The Road to London: Swimmers look forward to Trials experience
The Road to London is a series focusing on current and former Princeton athletes training for the 2012 Olympics. See the rest of the series here.
For this year’s Princeton swimmers, the road to the Olympics seems likely to end before reaching London. However, for the swimmers who have managed to successfully traverse the road to Omaha, Neb., where this year’s U.S. Olympic Trials are being held for the second consecutive time, all that matters is that they swim their best and absorb as much as they can from the whole experience.
Overall, Princeton will be sending 13 swimmers to the Olympic Trials the last week of June — nine from the men’s side and four from the women’s side. They will be competing against thousands of other Olympic hopefuls for a spot among the 26 men and 26 women who will represent the United States in London this summer.
Doug Lennox ’09 was the last Princetonian to qualify for the Olympics, competing in the 100 and 200 butterfly for Puerto Rico. While it appears that Princeton may have to wait before sending another Princetonian to the Olympics for swimming, the 13 swimmers at Trials represent an impressive accomplishment of the program.
In order to qualify for a spot on the team, a swimmer must finish in the top two in any individual event or in the top six in the 100 or 200m freestyle to qualify to be on one of the relay squads.
“For a lot of swimmers, this is the highest level they’ll ever swim at,” freshman Oliver Bennett, who will be swimming in the 200 fly, said. “There’s a very, very slim chance of anyone actually qualifying.”
Although all of the swimmers understand that Omaha will very likely be the farthest they go, they will still go to Trials knowing they can learn from the entire experience.
“I think watching and being able to compete at the same meet with the fastest swimmers in the country, if not the world, is going to be inspiring,” freshman Courtney Ciardiello, who will be competing in the 100 fly and 200 backstroke, added. “Trials will definitely be a learning experience.”
“Though I do not have a snow ball’s chance in hell of making it to London for America, just being able to compete at that level is really gratifying,” said junior Will Lawley, who will be competing in the 200 and 400 free. “My teammates and I have been training most of our lives to swim at meets on such a big stage, so just getting to share the pool with USA’s stars is rewarding enough. My club swimming coach used to tell me that I wasn’t truly a good swimmer until I’d qualified and competed at Olympic Trials, so it feels good to finally arrive.”
Among the most accomplished swimmers on the women’s side is sophomore Lisa Boyce, who will be competing in the 100 free and 100 back. This year, she won three Ivy League individual titles and represented Princeton in the NCAA championships.
“I’m really excited just to go to Trials,” Boyce said. “From what I’ve heard, it’s an incredible experience, and I can’t wait to watch all of the fast swimming and be a part of one of the more intense meets in the world. Being able to compete at this level is a huge honor, especially getting to represent Princeton.”
“Everyone is going to swim well,” Bennett said, but added that senior Colin Cordes is the Princetonian to watch at the Trials. “His career is pretty much over. A lot of seniors turn it in after the end of the season, but he’s decided to keep swimming and give it his best shot, so I’d have to say he’s probably going to do pretty well at this meet.”
In preparation for Trials, the swimmers have been training together in Olympic Trial groups this spring. This has not only allowed them to push one another to achieve their best form, but has also helped them learn to rely on one another for support.
“It’s always great to share such experiences with your teammates, and I think the team can only grow from this meet,” Lawley said. “They always have your back in training, and it’s really important to have a good base of support before you race. Hopefully, we can all benefit from each other’s presence and work and raise the levels of our respective performances. Ideally, we’ll all perform well, take some valuable experience home from Omaha, then come back ready to defend our Ivy championship next winter.”
“I love having this group to train with right now,” Boyce added. “As any swimmer will tell you, training on your own can get really boring really quickly, so being able to train with a group is definitely a good thing. We push each other every day in practice, and I’m absolutely looking forward to being a part of this team at Olympic Trials and representing Princeton as best we can.”
College swimming is on the offseason now, so the Olympics have interfered with the way that some of the swimmers would normally be training around this time.
“I am probably more focused right now than I have been in the past at this time of the year,” Ciardiello said. “Usually there are big long course meets at the end of August, so there is a lot of time to prepare to swim fast. Trials are at the end of June, so the training these next couple of weeks is key.”
“It brings more intensity,” Bennett added. “Every Olympic year is a very exciting time for the swimming community because that’s when everyone watches swimming on TV.”
Another exciting aspect for the swimmers who are going to Trials is being able to see the best American swimmers compete at the meet.
“Seeing some of the big swims that are going to be happening from the really big superstars like [Michael] Phelps and [Ryan] Lochte is going to be really cool,” Bennett said.
“Though it won’t be my first time, getting to compete against the former gold medalists in my respective events is always really exciting,” Lawley added. “The fact that I’ve earned the right to compete with them for such an honorable position is truly humbling and really puts a cap on my athletic achievements. Plus, it will be really exciting to see them light it up from the pool deck.”
For the swimming community, reaching Trials is one of the most impressive accomplishments one can achieve. With so many people vying for very limited spots on the U.S. team, it is considered an honor just to be able to compete at the Trials.
“It’s something that a lot of swimmers set their goal as — to swim in this meet,” Bennett said. “I’ve heard so many stories of the experience of going and swimming in this meet and taking part in the competition that helps develop something that will represent your country, and it means a lot to us to know that we’ve taken part in something like this, so we’re all looking forward to it.”