Inside the Five-Day Wait for Brooke Forde, Now Finally an Olympian

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Photo Courtesy: Peter H. Bick

Inside the Five-Day Wait for Brooke Forde, Now Finally an Olympian

Brooke Forde touched the wall sixth in the 200 freestyle at last week’s United States Olympic Trials, but was immediately unsure how to react.

Five days later, she finally could react to becoming an Olympian.

FIVE DAYS.

The fifth- and sixth-place finishers in the 100 and 200 freestyles have typically been added to the Team USA roster as relay alternates, likely to swim in the prelims at the Olympics. But with new events added to the lineup, there were more swimmers who could expand the roster to 26 women, pushing the relay alternates out.

Forde touched the wall and knew there was a possibility, but she had to wait to see how many swimmers would double up on events, which wouldn’t add new people to the roster.

Her race was Wednesday and she waited … and waited … and waited.

As the last person waiting to see if she would make the team, Forde had to wait an entire five days for the last women’s event to have a double up, ensuring she was on the roster.

“We were a stressed bunch,” Forde told Swimming World. “I had never even paid attention to the selection process that much. It was confusing.The day before my final, someone had told me in the warmup pool that they wouldn’t take the sixth person in relays because of the new events. So between sessions, I was researching on my own about what the process was. So I felt like I needed to be top five to make the team.”

Then Forde finished sixth.

“So when I touched in sixth, my immediate reaction was disappointment. Katie (Ledecky) came over and hugged me in the pool. Everyone was hugging me telling me I was an Olympian, but I didn’t feel that way. I felt like a third place (in an individual event). I was very guarded and didn’t want to get my hopes up,” Forde said.

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Brooke Forde and Katie Ledecky. Photo Courtesy: Peter H. Bick

But there certainly was a chance — it just wasn’t a sure thing as in past years.

“My dad, being my dad, did the math and showed me there was a chance. Then I slowly started to wrap my head around the chance of making it,” she said. “That was the excruciating part. Each day I had moments that I thought I was going and times where I thought I wasn’t.

We all thought going into Saturday night that it would be confirmed then, and I was really excited.”

But it wasn’t.

World record holder Regan Smith looked to be a sure repeat team member in the 200 backstroke, but she was upset in the race.

“I was barely sleeping at all and ready for it to be over,” Forde said. “There was the big upset in the 200 back and only a couple doubles that night. That was the first time I really freaked out. I was pretty calm and composed until that night. I was finally feeling the stress of the whole meet.

“I thought there was a realistic chance someone would double in the 50 free, but anything can happen in that race. I had to sit around all day. It ended up the perfect scenario with Simone (Manuel) making it and Abbey (Weitzeil) getting the double.”

Forde couldn’t even watch the race she was so stressed out.

“I actually didn’t watch the 50 free. I literally looked away until they touched. I was sitting with our whole team and we were so happy for Simone, and everyone realized that Abbey doubling, got me in too. So it was a huge double celebration.”

Then five days later, she got to be celebrated as an Olympian on the deck in Omaha.

“Maybe not even until after the medal did I really realize it,” she said. “It was nice going on the elevator with the other relay qualifiers. We finally felt like we made it. It is definitely still sinking in.”

U.S. coach Greg Meehan, who also is Forde’s coach at Stanford, made sure Forde was ready, but it was stressful as the wait took a toll on her.

“We just had fewer doubles than we have had historically. So knowing that we may butt up against that 26 number, (we were) patiently watching things unfold and hoping for the best, obviously to pick up everybody. Having someone like Brooke on the team I think makes Team USA better. So we’re grateful for that and excited for her,” Meehan said. “I had her keep training. If she gets picked up, I don’t want her having five days off. She came in, she was super diligent. We had conversations. I would fill her in, I wouldn’t get too much into the weeds, but OK these are things that need to happen, and each day she knew she was getting closer, but there was still a lot of uncertainty. The training piece was the most important so we are not going home having not done anything for the past five days.”

THE RACE

Lost in the mix of the extreme waiting game was the fact that Forde had the best 200 freestyle of her career.

After a disappointing finish in the 400 IM, Forde bounced back to put together her biggest race at the biggest time. She touched the wall in 1:57.61 and will be joined on the relay by Ledecky, Allison Schmitt, Paige Madden, Katie McLaughlin and Bella Sims, who got the other alternate spot.

“I was super happy with it. It was a best time, which is hard to come by, especially at Olympic Trials. I thought I swam it really well. I took it out fast, which is rare for me,” Forde said. “There was no question in my mind that I went for it, and I don’t think I could have put together a better race. I got better from prelims to semis and semis to finals, and I am proud of that.”

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Brooke Forde. Photo Courtesy: Peter H. Bick

Part of the success stemmed from the fact that Forde is less stressed swimming the 200 free. The expectations are different, after Forde won the NCAA title in the 400 IM, and her toughest race was over.

“I was excited because the 200 free is more fun than the 400 IM. I felt good and was more relaxed and confident for it. It was a combination. I have been really struggling with the 400 IM all year, both mentally and physically. I think the pressure leading up to trials affected it and the race really got into my head. I was at a point where I wasn’t excited to race it at all,” she said. “All spring, my freestyle training has been better and I have had more fun doing it.

“I actually went into it thinking I would have a better race in the 200 free than the 400 IM, not necessarily. that I would have had a better shot. I was more relaxed because the 400 IM was done. I was able to tell myself that my hardest race was over.

Plus there were definitely less expectations and I felt like I had nothing to lose.”

Now, she heads to Tokyo with nothing to lose, though she would like to have the best relay swim of her career on the Olympic stage.

“I think that I still have room to get faster in that event. I barely swam it all year because it was always the same day as the 400 IM in the Pro Series meets,” Brooke Forde said. “So I think there is a lot of opportunity in the race itself to tweak some of the race details and get better in that way, which is great because there isn’t that much time between now and the Olympics.

“I am looking forward to training with the other 200 freestylers on the team and being on the relay. Relays are the most fun thing to do.”

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