What Changed for Michael Chadwick After The Race-Gone-Wrong

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Photo Courtesy: Andy Ringgold / Aringo Photos

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By David Rieder.

The plan went off the rails before Michael Chadwick even had time to blink.

It was his second race of Olympic Trials, but the 100 back had been just a tune-up for the sprint freestyles. Now, Chadwick was swimming the 100 free, his best shot at qualifying for his first Olympic team. Seeded fifth overall, he had a middle lane next to Anthony Ervin in the prelims. But as soon as he dove into the water, everything fell apart, and there was nothing he could do about it.

“When I dove in, my left arm came down by my side underwater,” he explained. “If you watch the video, I’m at Ervin’s feet at the 15-meter mark. Basically a dead start, and then I had to work my way back up to the surface and try to catch up with everyone.”

Chadwick fought hard to get back into contention, but he ended up finishing in 49.61, leaving him 18th and six one-hundredths out of a spot in the semi-finals.

If he had any hope of moving on, he needed two of the men who finished ahead of him to scratch. He got one when Ryan Lochte pulled out to save his energy for the 200 IM the next day, but that wasn’t going to cut it. David Marsh, who had coached Chadwick (and Lochte) at SwimMAC in Charlotte, suggested Conor Dwyer might withdraw as well. Dwyer had already booked his spots in Rio in the 200 and 400 free.

When Chadwick approached Dwyer to ask if he might take himself out of the semi-final, Dwyer responded that he wasn’t sure yet. In the end, he stayed put.

“I don’t blame him,” Chadwick said. “You work so hard for something, so to scratch for nothing, I wouldn’t expect him to do that. I at least wanted a shot, so I had to ask. That was probably the hardest part, having to ask.”

Chadwick called the next 36 hours the most emotional of his life, but he was heartened by some of the support he got on pool deck, including from a coach from an SEC rival of his Missouri Tigers: Georgia’s Jack Bauerle.

“He didn’t really need to say much. He looked at me and said, ‘Keep your head up,’” Chadwick recalled. “I just kind of said, ‘I don’t know what happened,’ and he said, ‘I know.’ He said, ‘Michael, I know how good you are. You know how I know how good you are?’ I said, ‘How’s that?’ He said, ‘Whenever you’re up against one of my guys at Georgia, I’m nervous. I don’t say that to people.’”

Chadwick still had the 50 free on his program for the last two days of Trials, but before he got to that race, he wanted another shot at the 100 free—even if nothing he could do would get him a spot in the semi-finals or the final.

So with the arena nearly empty less than six hours before the 100 free final, Chadwick stepped up for a time trial. Despite having no real competition—he beat every other swimmer in his heat by almost two seconds—Chadwick finished in 48.96.

“It kind of reassured [me] that I could go a time that would be good enough to get back to semi-finals or even the final, kind of just to prove that and that it was just a bad swim. It was more for me than anyone else, just to have that confidence that all those days I worked to do the 100 freestyle wasn’t for nothing,” he said.

“When I was able to do a 100 freestyle at 2:00 in the afternoon, pretty emotionally off, saw 48.9, it gave me the confidence to know that, if I would have been in the finals, you just have to think I could have put down a time that would have been good enough to make the team.”

The next day, Chadwick had the 50 free. Since he knew the task of finishing in the top two in would be much greater than finishing in the top six in the 100, he approached the race as though he had nothing to lose.

This time, Chadwick did advance through the preliminaries and semi-finals and ended up finishing sixth in the final in 21.96. The time was a personal best and his first swim under 22 seconds.

Chadwick was thrilled to swim his best time, but the week had been challenging and draining. He needed time to rest, let some nagging aches and pains heal and to consider his future in the sport. But most importantly, he wanted to make sure he would have everything to give for his senior year at Missouri.

“Overall my mindset was, this is my last year in college swimming—how can I be a leader for this team, and how can I be a selfless leader? I feel like the Olympic year I tried to make so much of it about myself—not even that I was trying to, just kind of became that way. It’s been enjoyable for me to be more about the team than about myself,” he said.

Chadwick knows that he could be part of a special effort for the Tigers this season. Missouri finished eighth at the NCAA championships last season and also brought back the defending NCAA champion in the 100 breast, Fabien Schwingenschlogl.

And already this year, senior butterflyer Andrew Sansoucie has posted a 44.86 in the 100 fly, tied for the best mark in the nation. And with freestyle and breaststroke accounted for, that’s three-quarters of a medley relay that could have national title aspirations.

“We definitely talked about it,” Chadwick said. “We talked about it at the beginning of the year, and now that it’s here, we don’t really talk about it. Once you focus on the end goal, it makes everything else more difficult. It’s not an outcome thing—it’s a process.”

Chadwick expects that the Tigers to have their backstroker by March. He name-dropped freshmen Daniel Hein and Nick Alexander, as well as senior Carter Griffin, as guys who could stay close enough to the pack so that the trio of Schwingenschlogl, Sansoucie and himself could go to work.

The ultimate goal for NCAAs: finishing in the top-five. But after it’s over, so is Chadwick’s run as a collegiate swimmer. And after his disappointment at Olympic Trials, some figured this spring would mark the end of his swimming career entirely.

“I think there was concern from some of the coaches that this would be the thing that causes me to stop swimming because I’m in my senior year, and it’s a pretty big decision to decide to compete after college. So with that kind of disappointment, it’s hard to know whether or not I would want to keep going,” Chadwick said.

But it was during the seven-week break he took after Trials that he realized he was not ready to be done.

“I kind of just realized, this is what I love to do, and this is what I’m going to do for the next four years. I’m all in,” he said. “What that means is after this year, I’m going to keep swimming and just see what I can do.”

Chadwick knows that opportunities can be fleeting, and so he intends to take advantage of all that comes his way. It was for that reason that he took up an offer to swim for the U.S. at the Short Course World Championships this past December, even if that meet fell in the middle of his collegiate season.

“You never know how long your lifespan in the sport will be,” he said. “That’s an opportunity that I just didn’t want to waste. I think the biggest thing for me is experience.”

And while he was in Windsor, Chadwick took every chance to gain from that experience.

“It’s being in the ready room, it’s being next to Vlad Morozov in the final of the 50, it’s getting to talk to Tom Shields about his pre-race routine, talking to Cody Miller about what it was like when he won his bronze medal. It’s something that you can’t ever really imagine,” he said.

Certainly, Chadwick hopes that Short Course Worlds. where he anchored the U.S. mixed 200 medley relay to a gold medal, will be just the beginning for his international racing career. And while he had to wait a few months longer than he wanted for his international debut, what he learned through the disappointment changed his outlook on the sport for the better.

Chadwick now realizes that during the Olympic season, he carried a chip on his shoulder as if he was trying to prove to others that he could compete among the best sprinters in the country and the world. Only afterwards did he realized how much those thoughts drained him.

I can swim for myself and not be worried about trying to make the Olympic team, he said. “I don’t have anything to prove. Instead of swimming for others, I’m swimming for myself—which is a much better way to look at it.”

To read more about Chadwick, Mallory Comerford and other rookies on the U.S. Short Course World Championships team, check out “An Opportunity of a Lifetime” in the February issue of Swimming World Magazine. All commentaries are the opinion of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Swimming World Magazine nor its staff.

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Jason Tillotson
5 years ago

Great read! Great things to come from Chadwick this year.

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5 years ago

Homayoun Haghighi

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5 years ago

Jeremy Acosta

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Rutendo-munashe Maruta