Claire Curzan Channeled Nerves & Experience to Get to Tokyo; Focused on Tapering Better For Olympics

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Photo Courtesy: Peter H. Bick

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Claire Curzan Channeled Nerves & Experience to Get to Tokyo; Focused on Tapering Better For Olympics

For 16-year-old Claire Curzan, she had been one of the faces to watch at this summer’s Olympic Trials. It seemed every time she dove into the pool, she set a new best time and set the bar higher, making many believe the sky was the limit for the North Carolina native who just finished her junior year of high school.

Curzan entered her first Olympic Trials as a Tokyo candidate in the 100 fly, and the 50 and 100 free – the former being her best event as she entered Trials as the second-fastest American ever. Her two world junior records generated enormous expectations. When she finished second in the 100 fly on the second night of competition in Omaha, it was an obvious weight lifted, knowing she would make her first international senior team trip for the United States on swimming’s biggest stage.

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Claire Curzan upon receiving her official Olympic qualification. Photo Courtesy: Peter H. Bick

Upon receiving her official Olympic invitation and signing her name on to the Tokyo drum at the CHI Health Center, the moment didn’t feel real for her until she came back to her home in North Carolina.

“I guess I was so hyped up on stress at Trials I wasn’t focusing on that,” Curzan told Swimming World. “I came home and my parents secretly arranged a welcome party so all my neighbors were waving American flags and my house was all decorated. That was ‘oh my gosh I actually made the team. I actually did it!'”

After an exhausting week in Omaha, she had a week to celebrate at home, formulate an Olympic plan with coach Bruce Marchionda, talk to various local media, and get acquainted with her fellow Tokyo Olympians via group chats. Overwhelming to say the least.

“You’re seeing these names like Katie Ledecky, Simone Manuel, Lilly King texting your phone and you’re like what the heck?” Curzan said. “It’s been an adjustment period but I have been enjoying it.”

Curzan comes from TAC Titans in Cary, North Carolina where her Marchionda has an established reputation as a butterfly coach. He led Claire Donahue to a seventh-place finish in the 100 fly nine years earlier at the 2012 Olympics in London. Donahue is the head national coach at TAC, the group below Marchionda’s Olympic elite group, and would come into Curzan’s morning butterfly workouts three times a week. She was helpful in Curzan’s prep for what Trials could look and feel like – from the ready room to the intense environment on deck.

It paid dividends for Curzan. Her 100 fly at Trials was not a best time, but it was fast enough. And although her other events didn’t put her on the team – she finished 12th and out of the final in the 100 free, and ninth in the 50 – she was still Tokyo bound.

“I was just so happy from the result of the 100 fly that I didn’t really care what happened (the rest of the meet). It was definitely nice to have a two-day break in between those two events to try to calm down, but I got a little tired toward the end of the week so revisiting that will be better.”

International Flavor

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Claire Curzan (right) with Torri Huske. Photo Courtesy: Peter H. Bick

Although the Tokyo Olympics will be Claire Curzan’s first international senior team trip, the connections and experiences she made from her first junior team trip – the 2019 Junior Worlds in Budapest – have been instrumental in her preparation for the Games in Japan.

It was at those Junior Worlds where Curzan met Torri Huske, who will rep the U.S. with Curzan in the 100 butterfly. The two shared the podium in that event two years ago at the meet in Hungary, with Huske winning gold and Curzan bronze. Curzan won three other medals at that meet – a gold in the 4×100 medley relay, a silver in the 100 back, and a bronze in the 50 fly. Swimming in the then two-year-old building, which has quickly become one of the top competition and training destinations in international swimming, helped ease the nerves of racing in a makeshift pool in a basketball arena for Trials.

“That meet was so helpful because the Duna Arena is huge!” Claire Curzan said. “Just being able to practice prelims, semis, finals, and the ready room with them checking your suits and logos, and also the huge facility – Trials was actually smaller than I expected because of the size of the Duna Arena. It was definitely nice having that g0-through to practice for Trials.”

At World Juniors, Curzan was around a team of girls similar in age. In Tokyo, her oldest teammate is 14 years older, but she is also surrounded by four other girls who were in high school this year, as well as three others who deferred college enrollment until this fall. Having other teammates around her age, including Huske, who has become a good training partner whether she is in the same pool or not, will help alleviate any nerves generated by swimming next to seasoned veterans she is used to seeing on TV.

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Claire Curzan at Olympic Trials. Photo Courtesy: Peter H. Bick

“There’s definitely comfort, because when I first meet people I am pretty shy so going up to the Katie Ledeckys of the world would be hard at first,” Curzan said. “I am super excited to spend time with her but it is nice knowing I’m going to have all these teenagers doing it for the first time with me.”

With a four-week preparation period for Curzan leading to Tokyo, her focus shifts only to the 100 fly, where if all goes to plan, she will race it up to four times in Tokyo, potentially five if she is called up for the mixed medley relay on day seven.

“My coach and I sat down and looked at how Trials went and everything,” she said. “It wasn’t one of the best setup taper meets I’ve had in the past couple months so we really took a look at just meet prep and everything happening before the meet. I will probably not taper as much (for Tokyo) because I got kind of tired toward the end of the week and also (USA Swimming) sent me breakdowns of my races – how fast my first 15, middle 20, and last 15 are – so I’m trying to keep my stroke rate up during the entire 100 fly. That will also help.”

Curzan celebrated her 17th birthday while at training camp in Hawaii earlier this week, and with three weeks until the Games, she is fifth in the world in the 100 butterfly. Heading into the original Olympic year in 2020, Curzan was hardly a favorite to make the Olympic team, but it was on July 18, 2020, five days before the original Tokyo start date, when Curzan emerged as a contender. A little over a full year later, she will line up behind the blocks in Japan, a medal within reach.

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