Hali Flickinger Embracing New Outlook Entering Olympic Trials as Favorite in 200 Fly

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Photo Courtesy: Peter H. Bick

In 2016, Hali Flickinger had a breakout swim at the right time to make the Olympic team in the 200 fly. Five years later, she enters the 2021 Olympic trials as the favorite, a completely different situation, especially mentally.

But Flickinger has changed her entire mental approach to every aspect of the sport since moving to Arizona to train with Bob Bowman.

That started after the last meet that Flickinger was the favorite — the 2019 World Championships. In that meet Flickinger crushed her prelims swim to take the top seed, but was slower in the final and got the silver medal behind Boglarka Kapas.

Flickinger said she has had a tendency to overthink things, and she has been focused on strategies to keep her mind focused — or rather unfocused.

“If I have a laser focus, I tend to over think it. I think I started to notice it before worlds, but worlds was definitely the eye opener, knowing I can’t just focus on one thing. You saw what happened in the final,” Hali Flickinger told Swimming World. “I have learned so much since worlds and Bob has really helped me a lot with that to learn that it is the past. We are moving forward and everything from there is a lesson.”

Flickinger said the biggest thing was figuring out what the issue was. Now she and Bowman can attack it.

“I am not anywhere close to where I want to be when it comes to thinking like that, but I realize it and understand it. Recognizing it is the biggest thing for me — but I still have a long way to go,” she said.

All smiles

No matter what kind of pressure Flickinger has felt in the past, she has always been all smiles on the pool deck. Even in times of extreme disappointment, she would find something to smile about quickly.

But it isn’t a defense mechanism, it is part of Flickinger’s mindset of finding the good in all moments.

It is not an easy thing to do, but Flickinger has made it an art form.

“I think it really helps me,” she said. “ I wouldn’t say it is a shield because when I am smiling, something legitimately made me smile. When I need or want to cry, I will. I am always trying to find the positive.”

Even after getting her heart broken in the 2019 World Championship final.

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Flickinger and Drabot. Photo Courtesy: Becca Wyant

“There is a picture of me beaming out of the water after I was so disappointed at worlds. I had a moment with Katie Drabot and she made me happy in that moment. I always try to find a positive.”

Flickinger has learned that positive thoughts can be pivotal.

“If I stay in that sad, negative place, I start to go down a rabbit hole. I always try to be around somebody or seeing something that helps me. I can’t stay i that negative place because there is so much out there that makes me happy,” she said. “It is just about trying to think in a more positive way. It is not easy by any means, but the more you practice thinking that way, the easier it gets.”

More on Flickinger’s physical transformation

Arizona heat

While Hali Flickinger continued to train at a high level, she needed a change of scenery to help with her mentality shift.

After having so much success with Jack Bauerle in Georgia, it was a bit of a risk moving to Arizona to train with Bowman

simply because things were working well enough that Flickinger was a gold-medal contender at worlds.

But in order to reach her goals, she felt she needed that scenery switch.

“It took me all the way until quarantine to be able to look forward. It took me moving out here and forcing myself to understand it and learn from it. Our failures are when you learn the most and I definitely learned so much,” she said.

Meanwhile, Bowman has learned a lot about Flickinger, allowing him to push her in different ways.

“I think it was easy but hard at the same time. I trusted Bob the second I walked into his office. The hardest part for me was to let goal of the control I had. He challenges me in that way. I am learning I need to listen rather than swim the way I want to swim,” she said. “The hardest thing was handing over some control to him, but it has been really good for me to have that.

It pushes me way beyond anything I wanted to do, or what I am scared to do.”

Having a new voice and new mantra makes it a simpler set of circumstances. Flickinger simply tries to do what Bowman directs — no more and no less — and think about just that specific direction.

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Photo Courtesy: Peter H. Bick

“Each meet, my goal is to listen to Bob and swim the race the way he tells me to. It can be anything from splits or techniques. My goal is to swim as best as I can the race Bob has prepared me to swim. That has really been helping me. That way I am not overthinking or hearing outside noise. I am thinking about doing what my coach told me to do and focused on that,” she said. “This will be my first big taper with Bob so I am excited about that.”

On to Omaha

While Hali Flickinger is the favorite in the 200 butterfly, she has a lot more going on in Omaha.

She qualified for the trials in nine events, more than any other swimmer, and will have a chance to make the team in a couple of those events.

She will swim the 400 IM, 200 free, 200 back and 200 fly — but the 200 fly is still her best shot.

“It definitely does add a bit of pressure, but it has made me know that I need to make sure I am working harder because anything can happen. No matter what seed I am, I have been training to give myself the best chance do to what I need to do,” she said. “You have to work.”

Being versatile helps with focusing on a variety of things instead of one thing.

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Photo Courtesy: Peter H. Bick

“I like it. It allows me to not put pressure on any certain event. I don’t worry about making sure I am doing enough of this or that in training. I like showing up to the pool knowing whatever work I put in will show up.”

Her performance in 2016 was huge at the time, but also five years later, where she can rely on that experience to help get her through the long and grueling meet.

“Definitely the experience of being in the final helps. That feeling and being able to hopefully handle the pressure of knowing what is at stake in that swim. Experience is the biggest thing I gained. I know what is coming and what to expect,” Hali Flickinger said. “I have prepared as best as I can to give me the best chances. That is all I can do. Bob knows my goals and I trust he has done everything possible to get us there.

“It is about swimming the race the way I prepared. That should allow everything to fall into place.”

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