Hali Flickinger Checks Career Goal By Making Team USA Relay, But ‘There is So Much More in There’

Photo Courtesy: Peter H. Bick

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Hali Flickinger Checks Career Goal By Making Team USA Relay

Hali Flickinger made a stunning change to her lineup last year, adding a grueling race like the 400 IM in her mid-20s. It worked as she made the Olympic team in the event, along with her signature 200 butterfly, and earned the bronze medal in both events in Tokyo.

With two Olympics down, heading into the recent USA Swimming International Team Trials, Flickinger had just two goals — the same two goals that she was aiming for by the time her career ended.

One down, still one to go.

The one down is making Team USA in a relay.

For someone who qualified for the Olympic Trials in nearly every event, Flickinger specializes in two events that don’t cater to relay spots. Very few 200 butterflyers and 400 IMers ever make international relays. Up until recently, her best events after those two might have been the 200 backstroke and 400 freestyle, events still not opening up any relay spots to her.

But Flickinger has quietly become one of the top 200 freestylers in the U.S. and finished fourth in 1:57.53, joining Katie Ledecky, Claire Weinstein and Leah Smith as the 800 free relay automatic qualifiers.

“It has been a goal of mine for the longest time to make a relay. To finally be able to do it, I am elated. I am so excited,” Flickinger told Swimming World. “I got to swim a prelim race one time in a relay, but to actually qualify for it is incredible. I have watched relays for so many years. It always seemed so amazing and such an honor. I am so excited to be able to have that opportunity.”

It was something Flickinger wasn’t sure if she would ever get. Usually relay spots are for sprint freestylers as well as stroke swimmers who specialize in the 100. Flickinger is neither, but found the right spot at the right time.

“I’d be lying if I said it wasn’t an honor that we all look at. I have definitely been envious of those who get to step up on the blocks and the podium with your teammates. I have had it in the back of my mind that it might not happen or happen very often,” she said.

Flickinger said the 200 freestyle is still a work-in-progress.

“I have been 1:57 mid four years ago, so I wasn’t necessarily happy with the time, but it shows that I am much more capable of doing more than I have in that race,” she said. “It is a strategy that I haven’t quite figured out. Once I do, it could be a really big race for me. I have always been really good in practice in freestyle, and that shows in my 400 IM. I have the capability, and Bob (Bowman) has said it since I got to ASU. We were eyeing this relay for a very long time. I am lucky that the time I posted got me in. We are moving in the right direction. I have a lot to learn in that event.”

Flickinger performed well in her other events, too. She won the 200 butterfly in 2:06.35 near her set at the Olympic Trials last year, but also two seconds ahead of the field, to qualify for worlds.

She took third in the 400 IM (4:39.50) and fifth in the 400 free (4:07.97).

But it still wasn’t the performance she was looking for, which brings us to her second goal — having a breakthough in the 200 fly.

“It was fine. I have built this 2:06 consistently. I hope that there is a breakthrough in my future. At this point, 2:06 is my mental memory at this point. I am very happy that I have the chance to swim it at world championships, but I wasn’t happy with the time. I haven’t had that breakout yet. I just hope one day I am able to see it,” Flickinger said. “It has been a while since that has been a goal. I would just like to have one swim in that race before end of my career where I feel like that was what I was training for.”

It is an interesting position to be in, one that happens to elite athletes who reach a plateau. Some athletes find a way to continue, which is what Flickinger is looking to do.

“I am so grateful and so happy to have medaled at the Olympics. But anyone who knows me, knows I want more. I am very proud of them but I am in no way satisfied. I am more happy with the 400 IM because I don’t think anyone thought I would have medaled in that one. That one is a little more special to me. It was very out of left field for everyone,” she said.

That is why she puts in the extreme amount of work to get there. The smallest drop in time can take the most amount of work in a career.

“The one thing I am so confident in is how hard I work. I know the times I have posted in my career do not match how I train. We are all a little frustrated with that, but it shows how hard I have trained to do that at 27 years old. My body does not function the same way it did when I was a teen or early 20s. It is not easy when you are my age,” Flickinger said. “It is the fact that I have not gone times that I know I am capable of. That hope that it will one day come through, gives me motivation every single day. I want it for myself. I want it for my coaches and teammate who see it every single day and believe in me.

“There is so much more in there. I hope that am able to see it.”

It could happen this summer, with the whole world to see it.

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1 month ago

The times you listed in her other events were her prelim times, not finals.

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