Olympic Trials has been over for almost three weeks now and having been removed from the grandeur of those eight days in Omaha it’s time for an update. Trials was absolutely the most exhausting trip of my entire life. Physically, mentally, and emotionally this entire meet is a roller coaster ride like none other. Every single day someone I was cheering for stepped on the blocks with an Olympic birth at stake. As the days went on more and more of my teammates stepped up to the plate only to be denied. And others, four to be exact, shined under the lights and made the most prestigious Olympic team possible: The United States of America’s Swim Team. (Note: the number is four because at the time of the swim Davis had not made the team…yet)
Sadly, my name is not one of those five. I was one of the other 1700+ swimmers who came and were denied. But the experience overall of being one of the few who did get to swim in semi finals in two events, and finals in another was rewarding nearly beyond capable of putting into words. At this point I should warn you that I normally limit myself to 1000 words per post, but this is not one of those times. So let’s start from the beginning of the meet.
Or earlier. Since I moved down to Charlotte last August after nationals I did not get to do a full taper with coach Marsh until now. Much like what I considered to be an unorthodox training regiment that took time getting acclimated to, taper was the same. Taper in high school and college was very regimented and close to the same every year. During that time every swimmer goes through a “funk,” or stretch of time where you feel like crap, reconsider why you’re doing the sport, and/or wonder how you feel this lethargic off 10 hours of sleep the last 3 nights. Now it varies by person, but in the last 6 years my funk usually happened in a pattern of two-three days of feeling great, one awful. This time it was reversed; I legitimately wondered one day if I could even re-accomplish the Trials cut I felt so bad three days in a row. So it was more like 3 days off/1 on the whole taper (3 weeks-ish). So with that booming sort of confidence we arrived in Omaha. Side note: There is a great story about a slight debacle with our United airlines flight attendants that lead to some “rogue tweeting,” but that’s for a different post.
Upon arrival a swift calling from of the winds of change fell upon mine ears and physically in the pool, I became a new man. Practices and “stingers” went great and I arrived at the blocks on Day 1 for the 100 breaststroke feeling wonderful. I really got after it and dropped nearly a second (0.8) off my best time to go a 1:01.41. I also semi-finaled in an event that even my coach had written me off in saying, “I didn’t train you for the 100 breast once this year… so when did you learn how to sprint?” At night I got out there and added a tenth at finals but importantly didn’t DFL. It was a great way to start the meet and was also great to know I had some easy speed I could use for the 200.
I don’t want to go into long dramatic details of each 200 swim, if you really want to know you can ask me, but prelims went really well. I was set up in a heat right next to Hansen and we basically toyed around the first 150, virtually even coming off the wall. Now at this point in the game plan Marsh had predicted I would be right there, and that if I wanted to blow by him the last 50, feel free. I was definitely feeling the pain but just decided to hang out and see what happened. He came off the wall and got past me a little bit but I didn’t let him get away. Twenty meters later it was clear we were both playing hard to get; I didn’t want him to think I would give it up that easy and he didn’t want me to think he was trying too hard. Whatever that means the last 7-8 meters I barreled into the finish and got to the wall first. Best time, 2:11.90. Afterwards I got interviewed by a couple reporters and my main man Scott Motice with AIA, which was new and exciting and can totally see how the celebrity lifestyle is so addicting. It’s just so much fun! and a major ego boost.
Now I was excited because I went a best time and clearly didn’t expend everything in the tank. Semi-finals went much like prelims except that I had to jump on the second 50 a little more and didn’t close like I normally do and got out touched by a few tenths for second (2:11.29) in the first semis heat. The time was a PR and definitely good enough for finals (seeded 5th). After the race I was reaching over the lane line congratulating the guy who out touched me, some no namer Scott Weltz (more on that later), and the camera man stuck his deal in my face. Before I knew what I was doing I was giving the camera a suave “finger guns” shot that probably made his career portfolio. So you’re welcome dude.
Apparently this was a big hit because by the end of the night no less than a dozen of my friends had paused their DVR’s at home to snap a picture to send to me. I’m still not sure why I did it, or if it was as smooth and cool as my mind’s eye remembers, but I’ll place it in the memory bank in the same folder as “Stuff performed Saturday nights sophomore year of college the jury is still out on.”
The day of finals was probably the most nerve wracking day of my life. I slept well enough surprisingly and spent the next 6 hours pushing my stomach back down where it belongs, peeing every 25 minutes, and doing just about anything to get my mind off swimming. Once I arrived to warm-up everything fell into place and I became much more relaxed. Then came a long half hour plus of just sitting anxiously, listening to music to get in the zone, sneakily and then eventually blatantly readjusting my nuts every two minutes cause they wouldn’t sit right in my suit. I’m not sure if most people have trouble with that last one but I’m fairly sure the first two are universally accurate. Everything proceeded as normal in the ready room and I remained really calm. We were the first event of the night and so they walked us out to the last staging area for the national anthem and pump up video. At this point, I took off my headphones and absorbed in the coolest atmosphere I’ve hands down ever competed in. The announcer got the sold out crowd to do a count down and the whole place was on their feet and clapping as we stepped out for the final heat. At that point, I was really just in awe of everything that was going on around me. All this for a swim meet? You kidding me?
The atmosphere really fueled my adrenaline and I was ready to blast once I got on the blocks. The first 50 was just smooth and fast. The last few months Marsh and I knew that the second 50 was critical, and I couldn’t let the front half guys get too far ahead. I jumped on it and went 32.7 on the second 50. At the turn I was still feeling strong and from lane 2 all I could really see was Brendan next to me. That’s good. That means no one is out ahead, now GO! I drifted slightly to the left on the third 50, knowing I was chipping away at the leaders because I can see much better to the left than the right for some reason. I got really excited as sure enough I was reeling them in little by little. Now in previous races I had jammed the last wall and was determined not to repeat that mistake again. I took two slightly longer strokes into the wall, tucked, and shot off as fast I could. Underwater those long, lonely 3-4 seconds I clearly heard the loudspeaker, “AND IT’S SHANTEAU AT THE ONE FIFTY!” and the crowd roared. I came up and just was talking/thinking/praying, “Just go! Stay long! Fight!” I put my head down for 40 meters, hit the wall and looked up.
I saw Brendan at 4th and knew he had out touched me. Eyes blurry and gasping for air I was scanning to see the results. I saw my name and as I looked up at first place I hear Brendan go, “Oh wowww!”
Scott Weltz. 2:09.0. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xofhB6iQBuQ&feature=related
The funny thing was that going into the race, the large amount of respect I had for Eric and Brendan didn’t prevent me from mentally crumbling next to them. In fact I sensed in the ready room, “I don’t think either of these guys is gonna win this thing.” I dunno, some sixth sense made it clear the race was up for grabs. I truly believed diving in that I could do it.
Scott’s swim is a remarkable example of the unpredictable nature of swimming. I still don’t know how he did it. Watching the tape a few days later I can see it happen in front of me, but sometimes watching isn’t enough and understanding that that day was his is all you can do. Hats off to you, Scott. An incredible swim and a cinderella story like swimming hasn’t had in a while. Second place belonged to a body lunging Clark Burckle the last 5 meters to out touch Shanteau in 2:09.97, sparking what I’m assuming was Rowdy’s, “Uhh well, it’s not Hansen or Shanteau so we better cut to commercial break cause I don’t know what to say.” But for those who had been following Clark for the last year knew it was no mistake. I watched Clark put together a year of dedicated work in all aspects of the sport. We talked frequently at meets about how he had cut out the bad diet, replaced the negative or neutral time with sleep, and trained with a purpose. He acted as a true professional and I tip my hat to the inspiration you are to those who watched you perform the last 6 months. Absolutely earned and well deserved.
I landed at 5th with another best time of 2:11.10, just 1.14 seconds out of second place. I’m emotionally exhausted just re-living and writing the last two pages. In truth, once I realized it was over and I was relieved. So much stress had built up it was like a weight had been lifted off my shoulders. I was upset, sure. But I knew crying wouldn’t do anything, and I was actually more confused trying to determine who Scott was I didn’t really have any emotion to give out.
At the warm down pool an odd feeling comes when a race that brings the end to a long season is over. You don’t think about anything. You just kind of sit there; brain letting off a slow steam of thoughts, never capturing one long enough to process it, never letting any particular sentiment take root. I didn’t know what to do, so I actually warmed down about a 200 then jumped in the hot tub.
A buddy told me recently, “Man, swimming is the most brutal sport there is.” I never thought of agreeing with him, until after Trials. For 8 long days, you and some of your closest friends damn near put your souls at stake. Years worth of sweat, emotion, laughter, uncertainty, anxiety, and faith go into one moment of concentrated will and effort. One. Single. Moment. No wonder people who are not balanced in their life go ballistic when they don’t achieve their goal. It feels like the let down of a lifetime. It can be absolutely soul crushing. Fortunately having a plethora of amazing people placed into my life prevented me from total collapse (again) unlike others I saw at the meet. I still don’t know if swimming is the toughest sport, but I do know you have to be a brave soul to embrace the journey and not fear uncertain result.
That’s about all I got for right now. I do want to mention a couple things before I go though:
An incredible and heart felt thank you for the barrage of support I received leading up to Trials and during the meet. Specifically,
– Cincinnati Aquatic Club
– Milford High School Swimming/Water Polo
– My very first swim team: Miami Hills. Loved the poster, thanks!
– The Ohio State family from far and wide. Including my great friend Ben Savonen sending me a text from an 18 digit phone number in Tanzania. You’re the best! Go Bucks!
– Faith Church in Milford
– A huge thank you to my biological family
– And my fans who didn’t make a shirt titled “Team Elliott” or something super gay like that. Seriously, thank you guys.
– AIA friends Jamie Borchik, Scott Motice, Josh Davis, and Ashley Null
– And especially SwimMAC Carolina and Dave Marsh for letting me hop on this incredible ride for the last ten months with them.
Congrats to my teammates who made the team: Kara Lynn Joyce, Cullen Jones, Nick Thoman, my roommate Davis Tarwater, and training partner Micah Lawrence.
Unlike Forrest, I do have more stuff to say but that will have to wait.
Buckeye Til I Die,