Erik Vendt: One Of Swimming’s Most Unheralded Stars

Photo Courtesy: Peter H. Bick

By Alec Scott, Swimming World College Intern

Erik Vendt is one of the most underrated stars in the history of swimming. Known for his cool demeanor and relentless work ethic, Vendt dominated distance freestlye and the 400 individual medley in the United States during the late 90s and early 2000s.

Vendt burst onto the scene at the 2000 Olympic trials where he broke George DiCarlo’s 16-year-old American record in the 1500 freestyle and became the first American to break the 15 minute barrier with a 14:59.11. Vendt also finished a close second to the great Tom Dolan at those Olympic trials in the 400 IM. He would go on to win Silver in the 400 IM at the Sydney Olympics and remained a fixture in the event on the international stage through 2004 where he repeated as silver medalist in the Athens Olympics behind Michael Phelps.

Between his first two Olympics, Vendt had an outstanding NCAA career competing for the University of Southern California. During his time at USC, Vendt was a 13-time All-American, a five time individual NCAA Champion, and as a junior he was the 2002 NCAA swimmer of the year.

Swimming legends like Dolan, Phelps and Ryan Lochte are what stood in the way of Vendt dominating the 400 IM on the international stage. No race displays this better than the 400 IM at the 2002 U.S. National Championships, where both Phelps and Vendt swam under Dolan’s world record with Phelps edging Vendt for the win. Longtime swimming announcer Sam Kendricks described it as “one of the best races I’ve ever seen,” and added, “Erik Vendt knew how to back half a 400 IM.”

After a brief retirement, Vendt went on to train with Phelps under Bob Bowman in Ann Arbor, Michigan leading up to the 2008 Olympic trials. In his 2009 book “No Limits,” Phelps shed some light on the kind of training partner and competitor Vendt was leading up to Beijing.

“If I was willing to work hard in practice, Erik had perhaps an even greater appetite for it,” Phelps said. “If, on a scale of one to 10, I was now turning in consistent eights at practice, very few sinking to a two, rising every now and then to a 10, Erik was maybe a nine each and every day. I had, and still have, never seen anyone work out so hard and be so competitive, both in workouts and in the racing itself.”

Photo Courtesy: Peter H. Bick

Photo Courtesy: Peter H. Bick

Vendt’s legendary training habits date back to his high school days in Dorchester, Massachusetts. It is rumored that he once swam 30x1000s on 10:00 at a Saturday morning practice. He brought this work ethic with him everywhere he trained whether it was at USC under Mark Schubert or with Phelps and Bowman in Ann Arbor.

Vendt was able to qualify for his third Olympic team in 2008 and won his first Olympic gold as part of the preliminary 800 freestyle relay. Vendt retired after winning gold in Beijing, a fitting end to a career that never quite got the appreciation it deserved.

All commentaries are the opinion of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Swimming World Magazine nor its staff


  1. Wawa Elbos

    Badreddine Loulidi c un animal

  2. avatar

    I heard about that 30,000 yd workout. I also heard (although that it may not be true) that when he finisheed he fell asleep before getting out of the pool.

  3. avatar
    Mark Schubert

    1000 on 10:00
    1000 on 9:50
    1000 on 9:40
    1000 on 9:30
    1000 on 9:20
    1000 on 9:10 went 9:05
    1000 on 9:00 went 9:08 and was REALLY pissed off.
    Just another day at the office for Eric Vendt.

    • avatar
      Alec Scott

      Amazing! Thanks for sharing coach!

  4. Marc Carman

    Joshua Wroblewski 30 x 1000 @ 10:00. Go.

  5. avatar
    David Rieder

    He was definitely a fun one to watch. Hard to forget his impressive ’08 season when, even though he didn’t make the Olympic team in the 1500, he got a relay gold medal out of it.

    Most elite-level male swimmers are 6’2″ minimum. Vendt is 5’10. Not the most physically talented but a guy who put in the work — hence Coach Schubert’s fun set of 1000s!

  6. avatar

    You have to really love swimming to train that hard. Liking swimming and loving swimming are two different things.

    He set American records and won Olympic medals and made 3 Olympic teams.

    I think that pretty “heralded.”

    • avatar
      Alec Scott

      I agree! He had a brilliant career.

      My only point is that some of the greatest of all time stood in the way of him winning multiple individual golds. When Dolan at his peak and Phelps coming into his prime are the only men to beat you I think that’s pretty significant!

  7. avatar

    One of the memorable ones in ’07 in Ann Arbor
    Kick (and only kicking) w board SCY
    30 x 100s
    10 @ 1:20
    10 @ 1:15
    10 @ 1:10

    Phelps, Vendt, and I did above intervals, all sub 1:10. Learned a lot from those two guys that day!

  8. avatar

    Erik was great and a fun guy and a good dude. He was also part of the goofiest (also talented) team in club swimming.