Journey to Olympic Trials: What a Difference a Day Makes

Commentary by Jeff Commings, SwimmingWorld.TV associate producer

PHOENIX, Arizona, December 12. TWENTY-FOUR hours ago, I swam the worst 100 breaststroke race of my life. It left me upset, confused, depressed and searching for answers.

I'm very ashamed to even type the time here. 1:03.02 (short course meters). Ugh. It even stings to see that time on my computer monitor, knowing it's associated with me. As I mentioned on my blog, I know many Masters swimmers would be ecstatic to see that time for a freestyle event, but you must forgive me when I say that doesn't make me feel better.
After the race, I couldn't look at anyone. I felt so embarrassed by the swim, I didn't want anyone beyond the 100 or so who were in the complex at the time to know about it. But in the 21st century, everyone eventually knows everything, and I was compelled to write about it on my blog.

Hours later, I started wondering if I should give up on the Olympic Trials. If I was swimming this bad now, I didn't want to really embarrass myself in front of thousands in Omaha.

Everyone has those thoughts pass through them after bad swims. It's the nature of the sport, since everyone has a bad swim now and then. I hadn't had a swim that bad in many years, and it was only natural to doubt things. As I was warming down, the questions started flooding my head. There had to be a good explanation for the bad swim, especially since I had swum so well in the 100 back, 100 IM and 200 IM this weekend. In those events, I nearly surpassed my best Masters times, all of which were done more than three years ago.

It wasn't until late last night that the pieces of the puzzle started coming together. During one of many emotional discussions with my partner, we figured that the issue wasn't my training, my diet, the weather or funky planetary alignments. To paraphrase Occam's Razor: All things being equal, something must be wrong with my breaststroke. Since I qualified for Trials, more than a few people have offered up tweaks to my stroke in order to be faster. Those who have followed my blog since the beginning will know those names well. I took all the advice to heart, and plowed ahead in my training. Some of these people have reached the pinnacle of this sport, either in the pool or on deck. I was not going to question them, even when my in-season times weren't as fast as they should have been.

Does this sound familiar? It should, if you've read my autobiography. I am following the same path I took in college, when I took the advice of my highly-accomplished coach, only to find that the stroke change was not effective. The only difference between then and now is I am aware that the changes aren't working, and that I should return to the stroke that has worked for me. Back then, I trusted that the change would eventually make me faster. It didn't.

I'm confident that all the other new things I've embraced in the past few months are working, especially my dryland training with J.R. Rosania.

The slow swims still sting today, but not as much as they did yesterday. Twenty-four hours ago, I couldn't find my way out of that haystack of emotions. Today, I have a little better sense of optimism. I'm getting back in the pool on Thursday, and almost immediately I'm going to deconstruct my breaststroke and re-assemble it. I know the strengths and weaknesses of my stroke, and I think it's best to make my strengths stronger (through dryland and time in the pool) in order to hide most of my weaknesses. I'm going to be extra vigilant about any changes to my stroke in the next 196 days, but not so much that I lose the enjoyment of this journey.

I hope to have things back in working order before mid-January, when I compete at the Austin Grand Prix. If you see me on deck and want to give me stroke pointers, feel free to do so.

Just don't be hurt if I decide not to take your advice.

Jeff Commings is still going to compete at the U.S. Olympic Trials, where he will be the third-oldest male in history to compete, and the oldest male in the 100 breaststroke. He is the author of "Odd Man Out: An Autobiography" and a Masters world record holder.