An Athlete’s Perspective: 2016 U.S. Olympic Trials

Photo Courtesy: Peter H. Bick

By Temarie Tomley, Swimming World College Intern

It’s been a little over a week since the U.S. Olympic Trials and I am still amazed by what I was a part of. The phenomenal swims, the emotions, the crowds, the energy, all wrapped up into a week of swimming. I was blessed enough to swim in Trials and be a part of the athlete experience as a first timer. I’ve been reading articles about Trials and they all mention the times and the phenomenal swims, but there isn’t much about the swimmer’s first-hand experience.

So here are a few things you won’t hear anywhere else:

Family Reunion

If I could sum up Trials, I would say it was one giant swim party. Yes, there were ups and downs to the meet, especially for those really gunning for the Olympic team. But for the majority of swimmers, it was one big reunion. I consider swimming a sport where you can build a family, where the people you meet on your journey become friends, supporters, and competitors for life. It’s a sport where it seems everyone knows everyone else, and even if you don’t know someone’s name, you recognize their face and smile and say “hi” anyway.

I saw old teammates and coaches, reunited with old swimmer friends and competitors that I hadn’t seen in years, and said “hey” to some of those familiar faces. We are spread all over the country, so it’s a rare occasion to see so many, especially the best in the sport, all in one place to compete. And not only did I see old faces, but I met so many new ones which I hope to see in the future.

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Photo Courtesy: Peter H. Bick

I FEEL Fast

The pool was freshly filled and sported underwater cameras spanning its length. It was perfectly centered in a huge stadium with fans surrounding all sides. Everything was great, except that it made me FEEL fast. You would think that would be a good thing, but it isn’t always. When I dove in for my first event, the 200 free – the lights bright, the fans loud, the nervous energy flowing – I felt fast. I felt like I was zooming, hitting my paces and mastering my race strategy. I touched the wall and I thought that had to be right on my best, I looked at the scoreboard… and I wasn’t. I was a second and a half off. Still respectable, but not what I wanted.

It was the same story for so many swimmers that week. I heard it multiple times– “I felt like I was going so much faster than the time shown at the end of the race.” Everyone has heard the statistic that only 7 percent of women and 13 percent of men achieved best times in the meet. I also know that many have been searching for the answers as to why that is.

Some blame the pool, but I think it’s just the environment and learning to deal with it. I know I needed the experience of getting up and racing some of the fastest women in the country and learning to control my feelings– trying not to be too overwhelmed by it all.

It’s hard getting used to timing your warm up with when you have to be in the ready room. It’s also daunting sitting next to Olympians, like Jessica Hardy, waiting for your race. So I’m chalking the slower times down to experience and how well you can control your inner emotions and mind.

I wasn’t as relaxed as I usually am and was a little overwhelmed by the environment, causing me to get out of my usual race and rhythm. Once the nerves kick in you may feel faster than what you are actually going, and that is what I think happened to me. When I swam my second race, the 100 free, I felt calmer. I had a better idea of what I was doing, and was less intimidated by the Olympians swimming next to me, but I was still off my best time by a little. Of course, that’s just one opinion, and in reality it could be a multitude of things unique to every swimmer, such as double tapers, expectations, mindset, etcetera.

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Photo Courtesy: Peter H. Bick

The Unmentioned Big Deals

I think the fans are underestimated. Swimming has never been the “big time” sport like football or basketball, but at Trials, it feels like it is. It’s the fans that make Trials seem like the real deal and make it feel so alive and special. It would be a totally different meet if there were no one in the stands.

I felt the support from so many people at the meet– my family, friends, teammates, and fellow swimmers. It was incredible to see so many young swimmers standing outside the athlete area waiting for Olympians to sign their notebooks and take pictures with them. It meant a lot to even see some that I knew, especially one little girl I had coached at our Alabama Rising Tide Swim Camp this summer, who had wanted my autograph and made me feel like the celebrity I wished I was.

It’s the best feeling knowing that I am a part of something that is inspiring so many kids. As Anthony Ervin said, “If we aren’t here inspiring the next generation, then we are doing something wrong.” Over the years, this sport has grown to incredible new heights, not only in the pool but outside it as well, due to the people who love watching it and being a part of it.

Another group of unsung heroes at Trials are the amazing people of USA Swimming that put this entire production on (because it really is a show). The cool light shows before finals, the Aqua Zone, the clothes bin carriers, the amazing officials that make every meet possible, and all the things that were provided to the athletes (pools, goodie bags, massages, hot tubs, and therapy puppies) were incredible. USA Swimming is an amazing body of people. The amount of work and planning it takes to make Olympic Trials happen every four years is a feat within itself.

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Photo Courtesy: Peter H. Bick

The Stairs

I loved everything about Trials, except for one thing…the stairs. The worst thing about Trials that no one talks about, and may just be harder than the race you just swam, are the dreaded stairs you have to walk down after your race. You can’t see these stairs from the stands, but when you are dead-tired, not able to breathe, and having to walk down steep steps– it’s just not a good combination.

With every step your legs are about to give out on you and you’re about to fall. That railing was a crucial device that I held onto for dear life. It wasn’t uncommon to see someone fall down a few steps from sheer exhaustion. So if there’s any suggestion I would make for Trials in four years, it’s to maybe try a ramp or escalator instead?

Overall, this experience was like nothing I’ve ever been a part of. Although I didn’t swim exactly how I wanted, I had a blast and gained valuable experience and memories. So with Trials behind us, I congratulate all the swimmers who made the Olympic Team. I know we are all looking forward to Rio and the fast swims that are to come.

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Photo Courtesy: Peter H. Bick

2 Comments

2 comments

  1. avatar
    Lee Ann Smith Martin

    OLYMPLEAH!

  2. avatar
    Charity Adams-McCafferty

    Caileigh McCafferty

Author: Temarie Tomley

avatar
Temarie Tomley is a sophomore at the University of Alabama in Tuscaloosa. She swims sprint freestyle and backstroke and has represented her team at SECs and at the NCAA Division I Championships. She grew up in Cincinnati, Ohio and has been swimming since she was five.

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