Cody Miller Feeling New Sense of Peace Ahead of Fourth Olympic Trials

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Photo Courtesy: Peter H. Bick

Cody Miller Feeling New Sense of Peace Ahead of Fourth Olympic Trials

When Cody Miller made his first Olympic team in 2016, it was the end of a long road for a guy who seemed like an underdog his entire life.

He was 24, late in life for a swimmer. He stood 5-foot-11, with a condition known as pectus excavatum, and came from a single-parent household. So when his celebration for winning the bronze medal in the 100 breaststroke in Rio captured the imagination of the entire world, including then U.S. President Barack Obamait made sense why.

With his newfound fame from Rio, where he handed off to Michael Phelps in the final relay of Phelps’ storied career, Miller became a household name in swimming. In late 2017, he started a YouTube channel, which has 159,000 subscribers, and has become one of the top voices in American swimming.

Now Miller is training for a potential second Olympic Games in Tokyo at 29. In the five years since Rio, he got married and became a father. Making one Olympics is hard, but duplicating that feat in your late 20s is nowhere close to an easy task.

“I am in a different place in my life,” Miller told Swimming World. “In 2016, the only thing I did was eat, sleep, swim and everything I did was in service of just trying to swim fast. It’s kind of like that now but I have more balance. Having a family, running a business, stacking bricks and trying to build up a life, I’m just in a different place.”

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Cody Miller in 2019. Photo Courtesy: Peter H. Bick

In the original lead-up to the Olympic Trials in March 2020, Miller had started to feel the pressure of trying to make the Olympic team again. He was 28 and knew he was approaching the end of the road in the pool. Starting a family was imminent and his life would change in a big way, whether another Olympics was in his path or not.

But the pandemic put swimming on pause, and it gave him a greater appreciation for the sport when it was taken away.

During the COVID pandemic months, Miller announced to his YouTube following that his wife, Ali, was pregnant. Axel Miller was born November 16.

“I look at people differently now, like I see people as ‘you used to be a baby!,'” Miller said. “What this kid turns into is a direct correlation of how I treat him and the things I teach him, and I think about the things that I went through.

“From a swimming perspective, it has taught me swimming is not as important as it is for me. It’s not the centerpiece to my life anymore and that’s a good thing – I think people need that.”

With Axel coming into his life and the extra year of preparation, both of Trials and for the transition to post-swimming life, the anxiety of trying to qualify for the Games has been reduced. And Miller is in better shape, mentally and physically, because of it.

“That’s given me a sense of peace,” he said.

Approaching Omaha

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Cody Miller in 2015. Photo Courtesy: Peter H. Bick

For all that has changed, Cody Miller will still be locked in next week at Omaha, chasing that Olympic bid.

“I’m 29 years old now and we have made a lot of changes and put more emphasis on certain things and I give (coach) Ray (Looze) a lot of credit because he has had to adapt and evolve and keep things fresh,” he said. “In swimming, you kind of learn how to protect yourself because you do so much repetition and a lot of it is the same. You learn where to push through things and you have to find new ways to hurt yourself and break through barriers.”

Like the rest of the world, Miller was forced to adapt to the challenges thrown at him by the COVID-19 pandemic. During the extra year, Miller trained in an endless pool in his backyard, finding a new appreciation for the sport when it was taken away from him.

“I know I got better,” Miller said of his swimming during the pandemic. “If there is one silver lining to COVID, hopefully people won’t take things for granted as much anymore and hopefully people will have a greater sense of appreciation for the things we are able to do on a daily basis and I got a big dose of that with swimming. I was able to just let go and accept that things were going to work themselves out.”

Even with the changes after Rio and the five years since, Miller is still very much in the thick of the hunt in both the 100 and 200 breaststroke. This year alone, he is ranked fourth in the United States in the 100 breaststroke and fifth in the 200.

In the 2016 Trials, he finished second in the 100 on night two, but admits he was unable to come down from that high to fully focus on the 200 final come three nights later, where he finished fifth.

“I don’t think that’s a lack of coaching or premeditation,” Miller said of the 200 in 2016. “I think that’s just an experience thing and I hadn’t gone through that.

“I have been doing way more 200 pace stuff and a lot more conditioning and I am in better aerobic condition and physical shape than I have been in in years which I am psyched about.”

Miller’s best time in the 200 came at the 2019 TYR Pro Swim Series in his home pool in Bloomington: 2:08.98, a time he expects to blow out of the water come Trials.

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Cody Miller at the US Open in November, just days before his son was born. Photo Courtesy: Peter H. Bick

“It’s something I’m really psyched about,” he said. “That’s not even a question. Now it is like ‘how fast can I go?'”

So many men in breaststroke have thrown down fast times this year – with the Europeans closing the gap on Adam Peaty in the 100, and Shoma Sato rattling Anton Chupkov’s world record in the 200. Even though breaststroke is faster than it ever has been, that doesn’t faze Miller. His main focus is on getting the job done at Trials, and then shifting his mind to Tokyo.

“I am at the point where I’m like ‘how much better can I get? How much faster can I go?,'” he said. “I had the same mindset in 2016, I was really only focused on myself. I was so driven to make the Olympics I never once thought about medaling at the Games. I never even thought about it until after I qualified. I only ever thought about it making the team and then once I made the team, it was like how good can I be? And that’s always been my mindset and it is kind of the same thing now.”

With Trials getting closer and closer, Cody Miller has stayed positive by keeping those closest to him in his corner, crediting his friends and training partners at Indiana for having big goals that help drive him to be the best he can be. With the work during the pandemic in and out of the water, he is confident he has a big swim in him come Omaha.

“I’m not naive to the fact that American breaststroke is a big toss up – there’s four or five guys that are in the hunt to make the team,” Miller said. “But you could have said the same thing in 2016. It’s the same way. You have some people popping off and swimming really fast right now and that is going to happen. It’s the same with any event – when the chips are down and the lights are on and people are on the blocks, let’s shake these dice up. It’s kind of exciting!”