Bruno Fratus Continuing Preparation For Tokyo With More Relaxed Mindset For Third Olympic Games

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Photo Courtesy: Mine Kasapoglu/ISL

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As time was ticking down toward the official Brazilian Olympic Trials in April, veteran sprinter Bruno Fratus was apprehensive about traveling to his home country, which was struggling to contain the COVID-19 pandemic. About 15 days prior to the TYR Pro Swim Series in Mission Viejo, California, Fratus got the confirmation from the Brazilian Swimming Federation that he would be able to qualify for the Olympics remotely, as long as he met the desired A standard of 22.01 in the 50 freestyle.

For someone who has been under 22 seconds many times in his life, it may have sounded like a relatively easy task on the outside looking in. But Fratus’ coaches – Brett Hawke, based in Southern California, his wife Michelle Lenhardt, based in south Florida with him, and strength coach Luigi Marino, based in Brazil, were scrambling to come up with a rushed taper plan for Fratus to be at his peak in Mission Viejo.

“We went through this two week situation where we didn’t know what was going to happen,” Bruno Fratus said. “Brett and Michelle were a little stressed out without knowing how to manage the workouts.

“You don’t just drop volume and intensity right away, otherwise you are going to be a bit funky for a month. We were trying to manage the best way possible for me to do whatever I could in Mission Viejo. It’s not like I got a full taper or I just stopped lifting.”

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Bruno Fratus readies himself at the Mission Viejo TYR Pro Series. Photo Courtesy: Becca Wyant

Fratus swam a 21.80 in Mission Viejo’s morning final of the 50 free, out-touching two-time reigning World champ Caeleb Dressel in the process. It was well off his own best of 21.27 from 2017, but the first part of the job was done: get under the FINA A standard.

The second part of the job was wait around two weeks for the Brazilian Nationals, and hope that two guys didn’t swim faster than that come the end of the meet.

“I was telling everybody I was confident (21.80) would give me the spot but I was definitely not comfortable at all.

“I was doing well until the women’s 50 free and right after they swum, I started to have a mini heart attack,” Bruno Fratus said. “It’s so much easier when you have some sort of control in the situation. I was at practice and watching the 50 free after my workout. I got a little bit of that pre-race feeling even though I wasn’t there. I was really nervous.”

Fratus was on deck at his home facility in Coral Springs, Florida where he stayed around to watch the men’s 50 free final on the live stream. With a spot on the plane to Tokyo on the line, Fratus felt like he was a part of the race, and by the 25 meter mark, he knew his time would hold up.

Pedro Spajari ended up winning the final at 22.02 with Victor Alcara in second at 22.04.

Fratus was officially qualified for his third Olympics, and a happy and joyous car ride back home ensued. Fratus and Lenhardt parodied a video on their Instagram stories done by NFL players Tom Brady and Rob Gronkowski when they reached the Super Bowl back in 2019, shrugging and smiling to the song “Bad Boy For Life.”

“Me, Brett and Michelle have a ton of inside jokes and that was one, we were like “we ain’t going nowhere! We are here! National team!”

Looking ahead to Tokyo, Bruno Fratus is approaching his third Olympics with a much more controlled mindset. After missing the podium in London by 0.02, a podium spot in a home Olympics in Rio would seem like a fairy tale storyline. But the pressure of the situation got to him, and in Rio he finished tied for sixth in the 50 free final.

“The first two Olympics, there was a process of romanticizing the Games in a level where I wouldn’t face it as a swim race,” Fratus said. “It was so much different from Nationals and other meets, even like World Championships, where I could keep my cool and know exactly what I’m doing. I would let myself go by the glory, the lights, the colors, the media and for me it was almost like going to Disneyland and I was almost starstruck for that period. Nowadays, it is a fine line between keeping my cool and not even caring. It’s just another race.”

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Bruno Fratus at the ISL bubble in 2020. Photo Courtesy: Mine Kasapoglu / ISL

Fratus has won the silver medal at the last two Worlds since Rio in the 50 free, a feat that he credits to changing his mental mindset heading into those meets.

“Once I get used to getting on the blocks on the side of all the guys I’m racing at the Games, you just start normalizing it. It helps a lot.”

With the COVID pandemic pushing the Games back a whole year, there is a new level of gratitude for Bruno Fratus, who will be 32 by the time the Games start in late July.

“I’m grateful for a lot of things: the staff at Coral Springs Swim Club. Since day one of lockdown, they worried about helping me be at the best of my abilities to get my work in. I’m thankful for Michelle being with me every part of the way and thankful for Brett. I am a very lucky person having my best friend and my wife coaching me. That is something giving me a lot of confidence.

“And of course the Brazilian Olympic Committee doing their best. There’s a huge support system. My strength coach Luigi Marino was keeping in touch every day during lockdown giving me instructions. My psychologist Carla Di Pierro keeping in touch with me and we had some dark days during this COVID period. You don’t get to this level of performance by yourself so there is a lot of the people involved in this process.”