After a Long Journey, Ashley Twichell Can Finally Call Herself an Olympian

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Ashley Twichell will be one of the oldest first-time Olympians next summer in Tokyo. Photo Courtesy: Peter H. Bick

Ashley Twichell, one of three swimmers to have already secured spots on the 2020 United States Olympic Team.

The year 2020 is a significant one in the sport of swimming for obvious reasons. It is the light at the end of a long tunnel that is – for many swimmers – four years in the making. 2020 marks a make or break year for a number of swimmers who have dreams of swimming in the Olympics or just qualifying for the Olympic Trials.

It was also a crucial moment for open water swimmer Ashley Twichell, who at 30-years-old was hoping 2020 would be the year she finally made her Olympic debut after coming oh-so-close in 2012 and 2016.

In order to secure her spot on the Olympic team as an open water swimmer, Twichell would have to get top two at the 2019 US Nationals in Miami, which she did in a photo finish with long-time rival Haley Anderson. Then those two went off to South Korea to the World Championships where the top ten finishers in the 10K would go on to secure spots for the Olympic Games.

The 10K race at the World Championships was like a war zone and Twichell was smack dab in the middle of it for the majority of the race. Scratching and clawing her way through, she was in the lead pack on the final lap, but was in danger of slipping out of the top ten. There were 13 swimmers fighting for ten spots on the last lap, and when the pack came into the finish line, there was uncertainty where Twichell had actually placed.

“I was 99% sure I was top ten,” Twichell told Swimming World. “It was a combination of being really excited and relieved when I finished.”

“It was awesome but that was a long eight years.”

Ashley Twichell’s Journey

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Twichell at the 2019 Open Water Nationals; Photo Courtesy: Andy Ross

Twichell had officially finished in sixth place in the 10K, punching her ticket to her first Olympic Games. And to make it extra sweet, Anderson won the silver medal and secured her ticket for her third Olympics as well.

Twichell and Anderson have been competing alongside each other for the better part of this decade, going all the way back to the 2011 NCAAs when Twichell was a senior at Duke and Anderson a sophomore at Southern Cal. Anderson was third in the 1650 at NCAAs and Twichell was fifth.

A year later, Anderson qualified for her first Olympic team at a qualifying event in Portugal and Twichell was left on the outside looking in, some seven seconds behind. She was proud of her good friend and cheered her on to win the silver medal in London. But was motivated to one day have that Olympian distinction herself.

Three years later, Twichell finished third at the Open Water Nationals, meaning she had already lost the opportunity to try and get in the top ten at Worlds.

But she kept training, simply because she loved the sport.

Relentless Pursuit

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Photo Courtesy: Peter H. Bick

After missing the Olympic team in 2016, she started making a breakthrough in open water, becoming the world champion in 2017 in the 5K, and was tenth in the 10K. In 2018 at the US Nationals at age 29, she swam a personal best in the 1500 and broke 16:00 for the first time in her career with a 15:55.68. That secured her spot on her first major international pool team for the United States at the 2018 Pan Pacs, and also qualified her for the World Championships in the 1500.

From 2013-2015, her main focus was on open water swimming, but has since gone back and forth between the pool and open water. Training for both events has been beneficial for Twichell, since she credited her 800 free “sprint” training in getting her to Tokyo.

“The 10K came down to less than two seconds between nine swimmers, so that 800 training was crucial,” she said.

“It’s not how fast you swim in the 10K, I don’t even know what time we swam (at Worlds),” she said. “The most important part in open water is preparing mentally for the physicality of the race.”

And barring what happens at next summer’s Olympic Trials, she will be the oldest first-time Olympian in Tokyo on USA Swimming’s roster. And she will be doing it alongside her good friend Anderson.

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Ashley Twichell and Haley Anderson at Open Water Nationals- Photo Courtesy: Andy Ross

“We’re the two oldest on the team. We overlapped in college at NCAAs a couple times,” Twichell said. “It’s really fun to be training and competing with her still.”

“I remember I didn’t see a lot of her during the race itself at Worlds, but I kept thinking if both of us could get top ten we could both go to the Olympics. That was what motivated me.”

But after finally qualifying for her first Olympic Games in the 10K, she shifted her focus to the pool where she would swim the 1500 at her first world Championships in the pool.

Twichell had no idea what to expect in the 1500 final and wound up going a best time at 15:54.19, just missing a podium spot by three seconds in placing fourth. It was the end of a long two weeks in which she racked up almost 20,000 meters of racing.

Now Twichell is back home training in North Carolina and will be competing in her first pool meet since the World Championships at the Greensboro Pro Swim Series November 6-9. She has the monkey off her back this fall, knowing she is already going to Tokyo in at least one event next summer.

“It’s been fun so far this season because it is a little more relaxed, knowing I’ve already made the team. The most important part now is staying focused on goals. We started back in the pool in September and Trials can seem really far away. Looking too far ahead can be overwhelming but you just have to take it month by month.

“I think that is how I’ve been able to stay in the sport for so long.”

And she will be in the sport for at least one more year, and will finally be able to call herself an Olympian.

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