PHOENIX, Arizona, November 1. OUS Mellouli bounced back from two years of physical and mental setbacks to win two medals at the London Olympics, and he looks back on his incredible year on today's edition of The Morning Swim Show.
Mellouli, who won bronze in the 1500 free and gold in the 10K marathon swim, talks about what led him to consider swimming in open water, his thoughts on qualifying for the Olympic 10K and what it was like to use his strategy against a field of open water veterans. After two years of experiencing injuries, Mellouli was able to return to the medal podium — twice — and feel a sense of accomplishment that he said will carry through to the 2016 Rio Olympics. Be sure to visit SwimmingWorld.TV for more video interviews.
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Jeff Commings: This is the Morning Swim Show for Thursday, November 15th, 2012. I am your host Jeff Commings. Ous Mellouli will join us in the FINIS Monitor in just a few seconds. He won the Olympic 10K Marathon Swim in July, which garnered him the honor of Swimming World Magazine's Male Open Water Swimmer of the Year. He did very well on the pool too, getting a bronze medal in the 1500 freestyle in London. Now Ous Mellouli joins us now from Los Angeles. Ous, good to see you, how are you today?
Ous Mellouli: Thanks for having me Jeff, I am great. Thank you.
Jeff: Well, congratulations on being named the Open Water Swimmer of the Year.
Ous: Thank you, it is a great honor.
Jeff: So, you have done open water swimming before, notably the Tiburon Mile and things like that, but you know going from that to the 10K is obviously a big stretch, so when did you decide to make this commitment to swim the 10K?
Ous: Yeah I have done a couple of open water swims, but they were really just for fun and you know it was just a chance for me to go to exotic places and get in the water. But we started thinking about the 10K as one of my main events about this time of the year, about last year and we planned a couple of races in the 10K in Cancun for the World Cup and then did the qualifier in Portugal and I won that one, and my third main 10k was the Olympic Games one.
Jeff: So why did you decide to add the 10K to your Olympic program?
Ous: Honestly I thought about it for the last couple of years, but the FINA program doesn't allow me to do that during the world championships since the 10K happens before the swim events, and obviously for me the swimming events are important if not more important than the 10K, so the program allowed me to do both, which is why the main reason why we chose to do the 10K. So I took care of the pool business first and then jumped on the 10K after.
Jeff: Well it obviously worked very well on both sides of that. Now talking about all these adjustments once you started planning that you wanted to do the 10K and you talked with Dave Salo and Catherine Vogt there at USC, was there any major adjustment you had to make to your training?
Ous: Not really. Obviously we focused more on the swimming side of our training and then the training part for the 10K that we did was basically the strategy. I knew I was putting in a lot of work in the water and I was going to be in the best shape in my life and I think – I thought I would have enough speed to close the race so we weren't worried about the fitness part of things, but more worried about the strategic decisions that we were going to make during the race, and that is why we chose to do a couple of races before that and Cancun was the best chance for me to try those strategies and set up a solid strategy for my qualifier in Portugal. I made all kinds of mistakes in my first 10K and I learned a lot from it and built from that.
Jeff: Yeah, you know obviously it is not just like jumping in the pool doing even like a 100 freestyle or anything like that, but the 10K obviously 2 hours swim, a lot of things coming into play. Now, let's talk about the 10K in London. You hung with the pack for most of the race almost like 90% of the race and then you just kind of broke away and had everybody chasing you. Is that the kind of strategy you were going for or did you have to make some changes to that?
Ous: That is – that was my pre-way strategy and that is what I was hoping to accomplish and things worked perfectly for me. Yeah, the key for me was to stay in the pack and stay way from all the physicalities as possible even though it was – it could get tough during the turn and the start and I had the worst position in the start. I was number 25 so I had to like make a move from the beginning and join the pack, but the course in London was pretty good. The sighting, I didn't have big problem with the sighting which could be a problem in different races, but yeah, that was it and then we decided to not feed the — I think, I didn't feed in the 5th lap and made my burst move in the 5th lap and try to hang tough with those last 3K's.
Jeff: Now something that kind of interested me watching that race is like you said you were very new to it and you were going up against a lot of established swimmers like Thomas Lurz who is you know kind of revered as legend in the 10K. Did that, knowing that you were going up against some veterans that did that concern you at all or did it motivate you even more?
Ous: I think yeah, we have studied the competition. I talked with Catherine about the two or three guys that we thought were going to be a threat. One of them was Thomas, the Canadian kid and one more swimmer, the Greek swimmer too, but I stuck with my strategy and I didn't worry about the other swimmers and I thought if I felt good and there was an opening, I was going to make my move and just commit to it. I didn't even look back and that is exactly what I did.
Jeff: What was going through your mind when you realized that you got that gold medal?
Ous: Holy cow. This is amazing. No, the great thing — not a lot of people know this, but the great thing about my 10K is obviously I got my medal at the pool and I was super excited about my bronze medal in the 1500 because I overcome a lot of tough moments in the last two years. I didn't medal last year in Shanghai for the first time since 2003 in a World Championship event and then I was struggling with shoulder injuries, struggling with back injury and to overcome all of that and come and compete at the Olympics and make that bronze medal happen for me was amazing. And then two days before the start of the 10K I went and did a warm up swim and tried the course a little bit in the Serpentine and I felt like crap the next morning I had fever. I was in bed for 48 hours. I didn't even go and watch the women's race and then that morning of the race I was still feeling sick and that was huge for me to overcome sickness and all of these injuries and when that gold medal. It was the first gold medal for my country as a free country and I am super proud of it.
Jeff: Yeah, I didn't know that you were sick the day of the race. That definitely puts a lot of, I guess, interesting perspective to it. So you won the Olympic 10K in 2012, you won the 1500 in 2008. Which of those gold medals means more to you?
Ous: I think my second one. I mean 2008 was amazing beating one of the best distance swimmers of all time, if not the best one. 2008 was great, I mean, but London was extremely special for me. It is the medal that we want to dedicate to the Tunisian revolution to my new country of Tunisia and I am extremely proud of this. I am going to have to go to 10K.
Jeff: Well that makes sense. Now is this a one and done deal or are you going to continue with open water racing?
Ous: I think I am continuing. I just came back from the Cayman Islands. I have been doing some traveling and trying to stay in shape and trying to do fun races, so I am continuing to discover the sport and I really enjoy it. I think it is a unique experience for a swimmer like me to go around the globe and swim in different oceans and enjoy nature out there and it is absolutely a unique experience. I have been enjoying it. I will be doing King of the Ocean in Brazil next month, so it is keeping me excited about the sport and keeping me motivated to stay in the water and stay in training and enjoy traveling around the world.
Jeff: Well that is great. Now as you mentioned you had kind of rough couple of years in 2010 and 2011, had some injuries that kept you off the medal stand. What enabled you to get past all those and do so well this year?
Ous: I think it was just a mental drive. It is all the mental game. It is all about waking up in the morning and knowing if you still have an injury you to overcome it and it is going to be a part of your routine. So you got to do your rehab, you have you got to see a physio, and it just comes from one more thing that you have to worry about. Obviously you have to log in the mileage, you have to do everything right in the water, but also you have to take that same kind of commitment outside the water and take care of your body, especially at this age. And it just requires a lot of mental toughness and a lot of patience, you know it's tough when you wake up every morning and when you are doing sets every morning or when you are trying to get ready for the longest event in the swimming program, because every repetition you feel that pain hitting your shoulder every time you are in the water you feel that pain. So it is like I said it has been a tough two years actually mentally but it takes a lot of dedication and organization to overcome it.
Jeff: Well I think that definitely came into play like you said you were sick the morning of the 10K, so I think that definitely was a testament to all the mental work that you have been doing.
Jeff: You are 28 years old now I mean lets be honest it is kind of up there in terms of age for a distance swimmer, obviously a lot of swimmers has been going on to their 30's. Are you planning to go to Rio 2016?
Ous: That is the idea, yeah, I think I am gunning for 2016. For right now I have been – I kind of lift my foot off the gas a little bit so I am just doing ones a day workouts. I have been traveling. I went down to Florida to check out what Lochte and Dwyer and Coach Troy do down there, and I went to the Cayman Island and did that swim. I am thinking about traveling down to Australia and hanging out with Coach Bohlie down there and I am going to be back in grad school here at USC next January. So there are a couple of things that I am really excited about and looking forward to try that I haven't been doing and yeah I honestly don't feel like I am 28 years old. I mean I am still excited about the sport. I still love to compete and I still love grinding and making it hurt and doing all that mileage in training so I am up for four more years.
Jeff: Well that is good to hear. Now what are you going to be studying in grad school?
Ous: I am finishing up my Masters in Athletic Administration, Sports Management at USC.
Jeff: Okay, do you kind of have a career idea in mind for that?
Ous: I mean obviously I would love to be involved with all the promoting sports and especially swimming in Tunisia and the third world in Africa. I think something that I am definitely excited about raising awareness about the Olympic movement back home so I am definitely standing involved with the world of sports and hopefully having a career on the side too.
Jeff: Well speaking of Tunisia. Everybody knows what has been going on in your country the past 2 or 3 years. With all that has been happening, how has your accomplishments this year been celebrated in your home country?
Ous: It has been amazing coming back home has been a true blessing. Everybody has just been super proud and everybody watched the Olympic Games and they were super happy for me and super excited about what I have accomplished so yeah, I spent 6 weeks and it has been the longest time I spent back home in the last 10 years. I enjoyed every single minute of it. It was great.
Jeff: Has this done anything to kind of boost the exposure of swimming in Tunisia?
Ous: Absolutely. I think if you look at the statistics of the number of swimmers that have enrolled in Tunisia, it has got, it has tripled the numbers. We still have an issue of the number of pools. We only two working 50-meter pools in the whole country and we hope to build some more pools so kids out there can practice the sport that they love.
Jeff: Yeah pool space definitely is a must. Well Ous, thank you so much for joining us. Congratulations again on everything that you have done this year. We are looking forward to seeing how you, how well you do the next 3-1/2 years.
Ous: Thanks for having me Jeff. Have a good day.
Jeff: All right, we'll see you down the road.
Ous: Thank you.
Jeff: So that is Ous Mellouli joining us today in the FINIS Monitor. We urge you to pick up a copy of the November issue of Swimming World Magazine to read more about our picks for the male and female open water swimmers of the year and that will do it for today's Morning Swim Show. I am Jeff Commings. Thanks for watching.
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