How to Make Your Olympic Trial Goal a Reality

Photo Courtesy: Peter H. Bick

By Will Manion, Swimming World College Intern

As we move into July, the thought of Olympic Trials being only a year away fascinates the minds of coaches and swimmers around the country. During my run up to trials in 2012, I recall several strategies my coach and I implemented in order for me to attain my goals. Having a physical and mental game plan constructed for the road ahead will provide you the best opportunity for punching your ticket to Olympic Trials.

1. Talk to your coach.

Start with a goal meeting and ensure your coach is fully aware of your goal. Go as far as detailing the type of practice environment you require in order to work towards a Trials qualification.  I always appreciated my coach reminding me of the Trials cut during tough practices in the fall of 2011. This allowed me to stay motivated and maintain focus mid-set. I know athletes who would not appreciate this type of bombardment while fatigued, so having that discussion about what would best motivate you during practice will be the best way to ensure you and your coach both board a flight to Omaha!

2. Find opportunities in the big pool.

Long course racing can be somewhat scarce, but it’s necessary because 25-yard results do not matter on the international level. Fortunately, the opportunity to race long course during an Olympic year suddenly opens up. The Arena Pro Swim Series will feature an array of meets in long course. Also, USA Winter Nationals will be held in a long course pool this December. Racing at bigger meets will allow you to pace with those who have already achieved the cut. There will also be a multitude of last chance meets held around the country as 2016 Olympic Trials nears.

3. Start early.

The best thing you can do for yourself is qualify sooner than later. As with every Olympic year, you will hear the horror stories about families who booked flights and hotel stays in Omaha only for their swimmer to have missed the cut at his or her long course taper meet. 2011 and 2012 were painstakingly challenging for me as I came within half a second of my cut in the 100 backstroke almost 10 times. It’s frustrating, but the experience you take away from each race will benefit you in the next one. Putting all your eggs in one basket and trying to qualify at the last chance taper meet puts a lot of pressure on you, your coaches, and your family.

4. Refuse defeat.

One of the hardest things I’ve had to deal with in the sport of swimming came at the Columbus Grand Prix in 2012. It was the day before my 100 backstroke and I got in for warmup feeling perfect. My club coach and I talked and decided to make a run at the cut in a time trial that day. I achieved the cut by the skin of my teeth, but my excitement was short-lived as I was disqualified for the smallest of flinches on the start.

I came in the next day, the official competition day of the 100 backstroke, and narrowly missed the cut at both prelims and finals. This sport can be unforgiving and it is imperative that we keep moving forward even when results do not go our way. Fortunately, I had plenty of time following the Columbus Grand Prix to shave and rest for another shot to qualify.


5. Focus on your best event.

There is going to be some give and take with qualifying for Trials and your other events may suffer a little. If making Olympic Trials is your top priority this year, consider keeping your training specific to that race. I certainly neglected some of my other strokes and events as I knew my best shot at Trials was in the 100 back. And my short course yards events took quite a hit, as I was not able to taper and race in short course yards in spring of 2012.

My senior year High School State Championship Meet was impacted by my quest to reach Olympic Trials as I was not able to shave and taper, or even rest, for that meet. I was focused on an upcoming long course qualification opportunity. Having only one event to race at Trials also allows you to better focus on what you need to do to stay fresh and maximize your results in that event at Trials.

6. What’s important to you?

Swimmers are very familiar with sacrificing their time to sharpen their skills in the sport. Senior year of high school wasn’t always ideal because I wasn’t able to always go out with friends. After school was time for swim practice. Before school was cross training or lifting at 5 a.m. An early bedtime was essential and extra activities were certainly limited. If your goal is to make the Olympic Trials, you are going to have to make some sacrifices.

7. What your coach needs to do.

Keeping your swimmer focused on their goal is important, but there is a fine line. X-Cel Swimming Team Coach Bobby DeSandre offers this advice:

“The goal as a coach is to keep the athlete motivated towards his or her goal of achieving the cut. However, every athlete runs the risk of burning out. Incorporating alternate training such as strength training helped lower the risk of burning out. The dedication to the sport and achieving a cut for the Olympic Trials can be grueling and frustrating for both the athlete and the coach. As a coach, I always encourage the athletes to prioritize, but not to sacrifice the most important things in his or her life. I found that the athlete who was able to separate those priorities and enjoy being both an athlete and a young adult came to practice hungrier each and every day.”

Approach every practice ready to work and know that the sky is the limit.  Keep yourself accountable because the worst thing an athlete can realize following a race is that the race didn’t go his or her way because of lack of preparation.

Best of luck to those with their sights on the 2016 Olympic Trials.