a young age.

"I don't know what it has," she said frankly. "I simply feel comfortable in the water. I like it because it is my space. It is the place where I can vent, enjoy, learn, make friends... Now, feeling the water again is really cool."

Just being in the water again made us happy.

It was important to feel the water again.

Months outside the swimming pools

Since December 2019, Frank has lived in Atlanta, USA, where she trains "to go to Tokyo" - as she explains - after receiving a grant from FINA.

However, her preparations came to a halt in March when COVID-19 forced the closure of her training centre.

"We stopped having contact with the water on 11 March. We hadn't swum for four or five months [however] three weeks ago we came back to the swimming pool."

"When I was swimming again, it was kind of weird to me. I felt like I didn't know how to swim, that my strokes were horrible and that I didn't know how to kick or even float. That was horrible!

"But just being in the water again made us happy. That feeling didn't matter. It was important to feel the water again."

At the World Cup - aged 15

The pandemic pulled the curtain down on an incredible run of form for Frank.

In 2019, she competed at the Pan American Games in Lima before jetting off to compete at the FINA World Championship in the Republic of Korea, where she was surrounded by all the stars she admires - at just 15 years of age.

"That experience was unique. There's nothing that compares to it. It is something that I will never forget and one of the greatest experiences in my life. At first, it was weird to see all those swimmers next to me. It was super cool seeing them competing, training or breaking records."

The Olympics are not something else. They are not a game.

Talking about Tokyo 2020 implies a different mentality.

One stroke away from the dream

Taking part in international championships saw Frank emerge as one of Uruguay's biggest hopes to qualify for Tokyo 2020.

"That is something that motivates me and that makes me realise that my work has paid off," she explained. "I am proud to just think that I have a chance to go to Tokyo. Real chances. It is not just a dream."

Frank hopes to compete in the 200m freestyle and 200m individual medley, and with the Games just a year away, she has more time to prepare for the challenge ahead.

"As I am the youngest [Frank will be 17 next year], I am the one that has less experience. Now I have more time to prepare myself, not only physically, but also mentally. The Olympics are not something else. They are not a game. Talking about Tokyo 2020 implies a different mentality."

For now, the Olympic Games are as close to their family as they have been since 1940.

"My grandma didn't talk a lot about her career with me or my brother, but she swam 400m and 800m and she always wanted to go to the Olympics, but she couldn't because of the war."

"She always told me that I have to enjoy with this sport and that, if I had a dream, I would try as many times as necessary because it always would be worth it."

And for now, it is definitely worth it.