“I can’t believe I’m an Olympian” espnW blog
July 1, 2012
When I touched the wall at the end of the 100-meter breaststroke final last week at the U.S. Olympic swimming trials, my first thoughts were happy ones. I knew it had been a good race, but then I looked at the scoreboard.
My name was third behind Breeja Larson, a girl I had never raced against, who put up an amazing time of 1:05.92, and Rebecca Soni, the 2008 Olympic silver medalist in the event.
Third place meant I wasn’t going to London.
I was completely shocked and heartbroken. I was second in the world going into the race, and I think I was first in the world at one point this year. It was my best event and best chance to make the team. I was scared the Olympics might not happen for me at all.
For the next 24 hours, I just kind of survived. I’m not going to lie — I cried pretty hard. I had to withdraw in 2008 after qualifying to compete in Beijing, and now I had to process that I might not be in London, either. I spent a lot of time talking to my fiancé, Swiss Olympic swimmer Dominik Meichtry. He made me feel a million times better, saying he believed in me and this was not going to be the end result at trials. It took a little while, but I was able to get my mindset back to having fun and being grateful that I was there competing in the first place.
I got back into the pool for the 100 freestyle and swam pretty close to my best time in prelims. I made it into the final, and this time, when I touched the wall and saw my name, it was completely different.
I had won.
I absolutely couldn’t believe it. The 100 free is my weakest event and I swam my best time ever. At 25, I didn’t see that coming! I was honestly thinking, “Just place in the top six,” so that I could have a relay spot on the team. There were that many awesome athletes — like Missy Franklin, Allison Schmitt and Natalie Coughlin — in the race. To get first, no way! I was the one least likely to win. It was the night of my life.
Two nights later was the icing on the cake; I was able to win the 50 free, as well. I thought I could possibly win that race after the 100 had gone so well, but I wasn’t sure. In the 50, if you make one mistake you’re out, so you have to swim a near-perfect race. Needless to say, I was thrilled to win, and it was exciting to race against Dara Torres, a true legend in our sport. She’s been winning since way before I was even born, and has had enough success for 10 lifetimes. She’s made us all realize that our swim careers can last much longer than we ever dreamed possible.
Now, I head to Tennessee for training camp this weekend, then on to France to train, and finally to London. It’s a weird transition for me right now since I didn’t qualify in the breaststroke, and I’m only training freestyle. I’ve always been a breaststroker and I’m insanely sore right now from all of the increased freestyle training! Freestyle is more instinctual, and takes more brute force. But it’s more relaxed, too, because in breaststroke you really need to think about your technique a lot, and it requires more warm-up and stretching, and takes more time overall. It’s an interesting challenge to try to focus on my weaker stroke, and I haven’t been racing freestyle as long so I have a lot more room to learn and improve.
I’m not sure I believe I’m really an Olympian. It just hasn’t sunk in yet, but it’s starting to. After all the ups and downs of trials and everything that has happened since 2008, I will have the biggest smile on my face when I get the chance to step on the pool deck in London.