After Third Straight Trials Heartbreak, Will Licon Proud of Ability to ‘Keep Fighting’

Will Licon -- Photo Courtesy: Peter H. Bick

After Third Straight Trials Heartbreak, Will Licon Proud of Ability to ‘Keep Fighting’

No one has experienced the bitter downside of Olympic Trials like Will Licon. The 29-year-old has been in the 200 breaststroke final at three consecutive Trials, only to come up painfully short on each occasion: 14-hundredths behind Kevin Cordes in 2016, 18-hundredths behind Andrew Wilson in 2021 and then 52-hundredths behind Josh Matheny this week in Indianapolis. Two third-place finishes and now a fourth, his margin of missing three Olympic teams less than a second combined.

Licon’s most recent close call was perhaps the most unexpected, as he had not broken 2:10 all year and barely snuck into the final as the eighth qualifier, beating ninth-place swimmer Jordan Willis by just 12-hundredths in the semifinals. But Licon turned in an inspired effort in the finals atmosphere at Lucas Oil Stadium, moving up from seventh at the final turn with a 33.86 final 50 that was the quickest in the field aside from winner and American-record breaker Matt Fallon, but it was not enough.

The final time was 2:09.38, Licon’s fastest in almost two years. The veteran breaststroker appreciated his fine performance but still felt the ache.

Will Licon — Photo Courtesy: Peter H. Bick

“It’s been a bit. Gone through some struggles lately just with putting it all together in a race. Not sure why,” Licon said. “Ultimately, that what makes making the Olympic team so special is that you have to go through three rounds of the best this country has to offer. Obviously Josh and Matt are beyond deserving. I’m just glad I put together a better swim than the semifinals.”

Licon has been a key figure on the national level for almost a decade, having won his first NCAA titles (in the 400-yard IM and 200-yard breast) in 2015. He was one of the key pieces on three consecutive NCAA-title-winning teams for the University of Texas and has remained part of the Longhorn men’s group under legendary head coach Eddie Reese and associate head coach Wyatt Collins.

He has seen plenty of stars come through Austin, and the latest is Carson Foster, the IM specialist who had a similarly-crushing result at the Olympic Trials three years ago, fading to third down the stretch of the 200 IM. But Foster has overcome and become one of the world’s best IMers, culminating with a win in the 400 IM on the second day of the meet with the world’s fastest time for 2024. Over the past four years, Licon has developed a tight bond with Foster, and he took pride as Foster made it to Paris.

“It’s something sick to see,” Licon said. “I fully have faith that he can be the best in the world at what he does, and I know he does, too. He’s the ultimate competitor, and obviously I know the heartbreak he felt last go-round. Every time he’s stepped foot in the pool since then, it’s been really cool to see him overcome that.”

A swimmer who comes to these high-level meets year after year for a decade develops a reputation, and Licon is one of the most well-liked individuals on pool deck, with plenty of fans among swimmers, coaches and officials working the meet. But Licon stresses that his affable exterior does not mean his close calls hurt any less.

“It’s not easy,” Licon said. “I think I naturally give off a friendlier, easier-going guy, but I can tell you for a fact that it is not as easy as it looks on my face most of the time. I’m surrounded by a great group of guys and I’ve been fortunate enough to be with Eddie for a decade now. You learn a lot along the way. You have goals, and you chase them. There has been a ton of naysayers along the way, but I still believe and feel I can be here and compete with the best. The day I step on the blocks and don’t think I can win a race is when I will stop.”

Licon personifies perseverance, having maintained the course despite his misses, and he considers that a valuable life lesson. That’s why he swam the 200 IM prelims the day after his 200 breast final, wanting to be part of a large field of Longhorn swimmers. That’s why he is not ready to stop swimming, even with his 30th birthday fast approaching, although Licon admits he is eagerly anticipating a long-awaited break.

“Just keep fighting. No one is a bigger proponent of yourself than you. So if you truly believe there is something out there that you can accomplish, just chase it,” Licon said. “Just keep fighting no matter what is thrown your way. As long as you believe in yourself, that’s all that matters. Just keep pushing and keep fighting.”

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1 month ago

So much respect and admiration for Will! Great article!

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