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Gisela Morales battles way to Olympics
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Guatemalan swimmer Gisela Morales battled injuries, instability and lonely feelings for four years to make her second Olympics.

At 20, Morales is the central American country's best swimmer and only swimmer to make the Beijing Games. She will swim in the 100 meters and 200 meters backstroke events.

With her current level, it is not likely for her to make the finals of the events. But the student, who has been in a low period in the last Olympic cycle, also has a goal.

"I want to break the wall that I have been in for three years. I want to improve my time and prove to myself that I can make it," she said.

Four years ago, the swimmer reached a career pinnacle when she was selected to bear the national flag in Athens. "It was really, really exciting in Athens, but there was a lot of pressure. People think you were supposed to win a medal," she recalled.

Morales swam the heats but didn't enter the finals in Athens. At the age of 17 back then, she was content at achieving her personal best of 1:03.86 and 2:18.23 in the two events.

The pale-skinned swimmer, about 1.82 meters tall, is among the 12 athletes to the Beijing Games. Guatemala is not a strong sports nation and is yet to win an Olympic medal.

The youngest daughter of a middle class family, Morales learnt swimming at the age of four. She started competing at nine and quickly became the region's best. "I don't remember losing any races at all back then," she said.

After Athens, Morales received a scholarship to study in the United States, training with some of the world's best swimmers.

"I was training with Kristy Coventry, one of the best backstrokers in the world. It was good team with amazing coach and swimmers," she said.

But being uprooted from the culture where she grew up threw her off her feet. "I didn't really fit. I got injured a lot, and I missed home a lot," she said.

At the University of Auburn, Alabama, where Morales spent three years majoring in hotel management and training, there are hardly any Hispanic community. "I miss the feeling of speaking Spanish," she said.

"In Guatemala, we were very close, and we like to hug people. But in the States it seemed cold among people," she said.

Despite the disorientation, Morales was successful in the competitions, placing within top 10 and helping her university to win the national championships.

In 2007, Morales transferred to the University of Texas, but the six months there were haunted by long injuries. "I think I pressure myself too much because I was in scholarship. My ankle was fractured. I taped the ankle and kept shoulder exercises, but then again I got my shoulder strained," she said.

"The three years were a set-back, and I was stuck at the same level for a long time," she said. The swimmer now lives in her hometown the Guatemala City.

"I've only started training this January, but I'm making my best efforts here," she said.

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