Reece Whitley Putting Pieces Together to ‘Set Myself Up For a Good Swim’ at Olympic Trials

Photo Courtesy: Becca Wyant

While many swimmers get more tense and feel more pressure heading into the Olympic Trials, Reece Whitley is feeling more relaxed.

It isn’t because the Trials aren’t stressful, but Whitley has finally gotten to the point of his year where Trials aren’t just his main focus, but his only focus. It sometimes is easy to forget that college swimmers, while at the top of their sport, are also students with major schoolwork and pressure in the classroom.

“This year has not been an easy one academically. I have been managing to train well throughout that. So I think this last push could feel actually refreshing as opposed to hectic,” Reece Whitley told Swimming World. “The vibes are good.”

Whitley is coming off of an NCAA Championships that didn’t go as well as he had hoped for himself or Cal, which finished runnerup to Texas.

“None of my swims felt good. That is the way NCAAs goes. It is about grinding through that. Nobody feels good,” Whitley said. “In the 200 breast, the morning swim was fine. I think it was just me getting excited for the day. There is also a team race that is at the forefront and you get nervous because each swim is more important. Every swim, every stroke matters. That is more to think about. I think that put me in a spot where I put too much pressure on myself.”

Whitley was out-touched by Minnesota’s Max McHugh in the 200 breaststroke.

“Max is obviously very good and he knows I am good. We push each other. I think I settled a bit too much up front and I didn’t have enough to push through that in the back half the way I wanted. If I let things flow a little more and let things fly at the 75 instead of 125, maybe it is different,” Whitley said. “But it is all information. I got fifth as a freshman. I got to swim in the 200 IM final this year. To finish second after a long week of racing, I can’t really complain. Of course you always wish things go better.”

Whitley said he will take all of that information he learned at NCAAs and put it to good use at the Trials, where he will be swimming against some of the same athletes, as well as professionals, in the 100 and 200 breaststroke events.

“I will take a lot,” he said. “The mentality of going out there regardless of how you feel, not caring about time and just racing the dudes next to you. Nobody knows the exact time it will take to make it. But you know the winner of the race will go to the Olympics. It is about getting your hand on the wall first or seconds. I am focused on putting myself in position to be in the hunt. Breaststroke is pretty loaded. There are probably 10 guys good enough to make the team.”

That is how the field is in most elite meets, something Whitley has prepared for by watching.

“Watching Europeans got me in that mindset. It is such a big stage,” he said. “Watching guys that you go to work with and see them do well is really inspiring. You are watching them take advantage of their opportunity. They have worked their butts off in a similar way to what you have done and that is exciting to see.”


Reece Whitley. Photo Courtesy: Becca Wyant

That hard work started as soon as last year’s NCAA meet was canceled because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Whitley and his Cal teammates were out of the water for a bit, but started preparing for what was ahead.

“It has definitely been different than in years past. We didn’t have much long-course availability last year. We frontloaded our season with long course, which helped. We haven’t raced much long course. It was interesting to go to these meets and get these long-course races in, even an intersquad. You can’t replicate that environment.”

That training has helped Whitley into position to contend. He is also working on fine-tuning anything that could mean a hundredth of a second.

“I wouldn’t say it is anything differently in terms of technique. There are things about my strength in both long course and short course, like body posture, core stability and where my kick is finishing. It is more stroke mechanics. The real difference is just tempo training, which takes care of itself because it is muscle memory,” he said. “It is working on those pieces to set myself up for a good swim.”

It was the same attitude in 2016, when Whitley was a young teenager.

“I always have believed in myself and making semis in 2016 was really helpful. It put things into perspective for what the stage actually looks like,” Whitley said. “I can remember watching the 200 final very vividly. I can remember exactly where I was sitting. Since that meet, it was like OK, this is it. Semifinals is pretty intense. I think going through that process and not swimming well and learning from that definitely has put me in a better position to tackle the meet a little better this time.”

Having that experience on the unique stage, and putting in the preparation mentally as well as physically, has Whitley poised for a strong meet.

“We have our opportunity,” Reece Whitley said. “Trials is our Super Bowl. It is the biggest meet ever. Every race you are just going out there trying to have a good one. That is what it is about.”

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3 years ago

Best of luck to you!

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