Handling ‘Pressure, Stress’ of Wait, Alex Walsh Reaps Olympic Reward

Alex Walsh
Photo Courtesy: Peter H. Bick

Handling ‘Pressure, Stress’ of Wait, Alex Walsh Reaps Olympic Reward

Alex Walsh knew that in plotting her meet program at U.S. Olympic Trials, saving her legs meant testing her nerves.

Walsh, who finished fourth in the 400 individual medley at the 2023 World Championships, decided to pass up on the event in Indianapolis. She would have a chance to make the team in the 100 breaststroke, though the path would be narrowed by the presence of the last two Olympic gold medalists. Ditto the 200 breast, with the fine form of Lilly King and Kate Douglass.

Walsh’s best shot, she and coach Todd DeSorbo would’ve known, was in the 200 IM. Walsh also knew it would take until Day 8 and Session 16 to have that chance, until untold fellow Virginia swimmers and her own sister had booked their places, until the cruel twist in the plot – what if, after three years of talking about Alex making it to Tokyo without Gretchen Walsh, Gretchen then went to Paris without Alex – at least crept into the mind at a dark moment.

Saturday was a testament not just to Walsh’s faith, but to her mental fortitude.

Walsh went out and executed the way she wanted in her biggest swim, finally getting a spot on the plane with one day to spare by finishing second in the 200 IM.

Walsh always knew that, all else being equal, if she did what she can in the 200 IM, it would lead to Paris. But after eight days of ups and downs, it was a matter of performing if all else was equal.

Walsh did that. Douglass set the U.S. Open record in 2:06.79, Walsh detaching from the field and swimming away with her training mate in 2:07.86, two drama-free seconds ahead of the nearest chaser.

“I don’t really know the exact number, but a lot of my teammates have made it,” Walsh said. “And so I was definitely feeling the pressure, the stress that comes with racing at the end of a very long meet like this, and seeing all my teammates succeed and make the Paris Games. So more than anything, I was honestly just really relieved. I knew that I could do it. I knew that if I had done the 2-IM that I had always done, then I would make the team so I’m really happy to have booked my ticket.”

Alex Walsh; Photo Courtesy: Peter H. Bick

Relief was one of the first words that Gretchen drew upon, too, watching Alex’s swim after a best time in the 50 free, a full week after her world record in the 100 fly kicked off her meet in such stellar fashion.

“I think it was hard for her,” Gretchen said. “I know that she was feeling really impatient. After the very first night, things were already starting. My meet was well begun and I’ve made it now in two events and this was her first one, and it’s hard that the 2IM is so late in the meet. But we were talking before this session, and I think she’s excited.”

Alex Walsh did not swim poorly at any point. In the 100 breast on Monday, she finished sixth in 1:07.38, watching the second spot go to UVA teammate Emma Weber in the least likely to Walsh’s three qualification bids. In Thursday’s 200 breast final, she blasted a best time of 2:22.38. Only problem was that it fell behind Douglass’ meet record and King.

Equally, there was no guarantee of space between Katie Grimes and Emma Weyant in the 400 IM, even if Walsh’s 4:34.46 at Worlds last summer was quicker than Grimes’ winning 4:35.00.

But Walsh went in with a plan – that the 400 IM, slot that it is, dulled the edges of her 200 IM, which she wanted to focus on. And she went in grasping the consequences that plan might bring.

“Earlier at trials, there was some points where I regretted not doing the 4-IM because I thought to myself, ‘Man, if I just trained this all year, maybe I would have made the team’ … and I wouldn’t be feeling this anxious without making the team,” Walsh said. “But after our swims tonight, I feel really good going to Paris just in the 2-IM. I think I’m going to be able to set myself to have a good swim, and I don’t really like to live in the past. So I’m confident with my decision.”

And so, it’s gratification merely delayed, neither denied nor diminished. Both Walsh sisters are going to Paris, an Olympic dream they’ve shared for going on two decades.

On Day 1 or Day 8, that realization hit them with the same zeal Saturday.

“It means everything,” Gretchen said. “I’m so happy. It’s such a relief. I knew that she was going to do it, we all knew, my family. But just having it in the books now that me and Alex are going to Paris together, it’s a dream come true for both of us.”

“Going with Gretchen is just a dream come true,” Alex said. “I had so much confidence in her that she was going to be able to make the team. So when she did that the second night, I knew that I just had to uphold my part of the goal. And obviously waiting several days is not ideal for that. But I’m really happy.

“I think more than anything, I’m just really happy to have this whole experience with her because it is once in a lifetime. And being a part of a sibling duo is something that I never take for granted.”

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Ginny Johnston
Ginny Johnston
29 days ago

Congratulations to Alex. She is fabulous. I so wish she would do the 400IM. she won at NCAAs and would dominate long course in USA. I even think she could be there with Summer McIntosh. Alex has four great strokes. Wishing her the best in Paris.

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