Steve West Still Breaking Records, Still Gunning for Olympic Trials—With His Daughter

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Photos Courtesy: Steve West

When Steve West swam at his fourth Olympic Trials in 2012, he was 40 years old. He became the oldest male swimmer ever at Trials as he finished 61st in the 100 breast and 62nd in the 200 breast. Harboring no aspirations of making the Olympic team, West dropped from his seed times in both events and was happy with his performances. In short, a great experience—and one he never intended to go through again.

After Trials, West had figured he would simply go back to Masters swimming, where he had been aiming for records before by happenstance, he swam fast enough to qualify for Trials. But it was never that simple, not for a man who once finished third at Olympic Trials, a mere half-second away from a trip to the Atlanta Olympics.

After West had finished his college eligibility at Michigan in 1995, he moved home to Southern California to swim with Dave Salo at Irvine Novaquatics, where he trained in the breaststroke lane alongside a 14-year-old Amanda Beard. Beard would go on to win silver in the 100 and 200 breast in Atlanta.

The third-place finish at Trials seemed like the end for West because “that’s what we did back then” with no money available in professional swimming, but he and Salo had other ideas.

“I remember coming back and saying, ‘I wish I could swim some more,’” West said. “Most coaches at the time would have said, ‘Well, you’ve got to hang it up because if you’re not going to give 100 percent to every single practice all the time, you should just not do it anymore.’ And Dave was not like that at all. It was awesome how he was just like, ‘Well, just come when you can’ He knew that I would still be a positive influence on the team.”

So as West started a full-time job at a software company, he kept coming to practice. West wanted the endorphin rush that came from constantly working out, but he ended up staying competitive, qualifying for the Short Course World Championships in 1997 and then the Pan American Games in 1999—all after he figured he was “retired.”

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Steve West (center) at the 1994 Goodwill Games — Photo Courtesy: Steve West

At that point, West was the veteran in a group that would include Aaron Peirsol, who would qualify for his first of three Olympic teams in 2000 before going on to win five gold medals, and Mike Cavic, who would go on to earn silver in the 100 fly behind Michael Phelps at the 2008 Olympics in a legendary photo finish. And over in the breaststroke group, West swam with Staciana Stitts, who would go on to swim the 100 breast in Sydney.

West continued through 2000, when he qualified for semi-finals at Olympic Trials. After that, West took an extended break from swimming, only for Masters to eventually call him back. Just two years into his Masters career, an attempt to break a U.S. national record in the long course 200 breast landed him his Olympic Trials cut. Shortly after, he got a phone call from Irvine Novaquatics senior coach Ken LaMont.

“When I made Olympic Trials, after that, Ken was like, ‘Why don’t you come swim with us every once in a while?’” West recalled.

So West ended up swimming with a group of swimmers with the highest of goals, all of them more than 20 years younger than him. The group trained close to his office, and he could keep up with the young swimmers on most sets—and he often went ahead of them on breaststroke. It was a win-win.

Breaking Records and Crossing Paths at Practice

Since 2012, West has continued breaking Masters world records, and he just missed qualifying for Olympic Trials in 2016, missing the cuts by less than two tenths in both the 100 and 200 breast. In May, he broke the 45-49 world record in the 100 breast with a 1:04.99. This weekend, at the Fran Crippen Swim Meet of Champions in Mission Viejo, West lowered the record again to 1:04.84.

In recognition of West’s record-setting efforts, he was featured in early June in a television segment that aired on the ABC affiliate in Los Angeles.

And yes, he still swims regularly with LaMont’s group of teenagers, mostly during their three-days-per-week morning practices. But now, West has one young training partner with whom he is particularly close to: His 16-year-old daughter, Summer.

“Being able to train with Summer, it’s fun,” West said. “Most of the time she’s cool with it, but sometimes she’s like, ‘Hey, you know, you’re bugging me today by being here.’ But luckily, most of the time it’s not like that.”

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Summer (left) and Steve West — Photo Courtesy: Steve West

West pointed out that Summer usually swims the distance workout while he trains breaststroke a few lanes over. But on one recent Monday morning, when West was about to fly out of town for a business trip after only 20 minutes of practice, Summer insisted that he stop to give her a hug before he dried off.

Now, the two occasionally compete at meets together, like at the Mission Viejo meet this past weekend. And Steve and Summer have an outside chance at swimming together at Olympic Trials, which would be Steve’s fifth and Summer’s first.

Summer’s best chance should come in the 800 free, where her lifetime best of 9:10.42 is about 22 seconds off the Trials cut—a large margin but not unattainable in a race that long—while Steve’s top times recently include the 1:04.84 in the 100 breast and a 2:20.45 in the 200 breast, compared to the Trial cuts of 1:03.29 and 2:17.89, respectively.

Still, Steve refuses to get his hopes up too much in regards to this dream-come-true scenario that he sees as just an outside possibility.

“It would be really cool if it happened,” West said. “We don’t really talk about it too much. It’s something more like the coaches talk about more than I do.”

If West were to qualify for Trials, he would swim in Omaha at 48 years old, crushing his old record as the oldest male swimmer to ever race at that meet. He would also break Dara Torres’ record (45) for oldest Trials swimmer male or female.

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West (second from right) with an Irvine Novaquatics Masters relay — Photo Courtesy: Steve West

West admits that racing in his late-40s presents some challenges. As he gets older, he has to work constantly to maintain flexibility. He can’t just will himself to swim his fastest times whenever he wants.

“Because of age or whatever, I might be on the rhythm on a given day and things just line up. when I was 28, these times, I can just dial them up pretty easy. Now, it’s not quite like that,” West said. “Sometimes it hurts a little more than the other times.”

“It’s just like what happened last summer, when I did the 2:19 (200 breast). I wasn’t really planning on swimming great on that day. It just all worked out that I felt really good in the water. It was going good. For me to make the 200 (Trials cut) from that time, I need to drop 1.5 seconds from what I did last summer. In a 200, that’s not really far. It’s far but not ridiculous.”

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